Bob Brier and the Hunt for the New York Obelisk

Bob Brier and the Hunt for the New York Obelisk

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Bob Brier is arguably the world's most famous Egyptologist. A popular host on Learning Channel's Great Egyptians series, he was the first person since ancient times to mummify a human in the ancient Egyptian style. National Geographic's television special, Mr Mummy, caused its creator to be instantly dubbed ''Mr Mummy'', a nickname which stuck. Blessed with a combination of brilliance and the Midas touch, Bob Brier was invited to appear in a series of lectures, The Great Courses, which is a series of college-level audio and video courses produced and distributed by The Teaching Company . The History of Ancient Egypt series pays royalties to Professor Brier to this day. And rightly so. Standing behind a lectern in his trademark blue shirt the maestro delivers 48 half hour lectures. It is hard to believe that this would captivate, let alone stand the test of time. However, most people who watch cannot switch off. Viewers watch hour after hour of extraordinary performances with little more than the human voice, enthusiasm and knowledge.

Professor Brier's latest book, Cleopatra's Needles: the Lost Obelisks of Egypt, not only received favourable reviews in Wall Street Journal and KMT, but also appeared in extract form in international magazines such as Nile Magazine, which has only increased its popularity. It is, in some ways, the result of a lifetime obsession. Professor Brier has many interests and projects, obelisks being one of them. As a native New Yorker he is especially interested in the discovery and transport of Tuthmosis III's jubilee obelisk from Egypt to its current home on Graywacke Knoll in his hometown. What is not known is that, prior to the publication of his book, the eminent academic engaged in some hunting of his own, or to be precise, sought the exact location of the New York obelisk in downtown Alexandria.

Bob Brier examining carvings in Egypt. Photo credit: Sharon Janet Hague

The Hunt for the New York Obelisk

Like many who watched his Obelisks lecture from The History of Ancient Egypt, series I had the happy privilege of travelling with Bob Brier and a group of Americans to Egypt . In an Alexandrian hotel, on a freezing February night where the ancient hotel lift did not work, guests still contrived to be stuck in the steel contraption. The wise took stairs, while others were extricated from the ancient steel lift. Finally, everyone hurried down a corridor to Bob's lecture where a gold sign indicated admission.

Unfortunately, something had gone terribly wrong and instead of a lecture room, we were piled into a very large bedroom. Amusing, since I had spent many a night watching the series from the comfort of mine. Waiting patiently for the last person to squeeze into the tightly packed room, Professor Brier started the talk. It was the Obelisks lecture from the famous series, but with new facts. He concluded by proposing to discover the original location of the New York obelisk.

Next morning, under his orders, the group's vans drew up before the Le Metropole Hotel. It was outside this establishment the famous obelisk was hoisted up with a series of pulleys and cranes to begin its journey out of Alexandria. Bob and his wife, Pat Remler, guided the group into following clues, getting lost in the process and asking passers-by questions. Fluent in Arabic, Bob engaged a number of helpful people who spotted a building behind the site where the obelisk was erected, complete with ornate grillwork, which gave the date of the location.

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Elevator which now stands on the site of the New York Obelisk, Alexandria, Egypt. Photo Credit: Sharon Janet Hague

A competition runner most of his life, Bob spent a morning hurrying at breakneck speed across the Alexandrian footpaths, his group at his heels. Bursting through heavy glass doors while investigating a number of hotels, the professor, with his intense mental concentration, continued to draw in the Egyptians who helped look. Finally, at the base of a lift in the lobby of a hotel, courteous staff pointed out the location of the uprooted obelisk.

So what is the New York obelisk and why indeed, is there an Egyptian obelisk in New York at all?

The Migration of Obelisks

First of all, obelisks represented the Egyptian sun-god Re. Many countries at some point have acquired them . Obelisks, in fact, have been transported to countries outside Egypt for more than two thousand years. The Roman emperors took them as spoils of war. To this day Italy displays thirteen of these needles, more than any other country, including modern Egypt. There are probably at least another dozen lost underneath its city streets. France also owns an obelisk, which was a gift from Egypt to Champollion, the first great decipherer of hieroglyphs in modern times.

