Things to do in NYC – Morgan Library
Things to do in NYC – Morgan Library
I know a library sounds like a crazy place to visit in New York City. When you tell someone you are visiting the Morgan Library you might get quizzical looks and chances are good you won’t find it on the “Top Things to See in New York City” lists as usual. Libraries are dull, boring and plain, right? Well, maybe some libraries are those things, but not this one. I promise you THIS library is a must see!! Not only should you visit this cool library but be sure to take the kids.
But, don’t just drag kids to something like a library or art museum without prep – even I wouldn’t do that, and I taught kids for 15 years!! LOL! You are asking for trouble if you take an unprepared kid to any dry vacation destination. The trick to having them enjoy a destination so you can enjoy the destination, too, is to prepare them!! Kids who understand what they are seeing are interested, engaged, and full of questions that make for wonderful conversations.
The key to taking kids to what is most usually thought of as a “grown up’s tourist site” is to prepare them. They need to know why this is an important spot and why it is a nice place to visit. What are they seeing and why is it important?
If they don’t know this information, then they’ll just stare at this giant library and wonder why they are there…and then the whining will start. “Why are we here? This is so lame! Can we go now?” and so on….then you’ll wish you were dead and start looking for the nearest children’s museum or Chuck E. Cheese.
BE PREPARED and Check out Cool Places to Visit!
Things to do in NYC – Morgan Library – Get to know the Morgan family
The Morgan family was (and I suppose still is) a wealthy one and wealthy families can indulge in their hobbies. Back in the day of Junius Morgan (1813 – 1890) a proper gentleman was supposed to have a collection of leather bound classics and manuscripts. Since it is no surprise that the apple fell close to the tree…Junius’ son, J.P. Morgan, continued the wealth building AND the book, art, and manuscript collection. Next in line was his only son, J.P. Morgan III.
In those days, son’s inherited more than daughters so even though J.P., jr had 3 sisters, he inherited the bulk of the holdings which included the family house in NYC.
**Ask your kiddos what they think of the boy getting all the money and family stuff. What about the three daughters? What were they supposed to do? In those days women didn’t even have jobs either so they could have used the money, too.
The Morgan family was REALLY wealthy. How wealthy? Well, J. P. Morgan is credited with the famous quote,
“If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.”
This family knew Thomas Edison. The Morgan family was really in front of the times with technology. The house in NYC (now the Morgan Museum and Library) was the 1st private home in New York City to have electricity. Why? J.P. Morgan financed the Thomas Alva Edison Electric Company in 1878.
J.P.Morgan was a lucky guy. He was supposed to be on the Titanic because his company, The White Star Line, operated the Titanic and J.P. had his own suite on the ship.
J.P. Morgan was a benefactor to many museums. **Teach the kids a new vocabulary word – benefactor which means “a person who gives money to support of a person or cause”. He was a benefactor to colleges and museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
J.P. Morgan has a gemstone named after him! He gathered a large and important collection of gems which you can see at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. The person who helped him gather the gems was the Chief Gemologist at Tiffany & Co. was Mr. Kunz. Mr. Kunz was so impressed with J.P.’s love of gems that he named a new gem after J.P. – Morganite!
J.P. Morgan was the inspiration for part of the Monopoly game. Can you guess which part? Rich Uncle Pennybags was inspired by the banker, J.P. Morgan!
Things to do in NYC – Morgan Library – The library
This section of the building is something right out of the Harry Potter series. I can just imagine this gorgeous ornate setting full of young wizards and witches reading and studying. Just look at this fireplace – it is HUGE! I can stand in it so I figure it is about 5 – 6 feet tall and about 10 feet wide.
The wood is a dark and heavy walnut. With three levels of books, I asked the guard if a ladder was used to get to the two upper levels. She showed me a handle on the bottom of one bookcase. It opened to a secret stairwell. If you peek through the crack next to the handle you can see a large marble stairwell that leads up to the rest of the levels.
The stained glass ceiling lets in light so you admire lovely paintings and HUGE tapestry hung on the wall. After looking at handmade rugs last year in Turkey which cost a lot more than you might think…I couldn’t help but wonder how much the ENORMOUS rug on the floor cost!!
Take a closer look at the tapestry. It tells the story of King Midas and one of the seven deadly sins – GREED. Do your kids know the story of King Midas? If your Greek mythology is a little rusty – read the story of King Midas here. Sharing the story of how King Midas turned everything he touched to gold makes this tapestry really fun and interesting!
Count the number of the paintings on the ceiling…twelve. Each one is a zodiac sign. Do you see yours? J. P. Morgan enjoyed the zodiac so much that he was a member of a dinner club that only allowed 12 members – one for each of the zodiac signs. Need a refresher of the zodiac signs? I did!
