Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Winnie-the-Pooh at the 42nd Street Library

The real Winnie-the-Pooh is kept at the New York Public Library's main branch at 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. Through the white marble lobby, down a high-ceilinged hallway, past an elevator bank and a pair of wooden phone booths, down a short two-flight stairway, in a glass display case within a freestanding room behind the librarian's desk in the middle of the Children's Center are the stuffed animals that Christopher Robin Milne named Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger, Kanga and Piglet.

Winnie-the-Pooh was bought at Harrods Department Store in London and given to Christopher Robin for his 1st birthday. He originally named him Edward Bear, then renamed him after Winnie, a black bear at the London Zoo. All five toys were bought between 1920 and 1922.

Christopher Robin's father, Alan Alexander (A.A.) Milne, a humor and mystery writer, used Christopher and his stuffed animals as the basis for When We Were Very Young, published in 1924, and subsequent books. Ashdown Forest in Sussex, where the Milnes lived, became the books' Hundred Acre Wood. The popularity of Milne's children's books overshadowed his earlier work and made Christopher Robin into a celebrity, which he came to somewhat resent in later years. As an adult Christopher Robin served in Italy during World War II, published memoirs of his own and opened a bookstore.

Beginning in 1956 Pooh and the others were kept by E.P. Dutton, the books' U.S. publisher, in a case in the lobby of Dutton's Park Avenue office building. Eventually, in 1987, they were donated to the New York Public Library. Two years ago they were moved from the Donnell Library Center on 53rd Street to their current location on 42nd.

With his long limbs, the real Winnie-the-Pooh looks more like an old-fashioned teddy bear than the illustrations E.H. Shepard drew for the books. Piglet is surprisingly small, about a fifth Pooh's size. Also in the case is a stuffed version of Lottie the Otter, a character from the authorized 2009 sequel Return to the Hundred Acre Wood.

A sign on top of the case instructs visitors not to use a flash when taking pictures. Multiple flashes over a long period of time are thought to possibly damage items like artwork and stuffed animals, and the animals at the 42nd Street library are already somewhat faded. Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger, Kanga and Piglet are all around 90 years old.