San Jose postcard. Circa 1910.

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On December 13, 1881, the ceremonial first lighting of the San Jose Electric Light Tower took place. The San Jose Daily Herald set the scene thusly,
"... For the first time the citizens of San Jose realized that they lived in the only city lighted by electric light, supported by a tower, which like the Colossus at Rhodes, stood astride her two principal streets."

"Today San Jose may be more proud of her tower than Egypt of its Sphinx and obelesques, than Pisa of her Leaning Tower, England of her monuments of war, New York of her Cleopatra's Needle. These are monuments of pride and raised by a proud and haughty aristocracy. This is a monument to progress and the diffusion of light in our midst."

Comparing San Jose's tower of pipes to the Sphinx is a triumph of marketing. And what in the heck is Cleopatra's Needle? Any New Yorkers out there who could straighten me out?

On November 30, 1999, I received this response regarding Cleopatra's Needle from Paul Bernal, official historian of San Jose:
Cleopatra's needle is an obelisk in Central Park (behind the Museum of
Natural Arts). It is quite tall and dates to the time of Cleopatra. It was stolen from near the Nile (one of two to be sent abroad--- one to England--in Columbus Circle or Trafalgar Square or some such intersection which I have viewed on my travels-- and one to New York).

To get it to New York, the robber-barons (who called themselves archaeologists) designed an ingenious boat that completely surrounded the mighty obelisk (like a cigar with pointy ends) and then tugged across the Atlantic. In this way, the stolen artifact could roll, twist, lurch any way it wanted, with little stress to the actual one-piece stonary concealed inside. It almost made it. As it neared America, the thing cracked, but barely made it. It was re-erected in Central Park along with translations of the hieroglyphics. I think there was a third obelisk, whose vessel breached and sank and still lays buried in a watery grave.
Paul Bernal

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