Lucy the Elephant: An Awesome Kid-Friendly Atlantic City Attraction

Lucy the Margate Elephant

While not located within Atlantic City limits, Lucy the Elephant may be one of the most kid-friendly attractions near the city. Afterall, what could possibly be more fun than hanging out on a beach that has a 65-foot pachyderm?  That’s large enough to be seen from 8-miles out at sea without binoculars.

Kids will be thrilled at the idea of spending the day in nearby Margate where Lucy, stands in the feeding position just off the beach. Head there in the morning and plan to take a tour first thing. Or if you prefer wait until later when you need a break from the sun. While inside, kids can learn about Lucy’s unique history. Guides will regale visitors with stories of this fascinating and very special elephant.

Lucy the Margate Elephant

The little ones will delight at her painted toenails (right now they are gold because Lucy just celebrated 50 years in her current location) as you enter through a door in Lucy’s hind leg. From here you will climb a spiral staircase up into the belly of this massive wood and metal giant. She is said to be made of a million pieces of timber fashioned into 8,560 ribs (arches) and held together by 200 kegs of nails and four tons of bolts and bars. She has 22 windows and 12,000 square feet of tin was needed to cover her exterior.

Adults will love the clean guarded Margate beaches. (Tags are required and can be purchased at the beach entrance.) You will find a refreshment stand, picnic tables and bathrooms on Lucy’s property making for an effortless beach day for the family.

Why is there a Giant Elephant on Margate’s Beach??

Lucy was the brainchild of James Vincent De Paul Lafferty, Jr. a Philadelphian who owned considerable land in the area. The 65-foot elephant was erected in 1881 to attract tourists and would-be landowners to the seaside village. Property wasn’t all that appealing then. South Atlantic City (what is now Margate) consisted of a few fishing shanties dotting a wild coastline of scrub pine and dune grasses. Essentially, Lucy was a marketing gimmick.

But Lafferty clearly felt he was on to something worthwhile. Mr. Lafferty, an engineer and inventor, applied for a patent for his idea from the U.S. Patent office. The application described the structure, later named “Lucy”, this way: “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…” Lafferty’s patent application included the potential for other structures “in the form of any other animal than an elephant, as that of a fish, fowl, etc.” 

Lafferty hired a Philadelphia architect named William Free to design the pachyderm. Built by a Philadelphia contractor in 1881, $25,000 was budgeted for Lucy’s construction. However, Mr. Lafferty claimed the final tally was closer to $38,000 which was quite a hefty sum in those days.

One of Three

While Lafferty’s patent allowed for structures in the form of other animals, he only built elephants. Three to be exact. The first was the Light of Asia a nearly 58-foot (including the howdah) wooden structure owned by Theodore Reger and built on land owned by the Neptune Land Company. It was in an area of South Cape May lost to a massive hurricane and now completely under water. But before the great storm, the Light of Asia had deteriorated to the point where it needed to be torn down. If you climb the Cape May Lighthouse you will see images of the Light of Asia and what the southern peninsula of NJ looked like at that time.

“Elephantine Colossus” the second of Lafferty’s elephants. It was built on Coney Island as an amusement attraction and was the largest of the three structures.  Construction on Colossus began in 1884, he stood 122-feet and seven stories high. The building contained exhibits and rooms. Colossus was a fainancial failure from its beginning. As new attractions grew up around it, there was simply too much competition for visitor’s dollars. For a period, the giant elephant became a boarding house, some reports say brothel.  Ultimately, in 1896 Colossus burned to the ground.

History

Through the years Lucy has been a residence, a marketing gimmick, a tavern, part of an away camp and more. From the late 1800s to 1970 Lucy was owned by the prominent Gertzen family.

Following the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia’s West Fairmount Park, Anthony  Gertzen purchased, disassembled, and relocated a massive Turkish Pavilion to Margate. Here it was reconstructed and restored beside Lucy. For a number of years, the pavilion operated as a nightclub run by Anthony’s son John and his wife Sophia. It was Sophia Gertzen who gave the pachyderm the name “Lucy” and it stuck. Though, no one is sure why she was given this name.

In 1916, John died leaving Sophia with two young children, the elephant and the pavilion. She operated a popular tourist camp with 40 tents. She leased the pavilion to the Dougherty family who operated it as a speakeasy until prohibition. Sophia then converted it to a rooming house. This along with the 10-cent admission fee she charged for tours of Lucy became her primary source of income. Until 1970, Sophia continued to operate the Elephant as a tourist attraction, along with a refreshment stand, bathhouses and small rental cottages.

According to the guest registrar Lucy had some notable visitors including President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, Vincent and John Jacob Astor, the duPonts of Delaware and Henry Ford. 

