Cleopatra’s Needle East Drive, Central Park
The only giant Egyptian obelisk in the Western Hemisphere, Cleopatra’s Needle was a gift to the U.S. from Khedive Ismail, grandson of Muhammad Ali, in 1879 to honor the Civil War veterans serving in his army and to encourage good trade relations between the U.S. and Egypt after the opening of the Suez Canal (1869). U.S. Navy Lieutenant-Commander Henry H. Gorringe was responsible for moving the 69-foot, 220-ton obelisk from Alexandria to NYC, and the project was entirely funded by William H. Vanderbilt, son of railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. Gorringe documented this bold engineering feat and the obelisk’s long but interesting journey in his book Egyptian Obelisks. Cleopatra’s Needle had to be lowered from where it stood in Alexandria since antiquity (it had been placed in front of the temple dedicated to Julius Caesar by Augustus), and moved to the Nile on a specially built platform. Gorringe had to negotiate for, purchase, and repair the dilapidated ocean steamer Dessoug in Alexandria, load the obelisk, brave the Atlantic, build a track to transport the obelisk on land to the Central Park (the obelisk moved about 100 feet per day across 96th St to Broadway, south to 86th St, and east toward the park), then raise the monument into its assigned location. The obelisk was erected on a freezing January day in 1881 in Central Park, nearly two and a half years after Gorringe first set sail for Alexandria. But the trip was worth it, and the obelisk still stands today behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art surrounded by benches and trees, the oldest man-made object in Central Park.