Obelisk


Obelisk following 2014 restoration

 

Thomas Campbell, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, shares the unexpected history of the Obelisk _�� the oldest man-made object in Central Park.

The Obelisk, nicknamed Cleopatra’s Needle, is the oldest man-made object in Central Park, and the oldest outdoor monument in New York City.

It is one of a pair of obelisks that were commissioned for Heliopolis on the banks of the Nile in 1450 BC by an Egyptian pharaoh who wished to celebrate his 30 years of reign. The monuments were then moved to Alexandria in 18AD. They remained there until one obelisk was moved to London in 1878. The second one, erected two years later in Central Park, was offered by the Egyptian Khedive to America in exchange for funds to modernize his country.

Transferring the 69-foot, 220-ton granite monument from Egypt to New York was an arduous and delicate process. It took 112 days from the time the Obelisk touched upon the banks of the Hudson River until it reached the Park. Laborers inched the monument on parallel beams, aided by roll boxes and a pile-driver engine. Thousands turned out on January 22, 1881 to marvel as the obelisk was turned upright.

A time capsule was buried beneath the Obelisk and included an 1870 U.S. census, the Bible, Webster’s Dictionary, the complete works of Shakespeare, a guide to Egypt, and a facsimile of the Declaration of Independence. A small box was placed in the capsule by the man who orchestrated the purchase and transportation of the Obelisk. He will probably be the only person in history ever to know its contents.

In 1989, the Central Park Conservancy restored the Obelisk’s terrace and landscape with new illumination, benches, and paving. From 2013 through 2014, The Conservancy completed a comprehensive project to clean and conserve the monument. Although the primary purpose was to enable further study of the monument and promote its long-term preservation, cleaning the monument had the most dramatic outcome, revealing its granite surface and hieroglyphs that had been obscured by decades of dirt and pollution.

The Obelisk landscape is particularly beautiful in spring when the monument is surrounded by flowering magnolias and crabapple trees.

Location

East Side at 81st Street.

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