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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lucy the Elephant and the New York Syndrome

I came upon an interesting survey the other day while reading the newspaper. Seems that an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers have never been to the Statue of Liberty. "How could that be?", I wondered, "It's a piece of history right in their own backyard."

I got to thinking that it must be human nature. We take the things around us as commonplace, not special in our lives. Also, with the advent of T.V. and, fairly recently, the internet, things that were mysterous and special just a few generations ago are now taken for granted. We've become jaded.

Lucy, the Margate elephant, is a good example. I wonder how many people out in the Blog-O-Sphere who are or were from New Gretna or a surrounding community have visited Lucy or even know who she is? Yet, with today's modern transportation, she is practically in our backyard.


An ariel view shows Lucy at the corner of Atlantic and South Decatur avenues in Margate. For my history buddy, John Yates, the GPS coordinates are N39.3206/E-74.5117. (Map downloaded from Bing Maps.)

Lucy as she looks today, towering over an adjacent house on the Margate beachfront. (Photo by Bob Jagendorf downloaded from Flicker.com.)


Lucy is the world's largest elephant, and the only one in America designated as a National Historic Landmark. She was built in 1881 by James V. Lafferty, a Philadelphia real estate developer with a knack for promotion. Lafferty hoped that Lucy would draw people from bustling Atlantic City to buy property from him in Margate which, at the time, was in the middle of nowhere. She was so unique that the United States Patent Office gave Lafferty a patent giving him the exclusive right to make, use or sell animal-shaped buildings for seventeen years.


Lucy was originally named "Elephant Bazaar" until 1900, when she was rechristened Lucy. She was, and still is, an imposing sight, standing six stories tall, weighing 90 tons, covered with 12,000 square feet of sheet tin, and containing nearly one million pieces of wood. Lucy's body is 38 feet long and 80 feet in circumference; Her head, 16 feet long and 48 feet in circumference, sits atop a six feet long neck is that is 48 feet in circumference. Her body stands on 22 feet long legs that are10 feet in diameter with ears that are 17 feet long and 10 feet wide, each weighing 2,000 pounds. She has 22 feet long tusks at one end and a 26 feet long tail on the other end. Her glass, 18 inch round window eyes gaze out toward the Atlantic Ocean, and she is visible to the naked eye up to eight miles.


Lucy showed her versitility over the years, serving as Lafferty's real estate office and then becoming a restaurant, business office, cottage, and tavern which was closed down during prohibition.


A turn of the century postcard shows Lucy during her glory days. (Postcard downloaded from Google Images.)


Lafferty constructed two other elephant-shaped buildings after Lucy. The Elephantine Colossus, also known as the Elephant Hotel, was built at the Coney Island Amusement Park in Brooklyn, New York. The mamouth (Pardon the pun) structure dwarfed Lucy. It stood 12 stories (122 feet) tall, with legs 60 feet in circumference and housed a cigar store in one leg and a diorama display in another. Hotel rooms were located within the elephant's body, and an observation area at the top presented a panoramic view of the nearby ocean. It was destroyed by fire in 1896.



The Elephant Colossus at Coney Island. (Photo downloaded from Google Images.)


Lafferty's third elephant was was built in Cape May, New Jersey in 1884. Officially named the Light of Asia, it was dubbed Old Dumbo by locals, It was torn down before the turn of the century, giving Lucy the honor of being the sole surviving elephant building.



Artist's rendering of the Light of Asia at Cape May, New Jersey. It could pass as Lucy's twin sister. (Photo downloaded from Google Images.)

Lucy nearly didn't survive. Over the years her owners did little or no maintainance, and she became long in the tooth. By the late 1960's, she was an abandoned wreck on the verge of collapse.


Lucy fell into disrepair and was on the verge of callapse in the late 1960's. A "For Sale" sign hangs on her left front leg. (Photo by Yahonza downloaded from Flicker.com.)