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Leon Cogniet’s portrait of Jean-Francois Champollion

But it is the English obelisk which provoked American jealousy. When Waynman Dixon picked the fallen obelisk of Tuthmosis III at Alexandria and transported it by sea to its current location on the Thames embankment, America had to own one. Why the jealousy? The rivalry between England - the old-world order and the new, represented by America - exists to this day.

The "Cleopatra's Needle" obelisk in London, Victoria Embankment ( CC0)

The acquisition of America's obelisk

To acquire the New York obelisk was a daunting feat which was finally accomplished despite several changes in the Egyptian government. Originally offered to America by the Egyptian government at the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, the offer of an obelisk was later retracted. William Vanderbilt, the American railroad mogul, finally funded the removal of an obelisk from Egypt to America. In May 1877 the US Consul-General, Judge Elbert E. Farman managed to acquire the obelisk as a gift from the Khedive.

And what did they get for their pains? None other than the remaining obelisk from the pair commissioned by Egypt's greatest warrior king, Tuthmosis III. Fashioned for his Heb-Sed festival, which Egyptian kings traditionally celebrated every thirty years into their reign, both obelisks were quarried from Aswan granite. In 13 BC the pair were moved to Cleopatra’s Caesareum in Alexandria, Egypt by Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus. One had toppled in antiquity and was snapped up by the British. The Americans, as fate would have it, now took the other. It appears ironic in hindsight that two superpowers acquired the obelisks commissioned by the Egyptian pharaoh who turned Egypt into an empire.

Cleopatra's Needle, Central Park, New York City. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Lieutenant-Commander Henry Honeychurch Gorringe, a decorated US naval commander, volunteered to transport the remaining obelisk from Alexandria to New York, overcoming hurdles far more daunting than those faced by the French and English. The Atlantic Ocean was only one of them. Ingenious methods were used to move the obelisk which, as it was still upright, was much more difficult to move than the English one. Buying a cheap postal steamer, the Dessoug, from a bankrupt Egyptian government, Gorringe converted its hold to take the 250-ton obelisk on board.

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Placing the Cleopatra's Needle Obelisk in the Hold of the Steamship Dessoug, on its way to Central Park in New York City, 1880. ( Public Domain )

Once in America, sixteen pairs of horses pulled the pedestal to Central Park. The obelisk was towed up the Hudson River to 96th Street on pontoons, after which a rail track, built by Gorringe was used to move the obelisk through the city at a rate of only one block per day. It took six months to reach its current location on Graywacke Knoll. Even then the drama did not stop. In his latest book Professor Brier gives an update on the deterioration of the obelisk which shed hundreds of pounds of granite due to the harsh New York winters.

Professor Brier's book, which has been highly recommended both in the Wall Street Journal and Kmt, captures the history of obelisks in a comprehensive, easy-to-read style. As he once said, if he could make a motion picture it would be about Tuthmosis III's obelisk trip from Egypt to America. Cleopatra's Needles: the Lost Obelisks of Egypt places a well-deserved spotlight on obelisks, which often overlooked, were nevertheless, the silent stars in engineering feats which rivalled that of pyramid building. And perhaps, one day, that movie will be made.

Bob Brier in Egypt. Photo Credit: Sharon Janet Hague

The Lost Obelisks of Egypt

The story of the transportation of three obelisks to London, Paris and New York captures the 19th-century mania for all things Egyptian.

The tale of how three 19th-century engineers – the Frenchman Apollinaire Lebas, the Englishman John Dixon (not forgetting his younger brother Waynman) and the American Henry Gorringe – managed to transport their respective obelisks to London, Paris and New York is hardly a new one. With the classic book on Egyptian obelisks, Labib Habachi’s The Obelisks of Egypt, having graced my shelves since 1977, I initially queried what more Bob Brier could possibly have to say. Through his choice of intriguing black and white images, however, he recaptures obelisk mania anew.

One image depicts a sea of spectators who gathered in 1836 to watch the newly arrived Paris obelisk being erected in the Place de la Concorde. In 1878 crowds on the Thames Embankment braved an hour of torrential rain, while hawkers sold souvenirs: photographs show penny pamphlet translations of the relevant hieroglyphs, together with lead obelisk-shaped pencils which graced the necks of fashionable ladies. Meanwhile, the band of the 17th Lancers played the popular Cleopatra’s Needle Waltz. A lively poster reveals that this was dedicated to Sir Erasmus Wilson, the surgeon-cum-philanthropist who had generously financed the project to the tune of £10,000.

