Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Lions of West 12th Street

There are numerous famous lions in New York City. There are the glorious and proud carved animals who pose nobly outside the New York Public Library, for example, and any number of others, from across a wide expanse of world history, in the Met and the city's other museums. Walking along West 12th Street, one morning, on my way to the subway, however, I came across a particular pair of lions that struck me as slightly unusual.

I say "lions", but what I really mean, of course, is "a lion and a lioness", because rather than identical, matching statues of two male lions, which is what you usually see dotted about the place, the lions outside this particular brownstone were a male and female couple, one on either side of the steps; a large male, with a full mane, and a smaller and sleeker female. The lion sits, with his tongue protruding slightly, as if cheekily rasping the neighbourhood, whilst his mate has her mouth clothed, her head up, alert.

I don't believe I have ever seen a pair - a genuine couple, indeed - of lions, like this, so I took a picture, and then wandered on my way. Later, I looked for an explanation online, assuming that so distinctive a pair of guardians would have attracted the attention of other commentators, or possibly have a famous story attached to them that would be recorded somewhere. Perhaps I have been looking in the wrong place, or perhaps I have ascribed unwarranted rarity to perfectly mundane ornaments, but I have yet to find any explanation of the West 12th Street Lions.

In the absence of an obvious explanation, therefore, I have imagined a vivid scene set at some point in the 19th-century, where a delightful and mildly eccentric married couple decide to commission statues representing themselves to adorn their new property. A marriage of true equals, where each partner respected the other, there would naturally have been no suggestion of two identical male lions framing their doorway. Instead, and to reflect the husband and wife within, the West 12th Street Lions were born, to the possible bemusement and outrage of their more hidebound neighbours.

If anybody reading this knows anything about them, or indeed the real story, please let me know in the comments, below.

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