Aquarius – Symbol is wine jug – Jan 20 – Feb 18
Pisces – Symbol is a fish – Feb 19 – March 20
Aries – Symbol is a ram – March 21 – April 19
Taurus – Symbol is a bull – April 20 – May 20
Gemini – Symbol is a set of twins – May 21 – June 20
Cancer – Symbol is a crab – June 21 – July 22
Leo – Symbol is a lion – July 23 – August 22
Virgo – Symbol is a woman – August 23 – September 22
Libra – Symbol is the scales – September 23 – October 22
Scorpio – Symbol is a scorpion – October 23 – November 21
Sagittarius – Symbol is the bow and arrow – November 22 – December 21
Capricorn – Symbol is a mythical creature the sea goat – December 22 – January 19
The room is gorgeous – stunning, really. You can just feel the importance of all that it holds. Speaking of….check out how pretty the books are!
Things to do in NYC – Morgan Library – The Collection
The library rotates selections from the vault to display, but one item is always on view – a copy Gutenberg’s bible. The library owns three out of the few remaining complete bibles printed by Gutenberg.
What is the big deal about the Gutenberg bible? Well, back in the day when the first printing press in the states was invented by….Mr. Gutenberg all books had to be hand copied. As you can imagine, this was a labor intensive and very expensive task and consequently it wasn’t done very often. There were very few books in the ENTIRE country at that time and only around 30,000 in all of Europe. So, a printing press which could rapidly (and rapid is relative for sure) reproduce reading material literally changed the world. The first book chosen to print on the brand new printing press was the bible. Only 180 copies were made and yet no two are alike because they were hand illustrated.
Things to do in NYC – Morgan Library – Kids’ Stuff in the Collection
Morgan was a BIG fan of original scripts, books, and letters. He loved music and art and books.
Some of the things the kids will know include:
Original manuscript of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol
Early works by Mozart – written we he was just five years old
Working drafts and watercolors from the Babar series by Jean de Brunhoff
concept drawings from Le Petit Prince (which as far as I know is still required reading in high school French classes 😉
manuscript of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol
Things to do in NYC – Morgan Library – The Lionesses
The lionesses outside of the building were from Edward Clark Potter – the same sculptor who created the famous lions outside the New York City library. Read more about those famous lions, Fortitude and Patience, and the New York City Library they guard. As far as I can tell (and someone fill me in if you know!!) these lionesses don’t have names. I think it is time to change that, don’t you? Ask your kids what names they would choose?
Things to do in NYC – Morgan Library – The Office
After you admire the incredible library, remind the kids that this was a house. The family actually lived here and so they had a study. I guess when you are so wealthy like the Morgan family everything is exaggerated – larger, more decorated, with more expensive decorations than most have. Take a look at the ceiling. It was imported from France. Imagine having a part of your house cut up, put in little boxes, shipped across the world, and then put back together like a puzzle.
The room includes a vault with a thick metal door where all the really important pieces of the collection were stored. If you had a vault in your house…what would you keep there? Ask the kids which of their possessions are the most special? What would they keep in a vault?
The decorations in here are all from J.P. Morgan’s private collection. I love the painting of him in red robes. It makes me think of a Cardinal in the Catholic church but in fact, those robes are from the Law department of a college. Cambridge law gave him an honorary degree to thank him for all the money he gave to the Allies in World War I. Morgan must have loved the robes since he chose to wear them as he sat for this painting. Ask the kids what they think of an honorary degree – one you didn’t earn. Good idea? Bad idea? Why did he get a degree in law for giving money? Would a different honorary degree that would make more sense?
Things to do in NYC – Morgan Library – Rotunda
Rotunda is a great word..if you say it strongly and we great feeling it sounds very impressive. LOL! Go ahead…give it a try. Rotunda is a round room with a dome and a great new vocabulary word for the kids.
This rotunda was designed partly after the great artist Rafael’s design for a house in Rome. Step inside and appreciate the vastness of what is essentially a cool hallway between the library and the study. Can you imagine such a thing in your house?
Inside this glorious room are pieces on display from the historical collection. The day I visited there was a handwritten letter written by Susan B. Anthony on display. Imagine her leaning over the paper in November of 1901 forming the words to write this letter….
“The one purpose of my life has been the establishment of perfect equality of rights for women – civil and political – industrial and educational.”
Things to do in NYC – Morgan Library – Talk while you ponder
Talk with the kid while you visit. If you had the money that the Morgan family did, what would you collect? What would your library hold? What sort of rug or sky light would you put in? Conversations with the kids are always interesting!
Things to do in NYC – Morgan Library – The Nitty Gritty
It gets cold in NYC but don’t worry about the coats and hats and gloves and all the other stuff you need to lug around to stay warm…there is a free coat check. Hungry kids need a snack! There is a small place to eat there, too.
Check out the Morgan Library hours and info for current Morgan Library exhibits here. FREE admission on Friday evenings from 7 – 9 p.m. and if you want to see just the sections mentioned in this post you can go FREE Tuesday 3-5 p.m. and Friday 7-9 p.m. and Sunday 4-6 p.m.
I’ve used a version of the City Pass in cities all over the world and Every.Single.Time. it is a game changer. Not only do you save money – which is so important, but you save time – and it can be argued that is even more important! You’ll get discount entrance fees and sometimes you can skip the line at sites. The more money and time you save with the City Pass the more money and time you have to do more travel and sight seeing!
Wherever your travels take you and your kids, The Educational Tourist can help!
Happy NYC Travels,
Natalie, The Educational Tourist