Henry Honeychruch Gorringe

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Cleopatra’s Needle

Compiled by R.’.W.’. Gary L. Heinmiller


Mar 2014

Henry Honeychruch Gorringe, Lt. Cmdr US Navy, Anglo Saxon Lodge No. 137,

http://books.google.com/books?id=hNQWAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA416&lpg=PA416&dq=%22crystal+wave+lodge%22&source=web&ots=ZeM813AFWZ&sig=GttxUlMjvQtzADJqo0-AKFnjmbI&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result#PPA133,M1 page 133.

HENRY H. GORRINGE. (1841-1885)

Bro. Henry H. Gorringe, formerly Lieutenant-Commander in the United States Navy, was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason in Anglo-Saxon Lodge, June 14th, 1866. He was born at Barbadoes, West Indies, in 1842 and was the son of a clergyman of the Church of England, who immediately after taking his degree at Oxford went there and married the daughter of a fellow clergyman. Their son had the best education that the island afforded. He commenced a seafaring life at the age of fourteen and at the age of nineteen was chief mate on a New York ship and was soon after promoted to be captain.

When the war broke out he entered the U. S. Navy, from New York as a volunteer acting master's mate. He served through the war in the Mississippi squadron, was in all the fighting under Farragut and was three times promoted for gallantry in action. At the close of the war he commanded the steamer Memphis for a couple of years and in 1868 he was made a regular officer of the navy, with the rank of Lieutenant-Commander, and stationed at the New York Navy Yard. From 1869 to 1871 he commanded the Portsmouth, and was attached to the South Atlantic squadron. From this duty he was called to Washington and for four years, from 1872 to 1876, he was attached to the Hydrographic Office. At his own request he was sent on the Gettysburg on special service in the Mediterranean.

When Mr. William H. Vanderbilt determined to secure for his native city the gift of the Khedive of Egypt, by paying the expense of transporting the Obelisk to New York (‘Cleopatra’s Needle’), he selected Lieut.-Commander Gorringe, who was recommended by the Navy Department, as a proper person. Commander Gorringe being unable to charter a suitable vessel here for the enterprise purchased the steamer Dessong, then in the Egyptian mail service, and altered her to suit the purpose. After many difficulties and much opposition from foreigners he at last succeeded in getting the Obelisk on board, which was safely landed here on July 20, 1880. He was received with distinguished honors by the Masonic Fraternity, led by his own Lodge, and participated in the laying of the corner-stone.

Subsequently a difficulty occurred between him and Secretary Chandler, owing to some remarks made by Commander Gorringe in reference to free ships. This led to his resignation and shortly after he appeared as the organizer and manager of the American Shipbuilding Company, which leased the Philadelphia and Reading Shipbuilding Yards, near Philadelphia. Operations were continued for five years but did not prove a success. Bro. Gorringe died in the Benedict apartment house on Washington Square, New York city, July 6th, 1885, from spinal disease, caused by an accident some months previous in jumping from a moving train of cars. His remains were taken to Rockland cemetery, at Piermont, on the banks of the Hudson, where the simple white obelisk which marks his last resting place is plainly visible in passing up or down the river.


http://books.google.com/books?id=coUC4QotqA0C&pg=PA241&lpg=PA241&dq=%22dessong%22+%22obelisk%22&source=web&ots=b--Dg1OLSu&sig=ywB5C58PrBWians8_Pb9Xn0eW18&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result#PPA240,M1 pg 240

OBELISK, — The obelisk is a memorial of one of the most ancient races standing in the chief pleasure ground of one of the youngest of nations. How old it is may be judged from the fact that it was probably gazed upon by Moses.

From Alexandria to New York. — The history of its acquisition by New York City begins with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, when the Khedive intimated to William Henry Hurlbert, an American journalist, that it might be possible for the United States to acquire it as a gift. Mr. Hurlbert, on his return to New York, brought the matter to the attention of William H. Vanderbilt, and in October, 1878, the Secretary of State of the United States instructed the United States Consul-General at Alexandria to open negotiations, which resulted favorably. In 1879, bids for its removal from Alexandria and its transportation to New York were advertised for, and Commander Henry H. Gorringe, U, S. N., secured a contract for its removal, transfer and erection in Central Park, for $75,000. England delayed 78 years in transporting to London the twin obelisk of that in New York. The New York obelisk was erected January 2, 1881. Gorringe arrived at Alexandria October 16, 1879. November 6th of the same year he put 100 Arabs at work excavating the pedestal, pushing the work vigorously, as great opposition to the removal of the obelisk had arisen, and he had reason to fear violence. The obelisk was turned and lowered to a horizontal position December 6, 1879. It was then Gorringe discovered, in the foundation and steps, stones and implements of masonic significance, and he carefully noted their position, replacing them exactly when he erected the obelisk in New York. He purchased the steamer Dessong, and embarked with his cargo of 1,475 tons June 12, 1880, arriving at New York July 20th.

