No, we’re not talking about the tall pointy things around Central Park. Sorry, Extell.
We’re talking about Cleopatra’s Needle, the 240-ton obelisk west of the MET. Don’t be confused, though, it has nothing to do with Cleopatra. In fact, it was made to commemorate the third jubilee of Thutmose III in 1450 BC (side note: what were you doing in 1450 BC?), meaning it’s around 1400 years older than Cleopatra.
Despite the lack of relation, the obelisk is one of three called “Cleopatra’s Needle.” Another, a pair with the one in New York, resides in London. The third is in Paris. (Unfortunately, Paris may have us beat—theirs is taller and shinier.)
NY’s Needle is made of red granite and stands at about 67 feet. It’s also inscribed, on each side, with hieroglyphs that read: “The crowned Horus / Bull of Victory / Arisen in Thebes…”
Unfortunately, we haven’t taken particularly good care of it. The faces of the monument have been heavily eroded by pollution and acid rain, making the inscription difficult to read. Dr. Zahi Hawass, whose own website describes him eponymously as “the man with the hat,” has written an open letter to the Central Park Conservancy and Mayor, demanding that proper care be administered, or that the monument be returned.
His desire to repatriate the landmark may be, in part, because it’s departure was heavily opposed. Though it was a gift from the Khedive of Egypt, protests and legal obstacles suspended its transport for two months in 1879. Ultimately, though, it made it to NY, in no small part due to William H. Vanderbilt, who made a donation of over $100,000.
Nonetheless, its journey from Alexandria to New York was difficult. The steamship Dessoug was used to transport it across the Atlantic. Despite a broken propeller, and a large hole cut out of its side to make space for he obelisk, obelisk and the 900 pound supporting bronze crabs arrived safely at the Quarantine Station in July 1880.
This is where it gets good. It was dragged by 64 horses through the UES to Central Park. To make a level path for it, railroad tracks and ramps had to be removed from the road and the ground flattened.
Wait, this is where it get good. The cornerstone of the obelisk was placed in a Masonic ceremony attended by more than 9,000 Masons parading on Fifth Avenue. Soon after, a time capsule was buried underneath.
The Masons likely wouldn’t be too happy with the state of disrepair it’s fallen into, though. We’re with Zahi—we need to take better care of it.