America has plenty of interesting roadside attractions. World’s largest ball of twine? We have that. A replica of Stonehenge made out of old cars? We have that, too. We also have the world’s largest elephant building, which is located in Margate, New Jersey, beside the beach in Josephine Harron Park.
This elephant building isn’t just interesting to look at, though. Lucy the Elephant, as she is known, also has a long and fascinating history.
She was built in 1881 by a New Jersey real estate speculator named James V. Lafferty. He had the 65 foot high, 60 foot long building constructed in the hopes that it would attract visitors to Margate who would want to buy property. Lafferty would take customers to the carriage at the top of the elephant, where they could view land that was for sale.
Lucy was a hit from the start. People came from miles around to see the strange spectacle. Lafferty made good money using Lucy to promote his business, and he had two more similar buildings constructed. One of them burned down and the other was demolished, so Lucy is the only such building that still survives.
Lucy almost met the same fate as her sister elephant buildings. People had lost interest by 1887, and she was sold. Her use changed many times over the years. She was a restaurant, a summer vacation rental, and a tavern. This last use almost destroyed Lucy, when some drunk customers almost burned her down.
When Prohibition caused the tavern to close, Lucy was abandoned and left to deteriorate. By the 1960s, she was in such a bad state that the city of Margate was going to have her demolished. But she had become a beloved sight for the locals that a Save Lucy Committee was formed. This group raised enough money to move her to a new location and pay for her extensive repairs.
Lucy was given National Historic Landmark status in 1976, and she is now a well-known roadside attraction. Visitors can now take guided tours up the spiral staircase in her left rear leg. They get to see her interior and the carriage on her back, which affords some great views of Atlantic City and the ocean. Her birthday is also celebrated every year, with food, games, and other activities.