Marble Arch was once located at the very foot of the Mall, giving pedestrians safe passage underneath the park drive at 66th St. It was also the only bridge in the park actually made of marble. It fell victim to the needs of increased automobile traffic entering the park and was demolished in 1938. The arch was collapsed and is presumed to still exist beneath the ground. While the precise location is known, no archaeological effort has ever been made to unearth it.
Clarence Cook wrote of this graceful, restful underpass in A Description of the New York Central Park, published in 1869:
This is one of the pleasantest and most elegantly built of all these cool places for rest and refreshment. It is entered at one end of a level with a foot path; at the other a double stairway to the left and right leads to the level of the Mall and to the carriage-road which this archway is designed to carry. It is called the marble archway to distinguish it, all other structures of this sort in the Park being built either of stone, or brick, or of brick and stone combined. The marble employed is the coarse limestone from the Westchester quarries. . . . A marble bench runs along each side, and at the end . . . a semicircular niche accommodates those who prefer the fuller light that reaches from the stairway. In this niche there is to be placed a suitable marble basin with drinking cups, but, present water is obtained from a common hydrant. The interior of this archway is peculiarly light and attractive, and far more cheerful than other structures of a similar sort in the Park. Here, on a warm day, the children and their nurses gather with their luncheon-baskets, or the reader with his book and sandwich.
Marble Arch exemplified another functional purpose of the many pedestrian arches in Central Park — that of a shelter. Somewhat similar to Willowdell Arch, Marble Arch had continuous benches on both sides and a drinking fountain. Its fluid detail reflected a similarity with the aesthetically complete interiors and ceilings of some other notable bridges and archways, such as Terrace Bridge.
Probably the strangest monument in Central Park is the 71 foot, 244 ton Obelisk, or Cleopatra’s Needle. Easily the oldest man made object in the park it is located in what is now a secluded bower directly behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The obelisk was erected in Heliopolis around 1500 BC and was moved to Alexandria around 12 B.C. by Rome’s Augustus Caesar. By then, the lower corners of the stones had been broken off, so the Romans had bronze supports in the form of sea crabs placed under them. (Two of the original crabs are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the other two were stolen in Egypt.) There it remained until 1879 when it was shipped to the United States. This was either as a gift of the Khedive of Egypt, who offered it to the U. S. as a token of good faith to help stimulate economic relations between the two countries. Or it was swiped by William H. Vanderbilt against the wishes of the Egyptians. It depends on who you ask.
Even more unlikely than the actual presence of the monument in Central Park is the monumental moving job undertaken to get it here. Stand at the bottom and look up and imagine taking it down, putting it in a ship in 1879, sailing across the ocean and up the Hudson and than moving across town, (The cross town journey alone took more than 4 months!), and then setting it upright again on Greywacke Knoll, its present site. The installation was completed in 1881. This Herculean feat was accomplished by a U.S. Navy engineer, Lieutenant-Commander Henry Honeychurch Gorringe.
Location: East Side drive at 81st Street
The nickname “Cleopatra’s Needle” has in fact nothing to do with Cleopatra, but was a self serving tribute to Egypt’s Thutmosis III
At the northern end of Conservatory Water you will find yourself at perhaps the least exclusive soiree in Manhattan, a party where everyone is the guest of honor 364 days a year. It is, of course, Central Park’s permanent installation of its very own unbirthday party.
Alice In Wonderland
Probably the park’s most beloved sculpture, it is a depiction in bronze of a group of our favorite characters from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Perched stage center upon an enormous mushroom, Alice holds court. Grouped around her are the other unlikely invitees to the party. They include: The Mad Hatter (rumored to be a caricature of the patron that sponsored the piece), The March Hare, The Cheshire Cat, The White Rabbit, Alice’s Cat Dinah and, of course, the bashful Dormouse.
To honor his wife Margarita, Philanthropist George Delacorte commissioned the sculpture from José de Creeft in 1959. His design is patterned on the illustrations drawn by John Tenniel for the first edition of the book. Alice herself is said to resemble de Creeft’s daughter, Donna. De Creeft also included lines from Mrs. Delacorte’s favorite poem, “The Jabberwocky.” You can find them engraved in a granite circle around his work:
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe
Besides being an intricate and engaging piece of modern sculpture the eleven-foot statue also possesses equal parts of warmth and whimsy. This is evidenced by the glowing patina created by the many thousands of tiny hands that have flowed over the characters for the past four decades. It would seem that the only thing missing from the party is a twinkling bat.
Location: East 74th Street, north of Conservatory Water