Little Known: a Touch of Egypt in Central Park
By Christine Stoddard
You probably don't envision an ancient Egyptian obelisk overlooking a monument to a Polish king. Yet Cleopatra's Needle stands there nonetheless, just a stone throw's away from other Egyptian treasures housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Gifted to the United States in 1877 and installed in New York City in 1881, Cleopatra's Needle is a truly historic relic, dating back to 1600 BC. So why would the Egyptian government present the U.S. with such a rare and precious artifact? The answer is especially relevant now that American museums and historic sites prepare for the susquentennial of the Civil War.
After the chaos of the Civil War left much of the former Confederacy in ruins, Southerners struggled to recover their homes, communities, and economies. Depending on who you ask, it was a real sob story, but the objective reality was that not a single Southerner emerged from the war without experiencing a few inconveniences, if not real tragedies.
Among the most wounded of Southern legacies was the cotton industry. Egypt, with its flourishing cotton industry, saw an opportunity. In order to encourage America to choose Egyptian cotton, Egypt gave the U.S. the equivalent of a Tiffany's engagement ring and a fine dowry. The U.S. accepted the marriage proposal, and now many of your garments and linens bear a tag that reads "Egyptian Cotton." Plus there is a big obelisk in Manhattan that a few Egyptian university professors wouldn't mind getting back.