Like his employee John Dixon, Wilson was a Freemason. So too was Gorringe. A stunning gold and amethyst baton, complete with a fully inscribed miniature gold obelisk, was used at the impressive Masonic installation ceremony for New York’s Central Park pedestal in 1881. Coinciding with the arrival of that city’s erroneously named Cleopatra’s Needle, storeowners dispensed carefully crafted trade cards. Needle and thread manufacturer John English & Co. showed Cleopatra threading one of its needles through a large hole in the obelisk’s upturned base, while J. & P. Coats depicted mammoth versions of their best six-cord spool cotton keeping the towed artefact afloat on the Hudson.

A 2014 photograph of a hard-hatted Brier clutching the top of the New York obelisk shows how, literally embracing a once in a lifetime opportunity, he climbed its temporary scaffolding. We, too, can therefore testify that its very tip had once been broken. Careful detective work results in the book’s final image – an enlargement of an 1870s photograph, sourced from France by a friend – of the obelisk still erect and minus its tip in Alexandria. Brier concludes that, before transport, Gorringe had its replacement cut and then reattached by means of a rod.

A fast-paced text, friendly chapter sub-headings, a few minimal footnotes and a useful bibliography assist the reader. It is, however, the unexpected illustrations that ultimately provide this book’s captivating originality.

Cleopatra’s Needles: The Lost Obelisks of Egypt
Bob Brier
Bloomsbury Academic
238pp £21.99

Rosalind Janssen is Lecturer in Education at the UCL Institute of Education and teaches Egyptology courses at Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education.

Cleopatra’s Needles: The Lost Obelisks of Egypt. Bloomsbury Egyptology

Among the huge variety of Egypt’s ancient monuments one type was to gain a particularly lasting impression: the obelisk. Despite their enormous size and weight, and in obvious contrast to the pyramids, obelisks were moveable and tempted later rulers and wealthy men to own them. It is no surprise that the dangerous journeys of Egypt’s obelisks from their original positions in front of temple pylons along the Nile to their final resting places on squares and river banks in the Western World have been described in many books. With Cleopatra’s Needles. The Lost Obelisks of Egypt in the Bloomsbury Egyptology series, the Egyptologist Bob Brier continues this tradition. Beyond the two obelisks cited in the book’s title (Cleopatra’s needles, now in London and New York) many other obelisks are discussed in Brier’s vivid writing style.

The author starts with a short introduction to Egyptian chronology, before providing some background information on Pharaonic quarrying methods in general and those for obelisks in particular.

In the following five chapters (2-6) Brier discusses the fate of many obelisks that were removed from Egypt from Roman times until the 19th century AD. Rome (Ch. 2), possesses more standing obelisks than any other place worldwide including Egypt, their former home. Brier cursorily describes these and the famous Istanbul obelisk in this chapter, ignoring the largest of all, the Lateran obelisk. By contrast, he devotes an entire chapter (Ch. 3) to the Vatican obelisk to demonstrate the engineering achievements of the Renaissance, by explaining how this monument was moved and re-erected by Domenico Fontana within Rome.

In chapters 4-6 the reader learns a great deal about the long and dangerous journeys of obelisks erected in Paris (1836), London (1878) and New York (1881). Brier’s lively descriptions cover political and financial situations as well as stunning technological inventions, but also the risk of transporting the heavy obelisks by ship, which cost the lives of six crew members in the case of the London obelisk.

The last chapter “Postscript on the Obelisks” deals foremost with the author’s recent investigation of the New York obelisk’s damaged and repaired tip and the question whether it was broken before Gorringe moved it out of Alexandria. Comparing old photographs Brier argues that the tip was damaged when the obelisk was still standing in Alexandria and was already repaired when it was erected in New York. He favours the idea that it was Gorringe who completed it in Alexandria before the obelisk travelled to New York. The author tries to connect the presence of eight bolt-holes towards the bottom of the pyramidion’s four sides with a possible cladding executed during Gorringe’s restoration, but this reviewer doubts it. Such bolt-holes are regularly attested on obelisks and derive from their original gold or electrum coating.

