Visiting Lucy, New Jersey’s Largest, Most Popular Elephant

  front view of an elephant-shaped buildingLucy the Elephant is a hidden treasure of the Jersey Shore. We made a side trip years ago to see her and were captivated by the structure and its interesting history. More recently, I was going through old photos my mom had given me and found several of her and her parents also atop the pachyderm! She had not mentioned her visit, so I doubt she remembered it, but I have photos to prove we all were there.

a black and white photo of a young girl and her mother
Atop Lucy late 1950s

 

a black and white photo of a young girl and her father on a platform above the town
Atop Lucy late 1950s

 

 

 

three small children and their father on a platform with the beach in the background
Atop Lucy late 1990s

 

 

 

Lucy is the only one of three such structures that remains. Built in 1881, the 65-foot high wooden elephant reportedly cost more than $25,000 to build and the idea of an animal-shaped building was patented in 1882. James V. Lafferty conceived of the idea to attract buyers for his property in what was then South Atlantic City. He also built two others, in 1884, the 40-foot Light of Asia in what is now South Cape May (torn down in 1900 due to severe deterioration) and the 122-foot Elephantine Colossus, an amusement attraction at Coney Island NY, at a cost of $65,000. (This elephant had 7 floors and 31 rooms. A financial loss from the very start, it was sold and later burnt down in 1896.)

From 1902 to 1969, Lucy served as a four-bedroom home, a tavern and a tourist camp. She survived fire and hurricanes that destroyed many nearby structures. Since 1916, she has been a popular attraction. Notable visitors include President and Mrs. Wilson and Henry Ford who have paid admission to visit the elephant and climb her 130 steps in her hind legs to the viewing platform on her back.

elephant-shaped building from the side with three children sitting on bleachers beside it
Lucy late 1990s

In 1969, a developer bought the land Lucy sat on and agreed to donate the building to the town with the stipulation that it be moved in 30 days. The cost to make this move to a public park was $24,000 which was raised by donation. The estimate for restoration was $124,000. Work began in 1973 and tours resumed in 1974. Costs to upkeep the structure have been considerable and numerous fundraising campaigns have been launched to care for it. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Lucy is currently maintained by the non-profit Save Lucy Committee Inc.

Lucy the Elephant can be found at Josephine Harron Park in Margate, NJ. Tours are given every half hour. The building is also available for private events such as weddings and parties.

 

This was previously published as Margate NJ, Home to Lucy the Elephant

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