Cleopatra's Needle is New York City's oldest outdoor monument; it's been around for a whopping 3,500 (!) years, and has spent the past 133 of those in Central Park. This spring, it's getting gently blasted with laser beams—all in the name of conservation.
The Central Park Conservancy has teamed up with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and NYC Department of Parks & Recreation to take on the cleaning project which, despite the fact that fact that the Obelisk has weathered the elements for millennia, will actually be a pretty delicate procedure.
Three years ago they kicked off the project by carefully photographing, scanning, and surveying all 2,112 square-feet of the monument for the first time in history (which probably looked something like this). The freaking laser beams were deemed the most sensitive, environmentally friendly way to spruce up the surface, which will also be treated with adhesive to strengthen up the particularly fragile bits.
By fall, the makeover should be complete—a drop in the bucket considering the wild history this thing has had. It was carved from a single piece of granite in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis way back in 1400 BC, and has since been inscribed with hieroglyphs; toppled and burned; buried in sand for half a millennium; transported to Alexandria; shipped to the US in a custom-built cargo vessel; and traversed the surface of the Big Apple on a rail road specially constructed to get it from the Staten Island Dock to its current home, where it was erected in 1881. Phew!
Gothamist reports that there might be a time capsule beneath the pedestal, placed by the then-Postmaster General, and an old article from the New York Times states that might not be the only one. As of now, it doesn't seem like there's any plans to dig them out, but we'll keep you posted.. [Gothamist]