Edwin T. Carpenter and a group of Margate citizens formed the Margate Civic Association, in 1969, to save and restore Lucy to her former grandeur. The group eventually became the Save Lucy Committee which, happily, was able to raise funds and move (2 blocks south) and restore Lucy in 1970. She was honored by the designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1976.


Today, for a small admission fee, you can tour Lucy's innards, entering via a spiral staircase in one of her hind legs.


Lucy's entrance door. (Photo downloaded from Google Images.)


Once inside, you may view a video and some photos of Lucy's facinating history. The tour finishes with a stop in the open-air "howdah" atop Lucy's back. From here you can get a breathtaking view of the Margate beachfront and the Atlantic Ocean.


Lucy looking toward the Atlantic Ocean. Bet you never thought you'd get mooned by an elephant. Now there's a window I'd be a little uncomfortable looking out of. (Photo downloaded from Google Images.)

You can take a video tour of Lucy, if you have high speed internet service, by clicking on the PLAY ARROW (>) below:



Following are a few old postcard views of Lucy that I downloaded from Google Images and thought you might enjoy.


A thirsty Lucy takes a drink.


How does one get room service on an elephant?


Getting back to my original point concerning the "New York Syndrome", I'd like to take a poll of all our Blog viewers who live or have lived in New Gretna and/or a surrounding community to see how many of you have actually seen Lucy. Drop a comment below, starting "Yes" or "No". If yes, I'd appreciate you sharing your Lucy experience.

A double test would be my friend, Linda, a native New Yorker who now lives at Bartlett Landing in Tuckerton. I wonder if she has ever been to see the Statue of Liberty or Lucy. How about it, Linda? It's time to fess up!

Pete S

8 comments:

  1. Yes. I already had its GPS coordinates in my GPS. :-) However, I have never been inside it. I have been to the Statue of Liberty via the Circle Line Tours but that tour did not disembark on the island, so I have never been in it either. I would have, my elementary school once had a trip to NYC that included the Statue of Liberty, but I was ill that day and couldn't go. :-( The class sent me a postcard as I recall.

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  2. Yes, I have seen Lucy in person but never explored inside. Living in Ventnor during the 1940's brought me in contact with her often.
    Phyllis

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  3. Hey, Pete.

    I'm answering your call.

    I went to see Lucy about 7 years ago, when I was on summer vacation in Brigantine. It was too hot that day to climb up to the top, but I did park my car and get out and walk around the site. I couldn't get over how tall Lucy was, and I couldn't get over the fact that I, who fancied myself a sophisticated New Yorker, was acting like a tourist.

    As for points of interest in New York City: I never got to the Statue of Liberty. I did try once to take the ferry from Liberty State Park , but the line was too long and, like a typical New Yorker who is always in a hurry, I left without seeing the Statue.

    I did succeed in getting to the top of the Empire State building, though. And, thank goodness, I also visited the top of the World Trade Center and had fun looking through those view finders that let you insert quarters to see panoramic views for a few seconds. So, I guess I'm more of a tourist than I thought I was!

    Cheers, Linda

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  4. Linda,

    Thanks for "fessing up". I'll put you down for a "Yes" and a "No".

    I was about to "fess up" myself and write that I'm a "No" concerning visiting Lucy when Jackie told me that Murray and Jean Harris took us to see Lucy, in the early to mid 1970's, shortly after we moved to New Gretna. Strange, but I have absolutely no recollection of seeing the prodigious pachyderm. How does one forget seeing a six story high elephant? Talk about having a senior moment!

    If Murray or Jean see this comment, I'd like to hear from them as to whether they remember taking Jackie and me to see Lucy. Until then, I guess I'm neither a "Yes" or a "No" but a "Maybe". Stay tuned!

    Pete S

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  5. i can proudly say that i have been inside BOTH the statue of liberty and lucy the elephant! heading to take my daughter to go inside lucy for herself tomorrow :)

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  6. I have been in both by the time i was even 10 years old... i guess i owe that to my parents. Drive by Lucy about 3 times a day i think im due for a visit.

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