Lucy the Elephant (photo courtesy of Judy Gallagher/Flickr)

Is it true that elephants never forget? A recent Airbnb listing makes an interesting case. Lucy the Elephant’s memory of the Jersey Shore dates back to the late 19th century, long before the proliferation of boardwalks and amusement parks. Dutiful residents of Margate City have ensured that Lucy maintains her original beauty after more than a century of hurricanes, blizzards, and municipal negligence. A relic of novelty architecture, the 65-foot-tall wooden elephant will soon welcome overnight visitors for the first time in decades.

Three pairs of guests can rent out Lucy’s Victorian-style master bedroom for one night each on March 17, 18, and 19. Reservations go live on March 5 for $138 per night, correlating with Lucy’s 138 years of life. Airbnb will give all proceeds plus an additional undisclosed donation to the Save Lucy Committee (SLC) to keep her in tiptop shape. Guests receive a guided tour of Lucy’s interior from Margate City Mayor Michael Becker and SLC Executive Director Richard Helfant, who has aided in Lucy’s upkeep since he was a teenager. 

As the Airbnb listing states, the “elephant is the room.” And what a room it is. The expansive living area features sculptures, fine china, and fresh flowers that hearken back to the Victorian era when British tourists ventured across the ocean to sunbathe on New Jersey’s beaches. A broad platform on Lucy’s back, designed like an Indian howdah, provides visitors with a birds-eye panoramic view of the ocean and the Atlantic City skyline. 

Philadelphia inventor James V. Lafferty built Lucy’s original structure, which he called “Elephant Bazaar,” in 1881. After purchasing several empty lots in South Atlantic City, he placed the pachyderm beside the main railroad station to attract real estate buyers. Modeled after P. T. Barnum’s Jumbo, “Elephant Bazaar” was made out of structural lumber and coated in 90 tons of wood and tin. Lafferty would later build similar elephants in Cape May and Coney Island before going broke, but Lucy is the only survivor.

Lafferty eventually sold “Elephant Bazaar” to the Gertzen family, who gave Lucy her name. Under their ownership, Lucy hosted former President Woodrow Wilson and served as a cottage and tavern before becoming a full-time roadside attraction with guided tours. She fell into disrepair in the ’60s during a prolonged tourism slump, prompting several concerned citizens to establish the SLC. After relocation and multiple upgrades, Lucy was named a National Historic Landmark in 1976. She has also appeared in films and television shows such as The King of Marvin Gardens, Boardwalk Empire, and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

Older than both the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty, Lucy is a hidden gem of Jersey Shore folklore that preserves the mystique of its boardwalk culture. And for her age, she looks pretty fabulous. With a fresh pedicure and a new raison d’être, Lucy will surely continue to fascinate beachgoers young and old for generations to come. 

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Billie Anania

Billie Anania is an editor, critic, and journalist in New York City whose work focuses on political economy in the cultural industries and the history of art in global liberation movements.