New York Needle
Public Art : New York Needle
Also Known As : Central Park Obelisk, Cleopatra's Needle
Description: The New York's Cleopatra's Needle is one of a pair of
Ancient Egyptian obelisks. The needle is a 21m (69ft) high red granite obelisk inscribed with Egyptian hieroglyphs.
The granite came from the quarries of Aswan. The inscriptions on the obelisk was added 200 years lafter its
construction by Ramesses II to commemorate his military victories (as they did).
Date : The Central Park Needle, along with the London Needle, were originally erected in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis on the
orders of Thutmose III, around 1450 BC. The New York Needle was erected on Graywacke Knoll in Central Park on
January 22nd, 1881.
Location: The ancient obelisk can be found in Central Park,
Manhattan, New York
There are three ancient Egyptian obelisks that share the name Cleopatra's Needle. One is located in London
(British Cleopatra's Needle), the other in Paris (Luxor Obelisk) and this one, in New York's Central Park. The London and New York obelisks
are a pair .
New York Needle Background:
The 21m (69ft) London and New York obelisks were originally erected in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis on the
request of Thutmose III, around about 1450 BC. The granite came from the quarries of Aswan located near the Nile.
The inscriptions were added about 200 years later by Ramesses II to commemorate his military victories. During the
reign of Augustus (12BC) the obelisks were moved to Alexandria (20 years after Cleopatra's death) and set up in the
Caesareum , which was a temple built by Cleopatra in honor of her lover Julius Caesar (or maybe Mark
Antony?). When the temple was destroyed in 912 AD the obelisks fortunately toppled face down thus
preserving most of the hieroglyphs from the effects of weathering. For 2000 years they lay beneath sand until 1877
when , thanks to the funding by Sir William James Erasmus Wilson, they were finally dug up.
After much great effort the London Needle was placed inside a specially built iron cyclinder and towed to
London despite encountering numerous seafaring disasters along the way. You can read more about this on the
London Needle page.
The New York obelisk was erected in Central Park on February 22, 1881 as a gift to the US for staying
nuetral during the European power struggle (basically between France and Britain) to secure political control
of the Egyptian Government. But the real story was that the US had their nose a little put out of joint when they
heard London was to erect an Egyptian obelisk . The New York newspaper wrote "If Paris had one and London was
to get one, why should not New York get one?" After a little bit of whispering into the ear of the Khedive of
Egypt, Mehmet Ali Pasha,the last remaining Alexandria obelisk was gifted to the United States.
In March, 1877 Mr. Henry G. Stebbins, the then Commissioner of the Department of Public Parks of the City of New
York, arranged the funding for the obelisk to be transported to New York. However, when the railroad magnate
William H. Vanderbilt was asked to head the subscription, he offered to finance the whole thing.
Henry Honychurch Gorringe, who was on leave from the U.S. Navy, was the lucky man placed in charge of
transporting the 240-ton, 68 foot 10 inch obelisk from Egypt to New York, which was no mean feat. Firstly, the
needle had to be lowered from its upright position. This didn't go at all smoothly and nearly toppled . Then there
was a two month delay due to locals protesting its removal and legal issues. After all was resolved the needle made
the 7 mile journey to Alexandra's port where it was loaded onto the steamship Dessoug. How was this done you may
well ask? Well, they used cannon balls to roll it to and through the ship's hold.
The Dessoug set sail on the 12th of June , 1880, and arrived (with a broken propellor ) at the Quarantine
Station in New York in early July 1880. It took 32 horses hitched in pairs to transport it from the banks of
the Hudson River to Central Park. A special railroad trestle bridge had to be built to transport the obelisk from
96th street to its final resting place on Graywacke Knoll in Central Park.
Cleopatra's Needle Trivia:
Despite the two Egyptian obelisks being called Cleopatra's Needle , neither are connected to Queen Cleopatra VII
of Egypt. In fact, they were erected over a thousand years before she was even born.
The Paris Needle was the first to be removed from Egypt and was the first to be given the nickname "Cleopatra's
A full Masonic ceremony took place on the 2nd October , 1880 as the cornerstone for the obelisk was laid in
place. Jesse B. Anthony, who was the Grand Master of Masons for the State of New York, presided over the event.
In 2010, Dr. Zahi Hawass, sent an open letter to the president of the Central Park Conservancy and the Mayor of
New York City insisting that if they didn't take steps tp preserve the Egyptian hieroglyphs on the obelisk he
would "take the necessary steps to bring this precious artifact home and save it from ruin."