The book closes with a short bibliography and a very useful index. It is illustrated with many black and white figures of differing quality. Whereas most of the old drawings, engravings and photographs are fine, the more recent photographs show little contrast and/or low resolution (e.g. figs. 2.7 and 7.3).

Some final remarks: Bob Brier brilliantly draws the reader’s attention to the adventurous stories of these obelisks in times when the Western World was caught up in obelisk mania. For readers interested in the history of science, this book will be highly welcome. It might be less attractive to those expecting in-depth information on the obelisks’ original purpose, as monolithic cult pillars devoted to the sun-god Re.

The Story of the Egyptian Obelisk in New York

The Egyptian obelisk in New York traveled all the way from Egypt and was successfully erected in Central Park on a freezing January day in 1881. (Image: John A. Anderson/Shutterstock)

Moving Egyptian obelisks to other countries became trendy in the 19 th century. Rome, France, and Britain each had their Egyptian gifts. New York also wanted one, and they got one in 1880 when William Vanderbilt paid Gorringe to get the obelisk. The problem was not the money the problem was getting the obelisk out of a bankrupt and chaotic Egypt.

This is a transcript from the video series History of Ancient Egypt. Watch it now, Wondrium.

Receiving the Obelisk

Gorringe was a naval lieutenant. When he arrived in a bankrupt Egypt in 1880, each part of the country was run by a foreign group. That part of Alexandria was owned by an Italian, who told Gorringe he could get the obelisk at a very high price. However, the Italian had been suing the government to get the obelisk off his land, so Gorringe had to handle many problems.

The bankrupt Egypt was being run by many foreign consortiums. The post office was run by the Italians. The antiquities service was run by the French, and the streets of Alexandria were owned by the merchants. The merchants told Gorringe that he could not take the obelisk through the streets as it would ruin their sewer system. They did not care for the sewer system and wanted a big bribe, which they never got.

Despite all these, Gorringe managed to get the obelisk and its 50-ton pedestal out of Alexandria. Before that, however, he had to take the obelisk down.

Lowering the Obelisk

The obelisks were usually not held by anything but their weight and gravity. Thus, it was extremely difficult to re-erect or lower one and get it ready for transport. It needed timber, and there was not enough timber available in Egypt to lower the obelisk. So, Gorringe decided to build a scaffold around it, which could not solve the problem yet.

The Romans had built four bronze crabs around the obelisk after they chopped it from the base to pin it to the ground. Gorringe had to remove the crabs, and he eventually used hydraulic jacks to lift the obelisk up and pivot it. When it got parallel to the ground, it began crashing through the timbers until they could stop it at the last moment.

When the obelisk was down, he floated it around to the port and started the long journey.

Sailing to New York from Egypt

As Egypt was bankrupt, Gorringe bought a postal steamer called the Dessoug rather easily and rather cheaply. He rolled the obelisk inside it on cannonballs and closed the hull to begin sailing to New York. He had no legal registration for the ship or the Yugoslav crew. Egyptians could not sail with him, and the original Yugoslav crew were alcoholics.

The journey was really rough, but he managed to get to the United States, where new problems awaited him.

Pulling the Obelisk to Central Park, New York

Gorringe brought the obelisk to Staten Island and finally to the East River, the east side of Manhattan. However, he did not get the obelisk off the ship there as the owners of the port wanted an exorbitant fee. Instead, he went around Manhattan and unloaded the obelisk at 96 th Street. The new problem was a railroad track that ran along the Hudson at that time.

Vanderbilt, who wanted the obelisk, owned the railroad, and Gorringe had no problem with permissions and fees. However, he had only two hours to get the obelisk across the tracks, which he did. Transporting it to Central Park was perhaps the slowest part of the journey with a speed of one city block per day.

Erecting the obelisk on its 50-ton pedestal was not easier than transporting it from Egypt to New York. (Image: Crush OmaPhoto/Shutterstock)

They took a steam engine and anchor chain, attached it to the obelisk, and the steam engine winched the obelisk along. They even built railroad trestles so that the obelisk could move up and down the hills like a little train being winched along.