The obelisk was disembarked at Staten Island on tracks and cannon balls, and so great interest had been awakened in it that the visitor's on one day alone numbered 17,011. It was re-embarked, and on September 16, 1880, drawn from the foot of Ninety-sixth street and East river on tracks with rollers to Greywacke Knoll, a beautiful rise of ground just west of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On October 9th, 9,000 Free Masons paraded and their Grand Master laid the foundation stone; and January 22, 1881, the obelisk was unveiled in the presence of 20,000 spectators. The total cost of transportation, amounting to $102,576, was defrayed by Mr. Vanderbilt. By a special act of Congress, American registry was allowed the Dessong.

Picture http://k43.pbase.com/v3/33/61633/1/14011732.cleopatrasneedlecrossingthetracks.jpg

Description and History. — The Obelisk is a striking example of graceful and elegant simplicity. Its total height is 90 feet, the height of the monolithic shaft being 69 feet. Its thickness at the base is 8x8 feet, and its weight 448,000 pounds. It is of red syenite from the Assonan quarries. The plinth, of syenite, stands on a base with three steps of hard limestone, the foundation being a mass of concrete, capped with masonry to a level with the pavement. This is the only obelisk, excepting a small one at Corfe Castle, which is accompanied by its original pedestal and steps.

The monolith itself is a quadrilateral shaft ending in a pyrimidipn. On this pyrimidion are inscriptions in hieroglyphics which show that the obelisk dates from the reign of Thothmes III, the greatest Egyptian king, 1591 to 1565 B.C., and the inscriptions on the center line of the three sides of the monolith on which the hieroglyphics are still legible, are also dedicated to Thothmes and consist chiefly of his list of titles and of flattering epithets, all the inscriptions being singularly alike. They furthermore show that the obelisk was erected by Thothmes before the Temple of the Sun at Heliopolis. On either side of the center line of inscriptions on each of the three faces are lines of hieroglyphics in which a subsequent king, Rameses II, 1328to 1322 B.C., glorified himself; and about 933 B.C., another king, Usorkon I, graved his official title near the edges,


Gorringe wrote Egyptian Obelisks, a book about the expedition to retrieve the obelisk and a study of the other standing obelisks in Paris and London. He died on July 7 1885, the result of an accident the previous winter while jumping from a moving train. His friend erected a miniature copy of Cleopatra's Needle over Gorringe's grave. He is buried in Rockland County's Rockland Cemetery.

1875, he discovered the underwater mountain range now known as the Gorringe Sea Bank January 1881


< Gorringe's Trestle

Greywacke Knoll, Central Park, New York City, New York

From an actual photo of Cleopatra's Needle being rigged into place onto its original base as it is supported by Gorringe's Trestle. It is the exact same trestle that he used to dismount the obelisk from its original home in Alexandria, Egypt. A copy of this photograph was cast in bronze and fixed to his gravestone. It is a tribute to its designer that both operations came off without incident. The trestle was built at The Phoenix Iron Works, Trenton, New Jersey.

"It is something to have witnessed the manipulation of a mass weighing nearly two hundred and twenty tons changing its position majestically, yet as easily and steadily as if it were without weight. It was to me an inexpressible relief to feel that my work was complete, and that no accident or incident had happened that would make my countrymen regret that I had been intrusted with the work of removing and re-erecting in their metropolis one of the most famous monuments of the Old World and the most ancient and interesting relic of the past on the American Continent." –

H. H. Gorringe.

As the obelisk was lifted into place and set upon its original pedestal, they sang the old Protestant hymm by Martin Luther: "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" with the following blatantly Masonic new lyrics.

"Great God, to Whom since time began,

The world has prayed and striven;

Maker of stars, and earth, and man -

To thee our praise is given!

Here by this ancient Sign

Of Thine own Light Divine,

We lift to Thee our eyes,

Thou Dweller of the skies"





Diagram shows the screw steam collier Frostburg, built by Henry H. Gorringe (the American Shipbuilding Co.), Philadelphia, Pa. Length, 210 ft. Beam, 33 ft. Depth, 17 ft, Register tonnage, 533. Carrying capacity on 14ft., 1,100 tons, and 100 tons coal in bunker. Cubical contents of cargo space, 55,168 cub. ft. Carrying capacity on 16 feet draught, 1,440 tons. Engines, compound surface condensing. High pressure 26 in. diameter, low pressure 48 in. diameter, stroke 36 in. Two boilers, each 13 ft. diameter. 10 ft. long, and one auxiliary 5 ft. diameter and 10 ft. high. 100 lb. working pressure. Sea speed with full cargo, 11 knots.



