Lucy the Elephant

Lucy the Elephant. Photo Credit Dana Rebmann

“We’re going to see an elephant.” That’s all I told my girls. They were confused and that was the way I wanted it.

We were on family vacation in Atlantic City on the Jersey Shore. They wanted to go to the beach, and so the questions began. But I refused to provide any details. I wanted Lucy to be a surprise.

Last summer one of the highlights of our vacation was climbing to the crown of the Statue of Liberty. It was such a hit I went searching for another climbing adventure, and I found it less than 10 minutes from Atlantic City. It’s not every day you get to climb an elephant.

Zoomorphic Architecture

Lucy the Elephant is a six-story building, shaped like an elephant. She was built in 1881 in Margate City, New Jersey by James Lafferty. He’d hoped she would help sell real estate. Unfortunately for him, he was wrong, but the idea of an animal shaped building was innovative and Lafferty was granted a patent to protect his lovely lady. Lucy was the first of three elephant buildings, but she’s the only one that’s survived the test of time. And it wasn’t easy for her.

A Little History

In 1970, Lucy was practically falling apart. The oceanfront property she called home, was slated to become home to new condominiums. Thanks to a grassroots “Save Lucy” campaign, the beautiful beast was moved about 2 blocks to a city owned elephant safe haven. The hours of hard work put into moving and restoring Lucy was rewarded when she was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

Climb the World’s Largest Elephant

From summer home to tavern to tourist attraction, Lucy’s had many jobs over the years. When we parked the car and my girls looked up they started yelling, “That’s Lucy from the Guinness Book of World Records!” Suddenly, the beach was all but forgotten.

Climbing Lucy is easy. My non-scientific count came up with 35 steps with breaks in between – easily doable whether you’re 4 or 40, or even carrying a kid or two to the top. You enter Lucy through a back leg and climb to her stomach where you see a brief video on her history. After the movie, look through her glass eyes, to see her view of the world and a great view of the beach.

She has 22 windows in all, including a pane in the butt. When you’re ready, another short climb will take you to the howdah, the ornate carriage mounted on her back. It’s beach as far as the eye can see but if you look to the left you can see the condos responsible for her move.

When you make your ascent through her other back leg, keep your eyes peeled, so not to miss what Lucy had for lunch. I won’t ruin the surprise, ask the tour guide if you can’t find the elephant’s edibles.

The pictures just don’t do the behemoth beauty justice. She’s huge. A million pieces of timber covered with 12-thousand square feet of tin. Her ears are 17 feet long and 10 feet wide. It’s estimated they weigh 2-thousand pounds each.

Lucy provides plenty of shade for the tables scattered around her. Pack a picnic and have lunch. If you need some extra goodies, peanuts are sold in the gift shop.

Lucy’s Beach

The climb won’t take all day. Picnic included, you’re probably looking at two hours. If you’re not on a schedule, follow Lucy’s trunk straight to the beach. You’ll need to buy a beach tag from the checker, and chances are he or she will be standing right at the entrance to the beach. Lifeguards are on duty Memorial Day through Labor Day. The beaches are wide and flat with fine white sand. If the water doesn’t cool you off, look for the ice chests on wheels. Mobile ice cream men roam the beaches, bringing smiles to kids of all ages.

Got a family travel question? Ask an expert on Best Family Travel Advice!

Relevant Links:

Atlantic City attractions with kids

United States Family Travel Guide

East Coast beach vacations

Cape Cod family vacations

Kid-friendly activities on Nantucket

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