Erecting the Obelisk in Central Park, New York

On January 22, 1881, the obelisk was finally erected in Central Park. At around two in the morning, Gorringe went to the park to check if the system of erecting the obelisk was working. When the erecting began, 9,000 masons were present at the site.

The Egyptian obelisk in New York was successfully erected, and the bronze crabs were put back in the four corners to hold it in place. The obelisk is still there where it was first erected.

Common Questions about the Story of the Egyptian Obelisk in New York

Yes. The obelisk in New York was originally built in Egypt, and then lifted and transported by Gorringe from Egypt to the United States.

The obelisk in New York ’s Central Park was carried to the United States on huge boats and with steam engines from Egypt.

Public Lecture Series with Bob Brier

In the 19th century three massive obelisks left Egypt bound for Paris, London, and New York. The engineers entrusted with transporting “Cleopatra’s Needles” had to invent new methods to transport these granite monoliths, and it was far from certain that they would succeed.

It took the French four years to lower, transport and erect their obelisk. The London obelisk was lost at sea and six brave men lost their lives attempting to transport it to England. When Lt. Commander Henry Gorringe brought New York its obelisk, he was forced to sail in an unflagged ship that, while at sea, could have been seized by any nation

In this lecture, Bob Brier tells how obelisks were quarried and raised in ancient Egypt and then recounts the remarkable adventures involved in bringing the three obelisks across oceans to their new homes.

The lecture will be followed by a signing of his new book, Cleopatra’s Needles: The Lost Obelisks of Egypt.

Dr. Bob Brier is Senior Research Fellow at Long Island University. He is recognized as one of the world’s foremost experts on mummies and was the first person in 2,000 years to mummify a human cadaver using the exact techniques of the ancient Egyptians. In 2010 National Geographic TV presented his documentary called “Secret of the Great Pyramid” discussing a new theory of how the great Pyramid was built. Dr. Brier’s research has been featured in such media as CNN, 60 Minutes, and The New York Times.

Date: Monday, March 13th

Time: 6:00 pm Reception, 7:00 pm Lecture

Location: Club Headquarters, 46 East 70th Street, New York, NY, 10021

Member Ticket Price: $10

Guest Ticket Price: $25

Student Ticket Price:

$5 with a valid academic ID

Reservation Notes:

Hero chases down Central Park mugger who stole woman's phone

It’s 70 feet tall, 220 tons and the city’s oldest artifact — but many New Yorkers don’t know it exists.

Cleopatra’s Needle, a 3,500-year-old obelisk from Ancient Egypt, survived a voyage to Central Park more than a century ago and has been a park treasure ever since.

Nestled behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the ­hieroglyph-covered column was commissioned by one of Egypt’s most powerful pharaohs and reigns as among the last of its kind.

“It’s our oldest inhabitant,” says Dr. Bob Brier, a renowned Egyptologist at Long Island University’s C.W. Post Campus in Brookville, LI.

Cleopatra’s Needle in Central Park.

“When it was erected, everyone went bananas,” he adds. “Then it was forgotten. Trees grew up around the knoll and obscured it. People just stopped thinking about it.”

Still, Brier says the artifact’s history has enough twists and turns to make a Hollywood film.

Erected in Heliopolis around 1450 BC, the obelisk was toppled centuries later by Persian invaders. It was buried in the dust for 500 years more until the Romans snatched it for ­Julius Caesar.

Now the Central Park Conservancy is embarking on a $500,000 project to clean and preserve the monument — ­using lasers to wipe away ­decades of dirt and pollution.

“There was a recent article about the obelisk, and the writer said it’s boring,” says Brier, who visits the monument every month. “He’s dead wrong. The obelisk is an engineering achievement. It’s an ancient skyscraper.”

Despite its nickname, Central Park’s obelisk wasn’t made for Cleopatra, but for the Napoleon of Egypt.

Thutmosis III amassed the greatest empire in Egyptian history during his 54-year reign. The pharaoh came to power in 1479 BC and claimed to have conquered more than 300 cities from Syria to Sudan, leading his army from a chariot sheathed in gold.

Thutmosis was also a prolific builder, commissioning dozens of temples and obelisks.

