This obelisk was erected first at Heliopolis, Egypt in 1600BC. It was removed to Alexandria in 12 BC by the Romans. Presented by the Khedive of Egypt to the City of New York, it was erected here on February 22, 1881 through the generosity of William H. Vanderbilt.
Tablet placed by the New York Historical Society 1940
The Obelisk, nicknamed Cleopatra’s Needle, is the oldest man-made object in Central Park.
A pair of obelisks was commissioned for Heliopolis on the banks of the Nile in 1500 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 1879. The New York one was erected in the Park two years later and was offered by the Egyptian Khedive to America in exchange for funds to modernize his country.
Transferring the 71-foot, 244- 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 to ever know its contents.
In 1989, the Central Park Conservancy restored the Obelisk’s terrace and landscape with new illumination, benches and paving. The landscape is particularly beautiful in spring when the monument is surrounded by flowering magnolias and crabapple trees.