The Sphinx that came to Philadelphia

The story of a colossal Egyptian sphinx's journey to America.

PHILADELPHIA, PA, OCTOBER 2015—A regal and undisputed centerpiece of the lower Egypt Gallery, the Penn Museum’s massive granite Sphinx—the largest ancient sphinx in the Western Hemisphere—has long been an icon for the Museum and a “must see” for visiting guests. In 2013, when the Sphinx had been in Philadelphia 100 years, the Museum hosted a party, inviting the public and Philadelphia school children to come out and celebrate. Hijinks with the Sphinx featured talks, a social media contest, family activities, and anniversary cupcakes to mark the occasion.

Meanwhile, Josef Wegner and Jennifer Houser Wegner, long-time Associate Curators in the Museum’s Egyptian Section, were working on an even bigger tribute: a book. While the idea started out as an oversized booklet, their research took on a life of its own, and the fascinating story behind the Sphinx took on a more sizeable form. The Sphinx That Traveled to Philadelphia: The Story of the Colossal Sphinx in the Penn Museum, published by the Penn Museum and distributed by the University of Pennsylvania Press, is a uniquely Philadelphia story told in 256 pages packed with 455 illustrations. The hardbound book ($29.95) goes on sale in the Penn Museum shop beginning November 1. Readers can also order the book through the University of Pennsylvania Press website and other retail outlets.

“When we started the project we knew the sphinx was a wonderful artifact—but we had no idea how wonderful,” noted Joe Wegner. “Before long, we realized that this one extraordinary object, created thousands of years ago by ancient Egyptians, had many fascinating stories to tell. The sphinx is silent no more.”




Written to celebrate the centennial of the Sphinx’s arrival in Philadelphia in 1913, the narrative of The Sphinx that Traveled to Philadelphia covers the original excavations and archaeological history of the Sphinx, how it came to Philadelphia, and the unexpected ways in which the Sphinx’s story intersects with the history of Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Museum just before World War I.

The book features ample illustrations—photographs, letters, newspaper stories, postcards, maps, and drawings—drawn largely from the extensive materials in the Museum Archives. Images of related artifacts in the Penn Museum’s Egyptian collection and other objects from the Egyptian, Near East, and Mediterranean Sections (many not on view and some never before published), as well as pieces in museums in the US, Europe, and Egypt, place the story of the Penn Museum Sphinx in a wider context. The writing style is informal and text is woven around the graphics that form the backbone of the narrative.

The Sphinx that Traveled to Philadelphia is designed to be of interest to a wide audience of adult readers but accessible and engaging to younger readers—including, hopefully, the next generation of Egyptologist, as well.


If you liked this and you like Egyptology, see the full feature article about the grand throne room of Merenptah, Merenptah Rising, in Popular Archaeology.


Source: Penn Museum subject press release.

Photos, top to bottom: The Penn Museum’s lower Egypt Gallery features the largest ancient sphinx in the Western Hemisphere (Photo: Penn Museum). Cover of The Sphinx That Traveled to Philadelphia: The Story of the Colossal Sphinx in the Penn Museum, published by the Penn Museum and distributed by the University of Pennsylvania Press (Image courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Press).



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