Construction has begun on Cleopatra’s Needle. Helayne Seidman

To celebrate his 30th year of rule, the pharaoh asked for a pair of pillars to flank the sun temple in Heliopolis — a feat that sent thousands of workers south to the Aswan quarry to cut each monument from a ­single piece of red granite.

While Thutmosis was the brain behind the obelisks and inscribed them with his name, two other kings later seized them and added their own self-serving hieroglyphs to the four sides.

Pharaoh Ramesses II, who reigned from 1279 to 1212 BC, inscribed his praises and left little room for Osorkon I, who crammed his moniker on a lower edge.

The monuments towered above the Nile for more than 1,000 years, until Persians raided the city and toppled them. The obelisks may have burned in the invasion and eroded from spending hundreds of years in the sand.

The obelisks stood again around 12 BC, when Roman conquerors uprooted and moved them to Alexandria. The artifacts were placed then at a Caesarium, a temple honoring Julius Caesar.

After the collapse of the ­Roman empire, and even the fall of the Caesarium, the obelisks still stood. At some point — no one’s quite sure by whom — they were given their nickname: Cleopatra’s Needles.

“Thutmosis’s pair of obelisks quietly faded into the scenery, their presence taken for granted by the Alexandrians,” wrote Martina D’Alton in a 1993 book on the obelisk.

“The obelisks remained ­unperturbed . . . greeting incoming ships and witnessing the departure of obelisks and other treasures bound for distant shores.”

Cleopatra’s Needle was erected by Thutmose III at Heliopolis in about 1,460 BC, later moved to Alexandria, and then to the USA. Getty Images

By the 19th century, Europe coveted Egyptian artifacts. England was offered one of the Thutmosis columns in 1801 as a gift for helping Egypt oust Napoleon.

It wasn’t erected in London until 1878, however, after a hazardous journey that cost the lives of six men.

That year, the United States became determined to get an obelisk of its own.

America missed its first chance at an obelisk in 1869 at the opening of the Suez Canal.

Bankrupt and beholden to European creditors, Egypt ­offered US officials the ancient pillar “not out of generosity and friendship but out of desperation,” Brier writes in his 2013 book, “Egyptomania.”

The offer was ignored — ­until New York was overcome with obelisk envy at the sight of London’s gem.

That’s when William Henry Hulbert, editor of The New York World newspaper, and E.E. Farman, the American consul-general in Cairo, launched a public campaign to obtain one.

Egyptian representatives promised Farman an obelisk several times before, and this time he asked for the offer in writing. Under a new contract, Farman made sure the precious relic would go specifically to New York.

The obelisk being transported. Getty Images

In 1879, newspaper headlines declared obelisk victory. Railroad mogul William Vanderbilt covered the obelisk’s transport. Now America only needed a man for the daunting feat of bringing it home.

Henry Gorringe, a decorated Navy commander, stepped forward. At the time, the largest object to sail in the hold of a ship was a 100-ton cannon heading from England to Italy, Brier writes. (London had towed its obelisk.)

Gorringe’s team carefully lowered the obelisk with a cable amid scores of protesters. They slid it into an 83-foot-long wooden box, which was rolled with cannonballs onto a vessel bound for Staten Island.

The obelisk set sail on June 12, 1880, and reached New York a little over a month later. But the treacherous journey wasn’t over. It took another five months for the artifact to reach Central Park.

First Gorringe hauled the obelisk’s 50-ton pedestal to 51st Street and pulled it to the park with 32 horses.

The monument, meanwhile, was towed up the Hudson River to 96th Street on pontoons. Gorringe built a special rail track to move the obelisk through the city at a rate of only one block per day.

As Cleopatra’s Needle inched toward its new home, New York was enraptured in a wave of Egyptomania.

When the obelisk’s cornerstone was laid at Central Park’s Graywacke Knoll, close to East 81st Street, at least 9,000 Free­masons marched up Fifth Avenue to commemorate it with a ceremony.

Hieroglyphics on Cleopatra’s Needle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York merchants, including a needle company, doled out trading cards in honor of the artifact, showing the Queen of the Nile threading not a needle, but an obelisk.

