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July 13, 2022

Early Photographs of Lucy the Elephant, the Amazing Elephant Hotel in Margate City, New Jersey

Lucy the Elephant is a six-story elephant-shaped example of novelty architecture, constructed of wood and tin sheeting in 1881 by James V. Lafferty in Margate City, New Jersey, approximately five miles (8 km) south of Atlantic City. Originally named Elephant Bazaar, Lucy was built to promote real estate sales and attract tourists. Today, Lucy is the oldest surviving roadside tourist attraction in America.

In 1881, the U.S. Patent Office granted James V. Lafferty a patent giving him the exclusive right to make, use or sell animal-shaped buildings for a duration of seventeen years. Lafferty funded the design and construction of his first elephant-shaped building at South Atlantic City, now called Margate. He employed Philadelphia architects William Free and J. Mason Kirby for the design.

The structure stands at 65 feet (19.7 m) in height, 60 feet (18.3 m) in length, and 18 feet (5.5 m) in width and weighs about 90 tons. It is listed as the 12th tallest statue in the United States. Lucy was constructed with nearly one million pieces of wood, and required 200 kegs of nails, 4 tons of bolts and iron bars; 12,000 square feet of tin covers the exterior. There are 22 windows placed throughout the structure.

Originally, Lafferty brought potential real estate customers to view parcels of land from Lucy’s howdah (carriage). The howdah offers unique views of Margate, Atlantic City’s skyline, the beach, and the Atlantic Ocean and it serves as an observation deck for modern day visitors during tours.

The structure was sold to Anton Gertzen of Philadelphia in 1887 and remained in his family until 1970. Anton’s daughter-in-law, Sophia Gertzen, reportedly dubbed the structure “Lucy the Elephant” in 1902. The shape of Lucy’s head is characteristic of an Asian Elephant, and male elephants have tusks. Initially, the elephant was referred to as a male, but eventually became commonly known as a female.


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