Henry Honychurch Gorringe (August 11, 1841 - July 7, 1885) was a naval officer who attained national acclaim for successfully completing the removal of Cleopatra’s Needle from Alexandria, Egypt to Central Park, New York City.

Henry Honychurch Gorringe was born in the British colony of Barbados on August 11, 1841. His father served as rector to St. Michael’s Cathedral. Young Henry came to the United States at a young age, entering the merchant marine.

During the Civil War, he enlisted in the Union Navy, entering on July 13, 1862, with the rank of Mate, serving in the Mississippi Squadron. He received promotion to Acting Ensign on October 1, 1862, to Acting Master on September 26, 1863, to Acting Volunteer Lieutenant on April 27, 1864, and to Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Commander on July 10, 1865. Gorringe elected to stay in the Navy after the war, receiving a regular commission as a Lieutenant on March 12, 1868, and was promoted to Lieutenant Commander on December 18, 1868.

Gorringe discovered the underwater mountain range now known as the Gorringe Sea Bank in 1875, while commanding the exploration vessel Gettysburg. That same year he compiled a book on the exploration of the Rio de la Plata, published by the U. S. Hydrographic Office. He served in the Mediterranean in 1876-1878.

In 1879, Gorringe put in an application for the contract to remove the obelisk of Thutmosis III from Alexandria to Central Park. His was the only complete plan, and in August 1879, he was granted the contract, for which he was to be paid $75,000.

Gorringe and his assistant, Seaton Schroeder, left for Europe to purchase materials and then went to Alexandria to be about the business of moving the obelisk. While in Egypt, Gorringe encountered local opposition, diplomatic obstruction from European countries, technical problems, and obstruction from local authorities. He was able to overcome them all and successfully departed from Alexandria on June 12, 1880. They arrived in Staten Island on July 20, right on schedule.

Gorringe had to commission a special railway to carry the 200 ton obelisk from the shipyards to Central Park. It was finally erected on January 22, 1881.

Gorringe wrote Egyptian Obelisks, a book about the expedition to retrieve the obelisk and a study of the other standing obelisks in Paris and London. He resigned from the navy on February 21, 1883. He died on July 7, 1885, the result of an accident the previous winter while jumping from a moving train. His friend erected a miniature copy of Cleopatra's Needle over Gorringe's grave. He is buried in Rockland Cemetery in Sparkill, NY.


United States Naval Officer. Son of Anglican clergyman, he came to the United States at an early age, and entered the merchant-marine. In July 1862 he enlisted in the Union Navy as able-bodied seaman, and was attached to the Mississippi squadron three months later. By 1865 had risen through successive promotions for gallantry to the rank of acting-volunteer Lieutenant. Promoted to Lieutenant Commander on December 18, 1868, and from 1869 until 1871 commanded the South Atlantic Squadron's sloop "USS Portsmouth". He was engaged in the hydrographic office in Washington, D. C., from 1872 to 1876, when he was sent on "USS Gettysburg" on special service to the Mediterranean, where he remained until 1878, all the while contributing letters to the New York "Nation". He came to fame in 1880 by his work in transporting and erecting the Egyptian obelisk "Cleopatra's Needle" that had been offered to the US by the Egyptian Khedive Ismail in 1879 at the opening of the Suez Canal. On October 16, 1879, with the assistance of 100 Arabs, he rigged the obelisk into the hold of the steamer "Dessoug". It arrived in New York on July 20, 1880. It took 5 months to rig it from the water to Central Park where it arrived on January 22, 1881. The monument over his grave is an exact scale model of the obelisk that he transported from Egypt. He died of injuries sustained while hopping a moving train in a Philadelphia station. In 1885 he published a "History of Egyptian Obelisks".

Burial: Rockland Cemetery, Sparkill, Rockland, NY >


Saga of Cleopatra's Needles by Bob Brier - Volume 55 Number 6, November/December 2002

A century ago, moving 220-ton obelisks from Alexandria to London and New York was no mean feat.

Scores of obelisks once stretched skyward along the Nile, standing in pairs in front of temples, their inscriptions proclaiming the glory of the pharaohs. Now less than half a dozen remain standing in Egypt. The Romans brought obelisks home as trophies of a conquered land and today there are more standing in Rome--13 of them--than in all of Egypt. The urge to adorn modern cities with ancient obelisks continued into the nineteenth century. The last two to depart Egypt were taken from Alexandria to London and New York in the late 1870s. Disaster struck during the British attempt: six sailors perished and the obelisk was almost lost at sea. If the Americans were more successful, it was largely because of Henry Honychurch Gorringe, a U.S. Navy Lt.-Commander of remarkable ingenuity and perseverance.

