“Are we going to a store?”
“A bar? Restaurant?”
“Is it outside? Do I need my jacket?”
Although I’m a seasoned shore traveler, I truly had no idea where Ed was taking us as a stopping point on our way to Atlantic City. I was offered no clues to our destination besides a lined piece of paper with a meaningless address that was only titled “Middle Stop.”
Upon pulling up to a giant elephant parked facing the Margate beach, however, the dots connected to various Weird NJ pieces I had stumbled across in magazines. We were visiting Lucy the Elephant, a six-story gimmick of a tourist attraction that has been overlooking the Atlantic since 1881.
Lucy the Elephant was constructed with 90 tons of tin and wood by James Lafferty, who figured that a 65-foot tall elephant would be the perfect way to bring in tourists and sell some real estate. He got so excited about his idea that he also constructed two more elephants – the Elephantine Colossus of Coney Island and the Light of Asia of Cape May, neither of which survive today. Unfortunately, Lucy wasn’t enough to bring in buyers and Lafferty sold her after only six years.
She then went on to serve as a restaurant, business office, cottage and even a bar (shut down by prohibition). However, even throughout all of her various occupations, it wasn’t enough to keep the elephant in business – she fell into disrepair and due to a new buyer interested in the land under her feet, she was scheduled for demolition in 1969 to make way for a condo complex.
Josephine Harron spotted the demolition signs outside of Lucy one day when she was at the beach and said to herself, “Someone should do something about that.”
Harron formed the Save Lucy Committee, which was given a mere 30 days to raise enough money to move Lucy or pay for her demolition. Volunteers fund-raised by going door-to-door, selling baked goods and enlisting local groups.
As you have probably guessed, the Save Lucy Committee miraculously raised the funds and she was moved 100 yards southwest and completely refurbished with the help of the only interested architect in the northeast area. The Committee’s efforts paid off in more ways than one – Lucy the Elephant was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
After paying $8 and hiking up the winding staircase inside Lucy, we emerged in the same area which Lafferty originally showcased his real estate parcels. Now, the cozy den houses whimsical paintings such as Lucy in Blue or The Gin Drinkers, fantastical paintings all featuring the celebrated Lucy the Elephant. We checked out the ocean through Lucy’s eyes and then further hiked up the staircase to Lucy’s summit, an Asian howdah carriage which is a replica of the original.
New Jersey is stuffed with oddball roadside attractions which seem to emerge in particular frequency at the Jersey Shore. At first glance, these curious sights seem not only peculiar, but pointless. And maybe they are – except for the fact that they house various degrees of history that can only be contained inside a cartoon, colorful elephant.
LUCY THE ELEPHANT
Where: 9200 Atlantic Ave in Margate City, New Jersey
Contact: 609-823-6473 or lucytheelephant.org
Cost: $8 ages 13+, $4 ages 3-12, free ages 2 and under
Tours occur every half an hour during open hours, which vary by season