In honor of the Batavia Public Library, the northern pediment mural represents the timeless love of books and reading and features a mother reading to her children, an elderly scholar who uses a bridge as a book rest, a cupola from a previous Library building, a number of charming animals, and more.
The mural’s central image (8) features a mother reading to her children. Behind them, through the open window, their imagination brings the story to life as an airship (9) à la Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon crosses in front of the full moon.
At the far left, an owl (1) flying towards a barn loft represents prosperity, change, and wisdom. The Eastern screech-owl (Megascops asio) was inspired by the owl worked in stained glass and perched behind the Check Out Desk, which came from Library Hall—the D. C. Newton House, 1878—the Library’s home from 1921–1981.
In the center of a windmill made of books (2)—a paean to the Windmill City and the Direct Stroke windmill manufactured by the Challenge Co. and owned by the Library—there is a mouse (3) looking over the top of his book. Did he hear an owl? No matter! He is safe in his wind engine of books.
The turning pages of an open book (4) will be illuminated by electric light (5)—one of two that represent the Library’s third location in the Van Nortwick block, which was constructed in 1888.
Negotiations began in September 1889 to relocate the Library and Reading Room, which had outgrown its quarters, to the new Van Nortwick block on Wilson Street. The Board of Library Trustees agreed to rent the rooms, “with Two Electric Lights,” for $200 per year and moved the Library into the upper floor of the new Van Nortwick block in October 1889, where it remained until 1902.
Through the trees and past a songbird (6)—inspired by the field sparrow (Spizella pusilla), which has a simple, yet distinctive song of repeated clear whistled notes on one pitch that increase in rate until they become a trill—peeks the cupola of the Levi Newton house(7) at 1 North Batavia Avenue.
This house was the Library’s fourth location (from 1902–1921) and the first building actually owned by the Library. Mary M. Newton, following the wishes and plans of her husband, the late Captain Don Carlos Newton, presented the property, the red brick Levi Newton homestead, to the Board of Library Trustees. The librarian, Margaret R. Twining, welcomed the community to the “beautiful Library home” with the words, “So come, friends, one and all, and we will do the very best we can for you.”
In November 1921, the Library moved to the D. C. Newton house next door, so that the City of Batavia could extend Wilson Street, which ended at the Levi Newton house on Batavia Avenue.
At the far right, there is a bridge of books (18), representing the new Monsignor William J. Donovan Bridge, which was dedicated in 2008. On the bridge, a parade of elephants (17) was inspired by a blend of fact and folklore.
In May 1884, P. T. Barnum helped to squelch doubts about the stability of a New York landmark—while publicizing his famous circus—when one of his most famous attractions, Jumbo, led a parade of 21 elephants over the Brooklyn Bridge. A “test elephant” was used to prove the sturdiness of the Eads Bridge (St. Louis) in June 1874 and, in October 2002, 14 elephants from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus crossed the new Leonard P. Zakim–Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge in Boston to demonstrate the bridge’s structural integrity.
According to folklore, elephants are used for such shows of strength because they are widely believed to have uncanny instincts and will not cross unsafe structures.
A scholar (16), who uses the bridge as a book rest, turns a quizzical eye to the great egret (15) lifting from the pages of the book.
A large white heron, the great egret (Ardea alba) is the symbol of the National Audubon Society, one of the oldest environmental organizations in North America, which was founded to protect birds from being killed for their feathers.
There is a book (14) in the foreground—perhaps a daybook waiting for its owner’s latest observations—thus the ink pot and quill pen (13). The writing instrument that dominated for the longest period in history (over 1,000 years) was the quill pen, now a symbol of writing and knowledge.
Introduced ca. 700 A.D., the quill pen was made from a bird feather. The strongest quills were those taken in the spring from the five outer left-wing feathers—the flight feathers—of living birds. The left wing was favored because the feathers curved outward and away when used by a right-handed writer. Goose feathers were the most common.
The Beatus (10) or letter “B” (for Batavia!) was inspired by the Ramsey Psalter (British Library, Harley 2904), produced in Winchester, England, between 980 and 1000 A.D.
In the Psalter—or Book of Psalms—the elaborate initial “B” is found at the beginning of Psalm 1 (“Blessed is the man…”), with interlace at the bottom of the shaft; its gold-paneled framework contains acanthus leaf patterns, while the bows, clasped by a mask head, are filled with multicolored plant scrolls. The initial combines Franco-Saxon letter-form with the leaf-work of the “Winchester” School and was important to the development of English initial decoration.
The bright electric light (11)—one of two that represent the Library’s third location in the Van Nortwick block—doubles as a visual pun (“illuminated” manuscript).
The cunning and mischievous red fox (12) represents the tributary of the Illinois River that runs through Batavia, which was named for the Fox tribe of Native Americans, a part of the Algonquian language group that merged with the allied Sac tribe as the Sac and Fox Nation.
The name Fox originated in a French mistake when a clan name—so named for the red fox (Vulpes vulpes)—was applied to the entire tribe. The Fox call themselves Meskwaki.