On July 20, 1880, the ship anchored off Staten Island. The obelisk was floated up the Hudson River to 96th Street--the only spot in the riverbank that wasn't too high for landing it. The pedestal and steps were unloaded at the 51st Street dock, placed on a specially reinforced truck, and pulled by 16 pairs of horses across 51st Street, up Fifth Avenue, and then into Central Park to Graywacke Knoll, the spot selected by the park commissioners for the obelisk. As the cornerstone of the steps was being laid, the obelisk was already well on its way to Central Park. Huge crowds of New Yorkers turned out to see it move down Fifth Avenue and make its turn at 82nd Street into the park. By the time it finally entered Central Park, it was the dead of winter. The official ceremony for erecting it was January 22, 1881. Thousands of spectators crowded around to see Gorringe give the signal and the obelisk moved effortlessly to about a 45-degree angle. Then he ordered the movement stopped so photographer Edward Bierstadt could document it and then gave the sign to bring the obelisk to its final position. New York finally had its obelisk.


Cleopatra’s Needle – Masonic Medal

designed by George H. Lovett


     The Egyptian Obelisk is a 220 ton, 69 foot tall single piece of red granite which still stands in Central Park near the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although nicknamed Cleopatra's Needle it was actually erected 1000 years before her reign by Thutmosis III (1479-1425 BC). In 1877 the Khedive of Egypt offered this as a gift to the United States as a goodwill gesture and to help attain economic aid for his country. The obelisk was transported to the U.S. in 1880 but was not actually stood in place till January of 1881. The cornerstone was laid in October of 1880 with full Masonic pomp and ceremony; over 9000 Masons paraded up Fifth Avenue with an estimated crowd of 50,000 spectators.

     A recent letter (January 2011) to the Central Park Conservancy and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg from the secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, has threatened to remove the obelisk and return it to Egypt if better care is not taken of it. The issue is whether acid rains and the weather conditions in New York city are eroding the surface and erasing the hieroglyphs.

1880 Egyptian Obelisk Medalet

NY-NY 63, copper, 34.3mm

1880 Egyptian Obelisk Medalet

NY-NY 63B, white metal, 34.3mm


Loading the obelisk into the Steamship Dessoug


The Builder Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 1; Jan 1915


It was the good fortune of the writer to see the great obelisk called Cleopatra's needle, as it stood at Alexandria and also to witness the "opening of a house" in Pompeii. The two Monoliths known as Cleopatra's needles had been brought to Alexandria in the time of the Caesars. They were originally in front of the University at Heliopolis, that great school where Moses, the law giver, was once a student. How long they were in Heliopolis no one knows, nor it is known when they were carved or erected.

One of these magnificent monuments was given to England, and the other to the United States. The latter was brought to this country by Brother Lieutenant Commander H. H. Gorringe, U. S. N., the entire expense of which was borne by the late Mr. William H. Vanderbilt, of New York.

When Gorringe lifted the monument, for the purpose of shipping it, he was surprised to find, under its base, so many symbols which seemed clearly Masonic. The Grand Lodge of Masons in Egypt, among whom there was a number of Egyptologists and Archaeologists, sent a committee of its best men, at the request of Gorringe, to examine these emblems and give an opinion. They were unanimous in the opinion that the emblems were Masonic, and gave the following definitions.  Gorringe had a drawing made, not only to show the emblems and their relative positions, but for use in replacing them when the shaft should be erected at New York.

 A. A polished cube, of syenite. B. Polished square, of syenite. C. Rough and irregular block of syenite. D. Hard lime stone with trowel cemented to its surface. E. Soft lime stone, very white and entirely from spots. F. Axis stone, with figures. G. A marked stone. H. Corner stone, found under east angle of lower steps.

The block C was believed to be the rough ashler; A the perfect ashler; the square B is very distinct, and has been so identified with Masonry, in all ages, that its presence added great weight.

The Committee thought the stone, with figures, resembling snakes, was emblematic of Wisdom. They thought the "axis stone" represented the trestle-board and the marked stone bore the mark of a Mark Master. The two implements, the trowel and the lead plummet, are emblematic of Freemasonry; the white stone is the symbol of purity, as we have always understood it.

A French Archaeologist, in New York, was the only person to question the opinion of the Egyptologists, but as he was not a Mason, Gorringe thought he was not competent to be a judge.

 The Obelisk was brought to New York and erected in Central Park, where it now stands. The corner stone was laid with Masonic ceremonies on the 2d of October, 1880, and the emblems were replaced exactly as they had been found at Alexandria.


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