As a frequent visitor to New York City, I’ve spent a lot of time in Central Park over the years. The fact is, in the City That Never Sleeps, your money never goes nearly as far as you think it will. So by the last day or two of any trip, people like me often find themselves blissfully wandering around the park, drinking in that sweet, sweet smell of financial sustainability.
But you might be surprised to find that within this vast extent (its 843 acres make it larger than Vatican City and Monaco combined), Central Park is so packed with hidden gems that it’s well worth a visit even before you run out of money. Of course, there is a world wide web out there where you can read all about Strawberry Fields, the Ramble, Belvedere Castle, and The Central Park Zoo, all of which are fantastic diversions from the surrounding urban environment. But my favorite feature carries your imagination to a scene from a long time ago in a land far, far away.
Cleopatra’s Needle, as it has come to be known, is a 3,500 year-old Egyptian obelisk now located just west of the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the theoretical corner of Sixth Avenue and 81st St. Standing 69 feet tall and weighing 200 tons, this red granite monument actually predates Cleopatra by more than a millennium. It was erected by Pharaoh Thutmose III (great-great-great-grandfather of Tutankhamen) in the year 1475 BC. Its hieroglyphics were added two centuries later by Ramses II to tell future generations all about how awesome Ramses II was. How it came to be in New York is a classic tale of self-importance. Essentially, when they became aware that Paris and London had been gifted obelisks, prominent New Yorkers organized and sought one out for their city. A deal was struck and in February 1881, Cleopatra’s Needle was installed in Central Park.
And there it has sat for 135 years, while the city has grown up around it. However, the obelisk’s relatively brief time in New York has already taken its toll. Long, snowy winters and acid rain were never much of a concern in ancient Egypt, but they are unfortunate facts of life in the Mid-Atlantic. So over the years, the stone has become weathered and pitted to the extent that the hieroglyphics are becoming increasingly difficult to see. It’s not beyond restoration though, and conversations to that end appear to be in the works. So, you can expect it to stand there indefinitely, a welcome diversion for residents and tourists alike who find themselves without funds enough to afford even the cover charge at a Shake Shack.