How many public buildings in the United States pay homage to a lowly cockroach? Just one: the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Public Library’s Central Library at Grand Army Plaza. There, atop a majestic, 50-foot-high entryway, Don Marquis’s Archy is cast in bronze and coated in gilt, standing tall (well, as much as a cockroach can) beneath Mehitabel the cat.
Archy, who always dreamed of public acclaim yet endured a life in lowercase letters, must indeed be proud.
Archy and Mehitabel occupy one of fifteen panels that make a massive screen above the library’s front doors. Cockroach and cat are in the the top row, front and center, near other famous characters from America’s literary past such as Tom Sawyer, Rip Van Winkle, Moby Dick and Poe’s raven.
Brooklyn was proud to call itself home to Marquis during his most creative years. He lived there, with only a brief interruption, from 1910 to 1921, before moving his family to Forest Hills in nearby Queens (and later Manhattan). Marquis died three years before the Central Library opened in February 1941, but he was still fondly remembered and “archy and mehitabel” was still selling strong — and would continue to for another 20 years.
The bronze screen was designed by sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones and the massive pylons on either side by Carl Paul Jennewin. The Central Library, shaped to look like an open book, was designed by the architectural firm Githens & Keally and built of Indiana limestone in the Modern Classical style.
For more on the Central Library and a full description of all 15 panels in the bronze screen, visit the Brooklyn Public Library’s web site at www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/central.
(Credits: Accompanying photos were found on Flickr.com and used according to their Creative Commons licenses. Wally Gobetz shot the photos of the Central Library entryway and the cropped close-up of Archy and Mehitabel’s panel. Thanks!)