It was a time of donations between countries – around the same time France was discussing sending the Statue of Liberty.
“Both took years to finalize, and the Statue of Liberty beat the obelisk by three years,” Sara Cedar Miller, historian emeritus of the Central Park Conservancy, told Gothamist. “So those are two major landmarks that we associate with gifts from other countries.”
According to the CPC, the site for the obelisk – 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 “made sure he wouldn’t be overshadowed by skyscrapers” (not that the city was overrun with real skyscrapers at the time). It probably also had something to do with William H. Vanderbilt, who funded his travels, lobbying for this place.
While the Statue of Liberty was delivered in about 350 pieces, with its arm first exhibited in Madison Square Park in 1876, the obelisk had to be sent whole, complete with its 50-ton plinth. When he finally reached New York shores, he was first brought to Staten Island, transferred to a new ship, then brought across the river to the Upper West Side. From there, he had to cross a specially constructed bridge and was then transported via a purpose-built railroad, traveling just one city block a day to his final destination.
“It must have started from the Hudson River on these specially constructed rails, rolling with cannonballs through all of New York City, this very large object at the corners of our [street] grid,” Miller said.
The journey across town took 19 days, and once he reached Fifth Avenue he rested 20 more, with the final leg of the journey being delayed by a blizzard. Once he was still, the CPC noted that some New Yorkers arrived “with scissors in hopes of getting a piece of the stone,” and a 24/7 security team arrived. was put in place to protect it.