Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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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.

For more information see Bob Brier's The Saga of Cleopatra's Needles.

Cleopatra's Needle

Worth Monument

W. 25th W. 26th Sts., Fifth Av. to Broadway, Worth Square
Subway: 6 to 23rd

General Worth was a famous military hero who fought in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), following America's annexation of Texas in 1845. The war eventually established the border between America and Mexico at the Rio Grande. Worth died of cholera after the war in Texas in 1849. He was originally buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn but his body was later moved to Manhattan in 1857 and placed under the Worth Monument. Designed by James Goodwin Batterson, the obelisk stands nearly six stories high next to Madison Square Park. It was dedicated to Worth on November 25, 1857, which was the anniversary of Evacuation Day, the day the last of the British troops left New York City in 1783, after the American Revolution.


Worth Obelisk, Worth Square

New York Korean War Veterans Memorial

Battery Park, Financial District
Subway: 1 to South Ferry; 2,3 to Bowling Green

Located in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan, this unusual monument is a black granite obelisk with a cut out of a soldier. It was designed by Mac-Adams and dedicated in 1991 to those who served in the Korean Conflict (1950-1953). Peering through the open silhouette in the middle of the monument on a clear day, both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are visible.


New York Korean War Veterans Memorial, Battery Park

Thomas Addis Emmett Obelisk

209 Broadway & Fulton, St. Paul's Churchyard, Financial District
Subway: 2,3 to Fulton

This obelisk in St. Paul's Chapel's churchyard is a little over 30 feet tall and dedicated to Irish-American attorney Thomas Emmet (1764-1827) who immigrated to the U.S. in 1804. Emmet is actually not buried under the obelisk, but rather in St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery in the East Village. The obelisk features a relief of Emmett's face below the pyramid top, and just below the base, a relief of an eagle grasping an Irish harp, an early example of this Irish-American emblem. St. Paul's Chapel, completed in 1766, is only a block away from the World Trade Center, and has become a memorial to September 11th.


Thomas Addis Emmett Obelisk, St. Paul's Chapel Churchyard, Financial District

Alexander Hamilton Obelisk

74 Trinity Pl, Wall Street and Broadway, Trinity Churchyard, Financial District
Subway: 2,3,4,5 to Wall St

In 1804, after the first Secretary of the Treasury was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr, the city of New York mourned his death. Alexander Hamilton's friends and family buried him under a white obelisk in Trinity Churchyard and Hamilton now rests in the heart of the Financial District.


Alexander Hamilton Obelisk, Trinity Churchyard, Financial District

Almost an Obelisk

Amex Building

200 Vesey Street, Financial District
Subway: E to World Trade Center; 4,5 to Fulton; R,W to Cortland

The American Express building was erected in 1984 and is part of the World Financial Center in the Financial District. Standing at 739 feet, this pyramid-topped building could arguably be the tallest obelisk in the city. It is certainly the tallest obelisk-shaped structure in NYC.


Amex Building, Financial District

Major General James Wolfe Memorial

Built in 1762, this obelisk honored British Major General James Wolfe who died in the Battle of Quebec during the Seven Years War (1754-1763). Erected at the end of "Monument Land," which is today Greenwich Avenue, at 4th Street and Greenwich Avenue, this obelisk was dismantled sometime in the 1760s or early 1770s for some unknown reason; perhaps it had to do with the growing animosity towards Loyalists-those in the American colonies who supported Britain-and the oncoming Revolution in 1776. This obelisk would be the oldest war memorial in the city if it still stood today.