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New York, New York

Crabs of Cleopatra’s Needle

Ancient crustaceans support an obelisk from far-away Egypt stands in modern day Central Park. 

During the 19th century, three Ancient Egyptian obelisks, all popularly referred to as “Cleopatra’s Needle,” were re-erected. The Paris needle was the first to be revived and nicknamed after the famous Egyptian queen, despite its originating from the reign of Pharaoh Thutmose III, over a thousand years before her time.

The other two, placed in London and New York City, are a pair. Sixty-eight feet of red granite and weighing in at about 224 tons each, the obelisks were first erected in the ancient city of Heliopolis around 1450 BC. 200 years later, Ramesses II added inscriptions to the towering rocks trumpeting his military prowess. After being moved to Alexandria by the Romans in 12 BC, they eventually toppled, face first, which saved most of the hieroglyphs from wear and tear as the centuries rolled by.

In February of 1881, one of the obelisks was gifted to the United States as a thank-you for its friendly neutrality during some sticky business between Egypt and European powers, and it was erected in Central Park. To perform this daunting task, former Navy commander Henry Honychurch Gorringe was charged with sailing the monolithic offering across the sea in the hold of the steamship Dessoug. After its arrival, 32 horses were hitched in twos and it was hauled from the Hudson River, carried across a custom-built bridge, and erected right across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.