Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lucy the Elephant...Lucy the Elephant...Down by the Sea


Once upon a time....no, this is not a fairy tale, stick with me here for a minute folks....once upon a time, the acres and acres and miles and miles of land along the New Jersey shore were pretty empty. Hard to believe if you have ever sat in traffic on a Saturday morning on the Garden State Parkway, trying to head south to the beach, but true nevertheless. In the late 1800's, a man named James Lafferty was the owner of many of those empty acres in what was then called South Atlantic City, the present day city of Margate, a few miles south of the then growing seaside playground of Atlantic City. In an attempt to draw potential buyers to the scrub pine and dune grass covered land, he had the idea to built an attraction. A BIG attraction...a great wooden Elephant.

He thought it was such a grand idea that he patented it on December 5, 1882. “My invention consists of a building in the form of an animal, the body of which is floored and divided into rooms...the legs contain the stairs which lead to the body...”. And so was born the wonderful structure that now bears the name Lucy the Elephant.

Lucy stand in a feeding position, her trunk down and in a barrel...filled with peanuts perhaps. She is 65 feet tall, her ears 17 feet long and 10 feet wide with tusks that are 22 feet long. But as impressive as she is, Lucy is not the only Giant Elephant that once resided at the shore. Mr. Lafferty also constructed a smaller relative, the 40 ft. tall Light of Asia, down at the tip of NJ, in Cape May, and what must have been the most incredible Elephantine Colossus, which measured 122 feet tall, in Coney Island, NY. Sadly, neither had Lucy's good luck at survival. Within 13 years Asia was in such bad shape that she she was torn down and 'cremated' and the Giant Colossus burned to the ground in 1896, just 12 years after her construction. It seems fire is very bad for an elephant, especially if you are made of wood.
But Lucy survives, and as I can attest, is looking very, very good these days, for all her 127 years. She had some grand years early on, attracting famous visitors. In the year of 1916 alone, President and Mrs. Wilson, John J. Astor, the Duponts of Delaware, Henry Ford and the Rajah of Bhong were just a few to sign her guest book. Lucy was run as a tourist attraction through the years, along with a nearby hotel, bathhouse, and beer garden, until 1970, when the family that owner her since 1887, the Gertzens, moved to Florida and donated her to the city of Margate.

Unfortunately, by that point, many, many years of neglect had take their toll on our once elegant elephant friend and she was in a very sad state of repairs. When the land she was on was sold to build to a developer to build condos, she was slated to be torn down. If it was not for a group of residents that raised the money to move her...and that was quite the sight as I remember... to a city owned lot and started her repairs, she would have been lost. But raise the money they have, 1.5 million dollars to this date, to repair and maintain her. The salt air is terrible on an elephants skin you know, especially if your skin is over 12,000 sq. feet of metal, and she requires a new paint job about every two years to keep her beautiful...and rust free.
Oddly, you will see if you visit her and climb up the winding staircases in her rear legs to enter her main room, they painted her interior walls a nice rosy pink. It is because, as our guide pointed out, “That would be the color of the inside of a real elephant”.

In 1976, the U.S. Dept. of the Interior recognized Lucy as a National Historic Landmark, recognizing her historic significance, and hopefully she will remain, as she has for over a century and a quarter now, with her feet in the sandy beach, her eyes staring out to sea, for many years to come.

8 comments:

  1. How neat :) I've never heard of Lucy the Elephant! I've only been to Margate once though so maybe that's why.

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  2. well, if you ever get to Margate again, you must visit the grand old lady!! i mean, she is a Giant Elephant.
    and most likely the start of my fancination with Giant Things. but that is another post.

    i would recommend the tour after the kids go back to school though...i was a bit afraid one was going to fall off the top of her when their parents were busy taking pictures...

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  3. Thanks for sharing a little New Jersey with the blogging world. :-) Lucy's a lovely girl.

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  4. I enjoyed reading about Lucy. I love elephants.:)

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  5. she is a grand elephant. it is part of my goal here to point out some of NJ's gems.

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  6. When I was a child, many, many, years ago, my Godmother took my sisters and I to visit Lucy. I hardly remember the trip as I had a very bad case of sunburn (which I think now they would call sun poisoning) and was not really up to it. Last summer (07) my husband and I visited Lucy while on vacation. She is beautiful and quite worth the trip!

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  7. My grandmother lived in Atlantic City and I have always known Lucy, since I spent many summers there. I was there the summer she moved.
    I park my car by her when I go over to the island to ride my bike.

    But very oddly, I never went inside until this year. And it was grand.

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