Page 40 - 2020 Southern New Jersey Vacationer
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   SHE’S 65 FEET TALL and 60 feet long, and she weighs in at around 90 tons. Her ears alone are a ton apiece. Her bones are made of steel and her skin of painted tin – she sounds hollow to the knock. And for $8, you can climb inside her belly.
Meet Lucy. She claims to be the world’s largest elephant. Built in 1881, she’s also America’s oldest surviving roadside attraction.
On a clear day, Lucy can be seen for about eight miles, but driving through the city of Margate, just outside of Atlantic City, the top of her howdah (the wooden carriage on her back) pokes above the surrounding buildings from just a few blocks away. While inside the gift shop to purchase our tickets, we meet Rich Helfant, the attraction’s appropriately named executive director, CEO and biggest fan (yes, that’s right, Lucy has a CEO).
“Lucy’s older than the Statue of Liberty, older than the Eiffel Tower,” says Helfant proudly. “She’s one of the most iconic examples of zoomorphic architecture” – that’s animal- shaped buildings to you and me – “in the world!” he says. “Except maybe the Sphinx”.
She is indeed quite the sight. When she was first built on the New Jersey shore in the late 19th century, there are stories of young seamen bound for New York harbor being terrified by the sight of a gigantic beast on the shore. After building the then-wooden structure for $38,000 (a considerable sum in 1881), engineer James V. Lafferty went on to
design two more elephantine buildings, though neither survived to the turn of the century. After decades drawing crowds to the South Jersey beachfront, Lucy eventually fell into disrepair in the 1960s and was condemned for demolition. The Committee to Save Lucy, which has, to date, raised almost $1.5 million, funded a 30-year restoration project that began by lifting up the entire structure and rolling it two blocks to a new location.
We enter the belly of the beast up a spiral staircase in her right hind leg, and get to poke around the museum inside. We peer out of the porthole windows that function as her
beady eyes, and we giggle on cue when our tour guide calls the window in Lucy’s rear end her “pane in the butt.” After climbing into the howdah for panoramic views of the beachfront, we join the illustrious group of Lucy alumni, which includes guests such as Henry Ford, Woodrow Wilson and the du Pont family, back in the golden age of tourism in Atlantic City.
Named a National Historic Landmark in 1976, Lucy attracts 130,000 visitors per year, although only about a quarter of those actually purchase the ticket for the internal tour. Nevertheless, the nonprofit organization is almost completely self-funded, Helfant says, and manages to support three full-time staff and between 15 and 20 paid part-time tour guides during peak season. Lucy, who’s about 30 times heavier than an actual Indian elephant, attracts a small but dedicated group of devotees. As Atlantic City has seen its visitors decline from nearly 35 million 10 years ago to fewer than 25 million in 2015, Lucy still hits its 50-person-per-tour capacity in the summer months thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign. The busiest day of the year is her annual birthday party on the closest Saturday to July 20, which celebrates the anniversary of her move to her current location.
Nobody really knows where the name “Lucy” comes from, but the elephant in the room is that it’s a misnomer: As the pedants among you will have already noted, her tusks indicate that she is in fact a he. Never mind, says Helfant, she’s still “the world’s largest drag queen!” G
By James Watkins, OZY Media:
Recently, in a one-time only contest, three lucky Airbnb guests had the chance to stay inside Lucy the Elephant, one of the first and only National Historic Landmarks to be on Airbnb. The guests were transported back in time to when Lucy served as a summer vacation home in the early 20th century, fully decorated in Victorian style to resemble how Lucy’s interior may have looked at that time. Shortly after her brief stint as a residence Lucy was first opened as a tourist attraction where visitors could tour the furnished interior of “the Elephant House” for only 10 cents. Who knows, the chance maycomeagaininthefuture,checktheirwebsiteandsocialmediatoseeifithappensagain! G
One of the most iconic examples of zoomorphic architecture

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