Meet The Oldest Roadside Attraction In America, ‘Lucy The Elephant’
There actually exists, a 65-foot-tall elephant who today resides in Margate, New Jersey, a beautiful seaside resort just a few miles from the world’s famous playground in Atlantic City.
The elephant was the dream of a real estate developer named James Lafferty, Jr, originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Lafferty had a dream that if he built a colossal wooden Elephant, which people would actually be able to walk inside of and observe the surrounding area from 65 feet above the ground it would help attract potential customers for his real estate holdings for sale in the region.
What Lafferty probably didn’t know at the time was that he would be creating one of the great structural marvels of the 19th Century, which has now gone on to become a historical national landmark.
Lucy is also recognized as the oldest roadside attraction in America.
The Elephant was constructed at a cost of nearly $40,000 in 1881, which by today’s standard, would be a cost of about $1,100,000.
She would go on to become originally known as “The Elephant Bizaar" (not Bazaar).
Fun Fact: Future United States President Woodrow Wilson visited Lucy in 1901.
To build the elephant was a daunting task for this period of history, or probably it would be for any other time, too.
The project required more than one million boards of wood, 200 kegs of nails, 4 tons of steel bolts, and 12,000 square feet of tin to cover the exterior, which became the skin of the elephant.
All of this resulted in a giant pachyderm weighing in at more than 90 tons.
By 1887, Lafferty had begun to experience some challenging financial times. So, it was time to sell many of his properties at the Jersey Shore, as well as the giant Elephant herself. Lafferty found a buyer for the Elephant in the Gertzen Family.
The Gertzen Family would go on to offer full tours of the giant Elephant at a cost of ten cents per customer.
Patrons of the day would stroll inside the left leg of the Elephant and upward through a spiral staircase to reach the belly of the elephant.
Another staircase from inside the elephant would lead to the outside and top of the elephant’s howdah, where visitors would be treated to a wonderful aerial view of the city from six and a half stories atop of the giant elephant's back.
In 1902 the daughter-in-law of owner Anton Gertzen named her “Lucy.”
It was always believed that Lucy was modeled after the famous Barnum and Bailey’s “Greatest Show on Earth” circus elephant.
Lucy was originally known as “The Elephant Hotel.” Although she was never really a hotel, there was a hotel adjacent to her where people would wait for availability in order to stay right next to the giant Elephant.
Lucy The Elephant remains the sole survivor of a trio of pachyderm, originally constructed by Lafferty to promote businesses in several areas of Coney Island, NY, and Cape May New Jersey as well.
Sadly, a fire destroyed the Coney Island Elephant in 1898 and the Cape May Elephant was in such poor repair that it was demolished in the year 1900.
Lucy has not existed without fear of the wrecking ball herself on several occasions during the past 140 years of her existence.
The Elephant was in such bad repair, that in 1968, a group of citizens banded together to form “The Save Lucy Committee.”
A committed resident of Margate named Josephine Harron was so intent on saving Margate’s landmark that she became the president of the committee.
The group of volunteers set a goal of raising $500,000, which they did. These funds were supplemented by additional Federal and State grants as well as private donations and others who would aid in fund-raising.
The Gertzen Family saw fit to donate Lucy The Elephant to the City of Margate to help ensure her survival.
It was two years later that Lucy would make a famous trek along Atlantic Avenue and a distance of two city blocks where she would find a permanent place at its present location at Decatur and Atlantic Avenues in the 9200 block in Margate, NJ.
Through the work of so many hard-working members of the committee, Lucy was saved just in time for a renovation to coincide with the Bi-Centennial celebration of America in 1976.
It was this same year that Lucy was designated as a historic national landmark as a “Bicentennial Project” herself.
By this time in 1976, people were happily once again able to tour inside of the renovated landmark and visit high atop the howdah to observe the south jersey coast.
The inside of Lucy’s stomach became a museum to preserve the rich tradition and history of this remarkable creation.
Adjacent to the elephant is a gift shop, which has continued to develop and grow in order to continually raise revenue for the eternal upkeep of this behemoth … that is required in order to survive the ravages of living life outside on the beach block of the jersey shore … by the beach and the Atlantic Ocean and all of nature’s wear and tear which results.
Lucy The Elephant holds such a warm place in the hearts of this region and everyone who visits her from around the world. It is truly a must-see attraction.
Margate has surely become known as the home of Lucy The Elephant, one of the great marvels ever engineered and created in America.
This year during the difficult times of a national health pandemic, Lucy herself is experiencing a bit of a makeover in the form of an entire new layer of skin to keep the grand 140-year-old lady in good shape and health for more generations to come.
In fact, because of the difficulties with the supply chain, building materials are presently delayed … so, visitors are being treated to unexpected opportunities to tour Lucy during Christmas time … which would not have been possible under the original renovation plans, which were to seal her off until this coming Memorial Day in 2022 after the needed repairs and improvements to Lucy will be finished.
Lucy The Elephant has taken part in many important occasions, such as The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Charity event in 2014.
Here are some very cool Don P. Hurley photos from this special charity event.
Here is another photo from the 2014 ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Charity event; Pictured is Townsquare Media South Jersey, President Michael Ruble.
This is my favorite photo ever taken of Lucy The Elephant. First, my Brother, Don took the photo. Second, it was taken at nighttime.
Finally, the lighting conditions will most likely never be duplicated, again. Atlantic City Electric provided 100,000 candle watts of power for this special evening.
It may be the first time ever that you could see that Lucy has blue eyes. Take a look directly below.
LENNY’S HOT DOG STAND
For decades, Lenny’s Hot Dog Stand was perched right nearby Lucy. It was an iconic and obviously very popular stop for generations.
In 2019, long-time Lucy The Elephant Executive Director Rich Helfant brought Lenny’s back for a special event., (pictured directly below).
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a photo of the very talented local artist Jon Baker … who is this era’s most prolific Lucy The Elephant artist.
Jon is my son-in-law, but, that doesn’t change the fact that his “Lucy” artwork is a masterclass and highly desirable.
Here is a photo from inside of Lucy. Pictured are yours truly, Rich Helfant, Jon Baker, and Kristin Hurley Baker from 2011.
Rich Helfant has carried the Lucy “torch” for the past more than 30 years.
Helfant’s leadership has been integral over these past many years, as he and his team have kept Lucy in great shape.
The important work never ends. It doesn’t take long for a 140-year-old structure to fall in disrepair. Under Helfant’s direction, failure is not an option. They always find a way to get the job done.
For your review, below are the original plans for the construction of Lucy The Elephant. US Patent # 268.503. Blueprint designs are available in the public domain.
Treat yourself to a visit to this wonder of human endeavor during this special time of year.
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