A candy stand trailed the monument on the voyage to its new home, while another merchant sold “Cleopatra Dates” in an obelisk-shaped box, according to D’Alton. Some restaurants even stirred up “Obbylish” cocktails.

“When the obelisk was erected, ladies wore mechanical lead pencils around their necks in the shape of the obelisk,” Brier told The Post. “People were going crazy.”

On Jan. 22, 1881, thousands of New Yorkers gathered to see the obelisk assembled — two years after its journey from Alexandria.

Before it was erected, a time capsule was buried under its base with documents including the 1870 census, a copy of the Declaration of Independence, Webster’s Dictionary and a small box from Hurlbert. Its complete contents are unknown.

In 2011, the obelisk returned to the spotlight when an Egyptian official accused New York of neglecting the ancient structure and threatened to take it back.

In a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Zahi Hawass, secretary-general for the Supreme Council of Antiquities, fumed that the obelisk was “severely weathered over the past century and that no efforts have been made to conserve it.

“Recent photographs that I have received show the severe damage that has been done to the obelisk,” he wrote, “particularly to the hieroglyphic text, which in places has been completely worn away.”

Construction on the obelisk. Helayne Seidman

The Parks Department and Central Park Conservancy ­rebuffed Hawass’ claims, saying the obelisk’s damage stems from being engulfed in sand centuries ago.

Still, park honchos ordered a “weathering study” shortly after the scathing letter. And a conservation project began this spring.

Bartosz Dajnowski — an Illinois-based conservationist who also restored the George Washington statue at Federal Hall on Wall Street — is cleaning the obelisk with lasers before repairing cracks and covering it with protective coating.

The laser’s infrared beam is set to a distance of 1,064 nanometers and hits the soot but not the ancient granite, Dajnowski told The Post. The pulse lasts about 100 nanoseconds, or 1 billionth of a second.

His three-man team’s meticulous method allows for the scrubbing of 10 square feet an hour.

“The legibility of the hieroglyphs will significantly improve,” Dajnowski said. “The dark deposits are visually distracting and camouflaging some of the hieroglyphs.

“Once the stone surface is evenly clean, the details . . . will be naturally highlighted by the sun, and the shadows cast inside the carvings will make them more legible.”

Conservancy officials say the project won’t reveal any secrets, but rather preserve the obelisk for the decades to come.

Brier, who has studied the artifact for 25 years, hopes to get on the project’s scaffolding.

“Obelisks were almost always one piece, but the tip of our obelisk looks like it was refurbished,” he said.

Cleopatra's Needles : The Lost Obelisks of Egypt

In the half-century between 1831 and 1881 three massive obelisks left Egypt for new lands. Prior to these journeys, the last large obelisk moved was the Vatican obelisk in 1586 – one of the great engineering achievements of the Renaissance. Roman emperors moved more than a dozen, but left no records of how they did it. The nineteenth-century engineers entrusted with transporting the obelisks across oceans had to invent new methods, and they were far from certain that they would work. As the three obelisks, bound for Paris, London and New York, sailed towards their new homes, the world held its breath. Newspapers reported the obelisks' daily progress, complete with dramatic illustrations of the heroic deeds of the engineers and crews struggling under nearly impossible conditions. When the obelisks finally arrived safely in their new homes, bands played Cleopatra's Needle Waltz and silver obelisk pencils dangled from fashionable ladies' necks.

This turbulent era, caught up in obelisk mania, is recreated by Bob Brier in all its glory. Amid astounding tales of engineering dexterity and naval endurance, the individuals involved in transporting the obelisks and receiving them in their future homes are brought to life through their letters and diaries, newspaper articles and illustrations. Written by a renowned Egyptologist and author, this compelling book will fascinate all those interested in Egypt, its iconic monuments and the history of great endeavour.

Who Was Robert Garrow?

Robert Garrow was born in 1936 in the Town of Dannemora, but he was raised in Mineville. In 1961, he pleaded guilty to first-degree rape and was given a 10-20 year prison sentence. He was paroled in 1968 to Syracuse because officials believed he was a model inmate who had been successfully rehabilitated.

That turned out to not be the case. Although Garrow was out on parole and had a job as a mechanic for Millbrook Baking Co. in Syracuse, everything spiraled out of control in the summer of 1973.

