World’s Largest Elephant

lucyfullview

On our way to have dinner in Atlantic City yesterday, Ellen and I stopped in the seaside town of Margate to visit Lucy the Elephant. You can read more about her in that link, but briefly, she was built by a real estate developer in 1881 to promote his properties in what was then South Atlantic City, and and miraculously survived due to good fortune and the hard work of her fans. This architectural oddity is the sort of thing one used to see in old Batman stories, the ones written by Bill Finger, alongside giant typewriters and other oversized advertising props. She’s constructed of wood, and covered with sheets of tin, currently newly painted. The height of a six-story building, you can tour the inside, too, which we did.

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One enters the structure through a door in the left hind leg, and up a winding, narrow stairway. A similar one in the right leg is for the exit.

lucyinterior

Inside is one large room on two levels, recently redone in Victorian-era wood and plaster. This room is actually mostly a separate structure. Through glassed viewing areas around the sides you can see some of the wood of the actual elephant shape. On the upper level you can look through the two small windows of Lucy’s eyes, though you can’t see much there. This building has been a tourist attraction for most of its life, but also served as a tavern, briefly, and one summer in 1902 (I think) was lived in by a doctor and his family, the only time it’s been a residence. Their bathtub and toilet can be seen in one alcove. The TV runs a short film about Lucy’s history, and artifacts are in the alcoves around the sides. The platform on the right opens to a second narrow, winding stair that climbs up to the top viewing platform, Lucy’s howdah.

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Here’s a view of the Margate beach from there, which the head faces. We had taken the tour once before, about 15 years ago or more, and I’m happy to see that Lucy is looking even better than she did then. The structure has been designated a National Historic Landmark, which must be a first for an advertising gimmick. Two other giant elephants were built late in the 19th century, one in Cape May, and one at Coney Island in Brooklyn, but neither lasted more than a few years. Lucy has managed to survive a hurricane, a fire, and being moved several blocks down the street from her original location on a giant house-moving platform. Badly neglected and slated to be destroyed in the 1970s, residents of Margate ralllied to raise funds to preserve her. It’s a great story, and a fun place to visit. If you’re ever in the area, the southern New Jersey shore, it’s well worth the trip.

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The End. (Couldn’t resist…)

3 thoughts on “World’s Largest Elephant

  1. Rick

    Being a life-long south jersey resident I’ve only visited Lucy twice. Once as kid (sometime in the early 1970s) my mom drove us to see her, which at that time was closed to tourists and slated for destruction. It was in sad shape but Mom wanted us to see this great landmark before it was gone. But it took until last year to finally visit and took the tour… worth the trip and I’ve been directing people to her ever since!! Great blog Todd, I love your logo studies!

  2. chris stevens

    hi, todd. i grew up with lucy, and she was the center of my first published work in 2007’s ‘postcards’ from random house. i wound up doing a signing there when the book came out that summer. any way i could send you a pdf of the story? it’s got a bunch of south jersey touches i think you might enjoy.

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