Lucy the Elephant in Margate NJ circa 1969

The fact that Lucy is the only one of the three giant pachyderms to remain makes her rather special. But Lucy’s survival is no accident. A hurricane nearly claimed her life in 1903. After the storm, she was knee-deep in sand. Volunteers helped dig her from the beach and move her back from the shoreline.

A year later, Lucy’s life was again threatened when she nearly suffered the same fate as Colossus. At that time, she was being operated as a tavern. In those days, gas lamps where used for lighting. On one particularly rowdy evening a lamp was knock over and near claimed Lucy’s life.

In 1929, another coastal storm tore off Lucy’s ornate howdah (the structure that sits on her back). It was later replaced with a less ornate one.

Again, in 1944 Lucy weathered another massive hurricane. Again, she survived while the storm destroyed the nearby Margate Boardwalk. Sadly, the boardwalk has never been rebuilt.

Saved from Destruction

In 1969 the Gertzen family donated Lucy to the City of Margate. To save her from demolition, the 90-ton elephant was moved several blocks by a small pick-up truck in 1970 to her current location. The property where she previously stood had been sold to a developer. It was either move her or have her destroyed. That would have been a shame as she was the only remaining Lafferty elephant.

In 1970 the Save Lucy Committee, LLC was formed. And the move to her current location was there first undertaking. They hired a house-moving company and a concrete contractor to prepare for the relocation. This came with a $24,000 price tag. Funds were raised for the endeavor through bake sales and craft sales. However, the committee fell short of their fundraising goal again threatening Lucy for imminent destruction. At this time, two of the chairpersons on the committee, along with one anonymous person signed a personal note for the move.

Lucy the Margate Elephant Saved circa 1970

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Three day prior to her trip down Atlantic Avenue and with rollers and dollies in place to make the move, The Atlantic Beach Corporation filed an injunction to prevent the move. The suit claimed that Lucy’s presence would harm property values. The committee petitioned a Atlantic County Judge Benjamin Rimm to hear the case immediately. He agreed to hear the case on Saturday morning and the judge ruled in favor of the committee. The move was on!!

Crews worked around the clock to make last-minute preparations for the move. And at 9AM on Monday morning, July 20, 1970, Lucy rolled down Atlantic Avenue pulled by a yellow pick-up truck.

Margate’s mayor at the time, Marin Bloom, proclaimed June 27, 1970, as “Lucy Day”.

By 1974, Lucy was again open to the public. And in 1976 Lucy became an historic landmark. Finally, in 2000, Lucy received a full restoration.  

Lucy Margate NJ

Planning Your Visit to Lucy the Elephant

Cost

There is NO charge to visit Lucy the Elephant’s grounds  or the Gift Shop.  

Take a Guided Tour

  • Adults (Ages 13 and up):  $8.50
  • Children (Ages 3 to 12):  $4.00
  • Children (Ages 2 and under):  FREE
  • Members of the US Military with valid ID: No Charge

Hours of Operation

January, February, and March

Saturday and Sunday
11:00am – 4:00pm (*Last tour at 3:30pm)

April

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday
11:00am – 4:00pm (*Last tour at 3:30pm)

Saturday and Sunday
10:00am – 5:00pm (*Last tour at 4:30pm)

May through Mid-June

Monday through Friday
11:00am – 4:00pm (*Last tour at 3:30pm)

Saturday and Sunday
10:00am – 5:00pm (*Last tour at 4:30pm)

Mid-June through Labor Day

Monday through Saturday
10:00am – 8:00pm (*Last tour at 7:30pm)

Sunday
10:00am – 5:00pm (*Last tour at 4:30pm)

September and October

Monday through Friday
11:00am – 4:00pm (*Last tour at 3:30pm)

Saturday and Sunday
10:00am – 5:00pm (*Last tour at 4:30pm)

November and December

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday
11:00am – 4:00pm (*Last tour at 3:30pm)

Saturday and Sunday
10:00am – 5:00pm (*Last tour at 4:30pm)

Guided tours through Lucy the Elephant occur every 30 minutes at the top and bottom of the hour.

Please note that the last tour begins 30 minutes prior to closing.

Lucy the Elephant is always available to groups of 10 or more.

Holiday Schedule

**Presidents’ Day we will be open from 11:00am – 4:00pm (*Last tour at 3:30pm)

**Labor Day will be open from 10:00am – 5:00pm (*Last tour at 4:30pm)

**We will be CLOSED for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

Parking

You’ll find onsite and metered parking on the street.

Where to eat nearby

Even if it’s not Tuesday, you and the kids will love TacocaT at Essex and Ventnor Avenue. They serve Cal Mex Tacos. The Crispy Shrimp Tacos are awesome with just the right amount of crunch. And for every three tacos you recieve a free side. Don’t forget to grab a bottle Mexican soda. 

If you are a taco connoisseur, we went on a quest to find Atlantic City’s best tacos, here’s what we found. 

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