How do you move a 13-ton sphinx? Very carefully.
Or, more accurately, with specialized lifting equipment and air dollies, referred to as hover boards.
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On Wednesday, museumgoers, invited guests, sphinx enthusiasts, and passersby watched in anticipation as the roar of construction machinery filled the air at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. They were there to watch the moving of a prized red-granite sphinx from i the Lower Egyptian Gallery to the new main entrance.
After an hour and a half delay, the sphinx was eked through a small doorway as the crowd — phones at the ready — buzzed with excitement.
The sphinx was met with applause.
For Robert Thurlow, the museum’s special projects coordinator and project leader, there were a few details about relocating the largest sphinx in North America that kept him up at night: While equipment assisted in the horizontal and vertical movement, turns and inclines proved to be difficult.
“We’re turning the sphinx into a hovercraft,” he said. “It’s going to be front and center now when people walk into the building.”
When Jennifer Wegner, Penn Museum Egyptologist and author of The Sphinx That Traveled to Philadelphia, heard that the Egyptian artifact was being moved, she was shocked. In the book she cowrote with her Egyptologist husband, Josef, they said more than once that it could never be done.
“We wound up looking like big fat liars,” Wegner said, laughing. “It’s amazing to me how, in some ways, quickly and smoothly the move has gone.”
About 3 p.m., the moving team successfully maneuvered the sphinx through an opening in the gallery , into an outdoor courtyard, across a 200-meter scaffold with slopes and angles, and back through another opening to its new home.
They’re not done yet. They plan to finish the project on Thursday, when the team will pivot the sphinx so it faces the front doors.