26 April 2011

Shipping an Obelisk

A couple days, weeks, months ago we read about the different theories regarding the transportation of England’s famous Stonehenge. Today we’re going to look at similar topic, albeit one that takes fewer guesses and more, what you call those things? Oh yeah, facts. During the 1800s Egypt gifted 3 different nations with obelisks dating back to 1,500 BC. The logistics of shipping them became some of the greatest engineering feats of their time.

white trash repairs - Historical Thursday: Shipping an Obelisk

Paris, London and New York each received a Cleopatra Needle of their own, two of them a matching pair, the other leaving its twin back home in Egypt. During the 19th century, the Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali – possibly the boxer, I haven’t confirmed his time travel abilities yet – gave each of the countries one for different commemorations: The United States for not meddling in its politics, England for the Battle of the Nile and France for being French.

While all three nations graciously accepted the gift, the question of how to actually receive them raised a lot of concerns. So daunting was the task that England even flat-out refused to pay for the transportation out of their pocket. Luckily, a wealthy scientist contributed £10,000 to fund the project, but there was still the problem of actually doing it. A typical ship in those days couldn’t hold a 250+ tonne stone, so some creativity was in order. After digging the obelisk out of the sand and moving it to the beach, construction began on a specially designed vessel around the rock. A large steel cylinder was wrapped around it and encased with wood, transforming it into an easily tow-able barge.

white trash repairs - Historical Thursday: Shipping an Obelisk

Although the barge worked like a charm, the transportation didn’t go as smoothly as it could have. A storm hit while it cruised through the Bay of Biscay, killing 6 volunteers who attempted to rescue the sinking ship. The barge was lost and presumed to be sitting on the bottom of the sea. Miraculously, it turned up 4 days later on the shores of Northwestern Spain where it was repaired and successfully moved to the shores of the Thames, where it sits today.

white trash repairs - Historical Thursday: Shipping an Obelisk

If you laugh at the word erecting, we have something in common.

After becoming jealous of the Brits, New Yorkers cried out for an obelisk of their own. In 1880, Egypt complied and William Vanderbilt contributed $100,000 to the project. Since we couldn’t possibly do things the same way as those cloud-infested tea drinkers, we had to come up with our own plan. Henry Gorringe, a Navy lieutenant commander, took charge. He recruited the SS Dessoug, one of the only steam ships in the world that could hold the immense weight. Cleopatra’s Needle was placed in the hold and was the guest of honor on the fortunately uneventful voyage. 32 horses dragged it up Fifth Avenue to its final resting place in Central Park.

white trash repairs - Historical Thursday: Shipping an Obelisk

60 years prior to this, the French received their obelisk. Other than a claim that it was ‘no easy feat’, hardly any information exists as to how this first one was transported. There is only this engraving below which seems to show the obelisk moving along a railroad, but this remains doubtful as France only introduced a locomotive system the year before. But since France is just short(ish) journey across the Mediterranean, transportation for this obelisk may have been a little easier. If you have any ideas what the engraving means or have information on how the French moved their gift, feel free to comment below!

white trash repairs - Historical Thursday: Shipping an Obelisk

Seriously, what s going on here?

Pictures and Information courtesy of: Make Magazine and the ever faithful Wikipedia.

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