Lucy the Elephant has been staring out at the Atlantic Ocean for the last 136 years. In that time, the 65-foot wood and tin elephant has become a beloved icon and tourist attraction in Margate, N.J.
John C. Ensslin

Jersey Icons is an occasional series devoted to the things that help define life in the Garden State. 

Why she is iconic

You can climb inside a wooden elephant that stares out at the ocean. Need we say more? Lucy is an iconic structure if only for her sheer endurance and the passion she has inspired among those who came to her rescue.


Built in 1881, this 65-foot wooden elephant was the brainchild of James Vincent de Paul Lafferty, Jr., an inventor and developer from Philadelphia.

She was modeled after “Jumbo” a then-famous elephant with Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth. The cost of Lucy’s construction was reported at $25,000 or about $557,259 in today’s dollars.

Lafferty owned several lots in Margate, which was then-known as South Atlantic City. He had hopes that curiosity about Lucy would spur interest in buying his nearby land. That effort failed.

A British doctor and his family rented Lucy as his residence in the summer of 1902. She also served as a tavern briefly in 1903, despite the fact that she had no electricity. 

The combination of kerosene lanterns and people drinking alcohol inside a wooden elephant proved not to be a good idea, though, and it was soon discontinued, said Richard Helfant, executive director and CEO of the Save Lucy Committee.

Lucy then began her career as a tourist attraction.


Saving Lucy

By the late 1960s, Lucy was on her last legs. Time and the elements had taken a toll on her structure. And the land owner had plans to demolish her to build what is today a condominium complex.

The prospect of demolition sparked a Save Lucy Committee –…