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March 2023
1min read

In 1881 a real-estate agent named James V. Lafferty, faced with the problem of attracting customers to the then-vacant oceanfront south of Atlantic City, was inspired to invest thirty-eight thousand dollars to build a huge tin-plated wooden elephant on the beach of Absecon Island. Known as Lucy, the seventy-foot-long, sixtyfive-foot-high elephant has served variously as a summer cottage, a tavern, and a bathhouse. Her eyes, each a foot and a half in diameter, are in fact windows. In addition, she has twentytwo other windows in her interior rooms, which are reached by way of spiral staircases in her hind legs. Lucy stands in Margate, New Jersey, where she has endured almost a century of fierce Atlantic gales. In 1903 one of these sank her up to her knees in sand, and in 1928 her howdah was blown away. By 1970, when Lucy was donated to the city with the stipulation that she be moved to make way for a plague of condominiums, the elephant was in very shabby shape. Now, however, a Lucy committee, formed by Sylvia Carpenter and Josephine Harron, is working to restore the elephant. Steel girders are replacing rotten timbers, and Lucy is now enclosed in scaffolding and covered with tarpaper, which will protect her from the elements until her original tin sheathing is replaced. Despite these disfigurements more than ten thousand visitors tramped through her interior last summer, a pleasant indication that time has not dimmed the ingenuous appeal of Lafferty’s unlikely vision.

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