Egyptomania: Our Three Thousand Year Obsession with the Land of the Pharaohs

The world has always been fascinated with ancient Egypt. When the Romans conquered Egypt, it was really Egypt that conquered the Romans. Cleopatra captivated both Caesar and Marc Antony and soon Roman ladies were worshipping Isis and wearing vials of Nile water around their necks. What is it about ancient Egypt that breeds such obsession and imitation? Egyptomania explores the burning fascination with all things Egyptian and the events that fanned the flames--from ancient times, to Napoleon's Egyptian campaign, to the Discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb by Howard Carter in the 1920s. For forty years, Bob Brier, one of the world's foremost Egyptologists, has been amassing one of the largest collections of Egyptian memorabilia and seeking to understand the pull of ancient Egypt on our world today. In this original and groundbreaking book, with twenty-four pages of color photos from the author's collection, he explores our three-thousand-year-old fixation with recovering Egyptian culture and its meaning. He traces our enthrallment with the mummies that seem to have cheated death and the pyramids that seem as if they will last forever. Drawing on his personal collection — from Napoleon's twenty-volume Egypt encyclopedia to Howard Carter's letters written from the Valley of the Kings as he was excavating — this is an inventive and mesmerizing tour of how an ancient civilization endures in ours today.

Bob Brier and the Hunt for the New York Obelisk - History

In the 19th century, France, England, and the United States each set out to bring home an Egyptian obelisk. But each obelisk weighed hundreds of tons, and the techniques of moving them had long been forgotten. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the struggles of each nation to transport these massive monoliths using the technology of the 1800s.

We'll also go on an Australian quest and puzzle over a cooling fire.

Sources for our feature on the Egyptian obelisks:

Bob Brier, Cleopatra's Needles: The Lost Obelisks of Egypt, 2016.

Bob Brier, "The Secret Life of the Paris Obelisk," Aegyptiaca: Journal of the History of Reception of Ancient Egypt 2 (2018), 75-91.

Henry Petroski, "Engineering: Moving Obelisks," American Scientist 99:6 (November–December 2011), 448-452.

Bob Brier, "Saga of Cleopatra's Needles," Archaeology 55:6 (November/December 2002), 48-54.

P.W. Copeman, "Cleopatra's Needle: Dermatology's Weightiest Achievement," British Medical Journal 1:6106 (1978), 154-155.

"Machinery for Moving Cleopatra's Needle," Scientific American 41:21 (Nov. 22, 1879), 322.

"Landing of Cleopatra's Needle," Scientific American 39:4 (July 27, 1878), 55.

"Cleopatra's Needle," Scientific American 36:14 (April 7, 1877), 215-216.

Marguerite Oliver, "Cleopatra's Needle: Egypt's Gift to England," Los Angeles Times, Sept. 20, 1987.

Cyrus W. Bell, "How They Took Cleopatra's Needle Down the Nile and by Sea to London," Toronto Star, Nov. 9, 1985.

"Cleopatra's Needle in London," New York Times, April 17, 1932.

"Obelisk Located in Central Park," New Britain [Conn.] Herald, Dec. 5, 1928.

"Hieroglyphics Deciphered," New York Times, Aug. 19, 1878.

"Raising the Cleopatra's Needle," New York Times, June 30, 1878.

"Cleopatra's Needle," Times, Feb. 16, 1878.

"Cleopatra's Needle," Graphic, Feb. 2, 1878.

"Cleopatra's Needle," Liverpool Mercury, Oct. 22, 1877.

"The Derelict Obelisk," New York Times, Oct. 19, 1877.

"Cleopatra's Needle," [London] Standard, Oct. 19, 1877.

"Cleopatra's Needle in London," New York Times, Sept. 16, 1877.

"Cleopatra's Needle," Birmingham Daily Post, April 22, 1876.

"Cleopatra's Needle," New York Times, June 6, 1875.

"Cleopatra's Needle," Illustrated London News, June 21, 1851.

"Gregorian Calendar," Encyclopaedia Britannica (accessed March 6, 2021).

"Gregorian Calendar," Wikipedia (accessed Mar. 6, 2021).

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Tristan Shephard.

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Watch the video: Masters Series Lecture: Bob Brier