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Cleopatra's Needle, the Central Park obelisk, holds secrets we'll never know

This was an era of gifting between countries — around the same time, France was discussing sending over the Statue of Liberty.

“Both took years to finalize, and the Statue of Liberty beat the obelisk by three years,” Sara Cedar Miller, Central Park Conservancy Historian Emerita, told Gothamist. “So they are two major monuments that we associate with gifts from other countries.”

According to the CPC, the site — Greywacke Knoll, between the then-newly opened Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Great Lawn — was chosen over Columbus Circle, Grand Army Plaza, and Union Square, because placing it in Central Park “ensured that it wouldn’t be overshadowed by skyscrapers” (not that the city was overrun with true skyscrapers at the time). It likely also had something to do with William H. Vanderbilt, who funded its travels, pushing for that location.

While the Statue of Liberty was delivered in around 350 pieces, with its arm displayed in Madison Square Park in 1876, the obelisk was simply crated up along with its 50-ton pedestal. When it finally reached the shores of New York, it was brought to Staten Island first, transferred to a new vessel, and then brought across the river to the Upper West Side. From there, it had to cross a specially-built bridge and was transported via a rail track built for the occasion, moving around one block a day.

“It had to go from the Hudson River on these specially built rails, rolling with cannonballs through all of New York City, this very large object around the corners of our [street] grid,” Miller said.

The journey through the city took 19 days, and once it reached Fifth Avenue, it sat for 20 days, the final leg of the trip delayed by a blizzard. Once it was sitting still, Miller said some New Yorkers arrived “with chisels hoping to get a piece of the stone,” and a 24/7 security team was put in place to protect it.

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