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I Have Seen the Elephant
June 22, 2008 5:01 PM   Subscribe

It's 1881. You're real estate speculator James Lafferty, and you've just bought a large parcel of empty, scrubby shoreside land just south of Atlantic City. Problem is, it's cut off from the AC streetcar line by a deep tidal creek. How do you entice potential buyers to make the trek over the inlet and look at your property? Build a giant elephant, of course. Capitalizing on the celebrity of P. T. Barnum's famous Jumbo, Lafferty built 65-foot tall Lucy the Elephant, the first of three giant elephants Lafferty built (followed by Cape May's Light of Asia and Coney Island's Elephantine Colossus). He even took out a patent on the very idea of buildings shaped like animals. Though threatened by decades of neglect and rot, the Save Lucy Committee began preservation efforts in 1970, moving her to her present site and giving her a complete restoration.

Photo of the Elephantine Colossus
Lucy the Elephant jingle [warning: earworm]
Great collection of antique Lucy postcards, many incorrectly identifying her as a hotel (she never was, but the Turkish Pavilion from the Philadelphia Centennial was moved to a site behind her and operated as a hotel)
posted by Miko (21 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love things that take me forcibly into the mindset of an earlier time as to what must have passed for entertainment. A building cunningly wrought into the shape of an oliphaunt! We must see it, dear, we must!

Speaking of buildings shaped like things, I know of two in Mississippi. One is a giant tipi in the town of Pocahontas, which is all I've ever seen of that town as I drive by, and may be the town. It's a barbecue place. The other is a restaurant in the shape of a giant mammy. I remember seeing this between Greenville and Natchez sometime in the '80s, painted in character I think, and then again a few years ago -- by which time it had mercifully been painted solid white, and no reference to the shape was apparent outside.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:18 PM on June 22, 2008


Is the Zippy the Pinhead strip which Lucy features in on the web?
posted by oonh at 5:21 PM on June 22, 2008


Cool! I love that stuff!

I was able to spend some quality time inside of Dinny the Dinosaur as a kid. Fortunately, that was before he became a missionary for creationism.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:25 PM on June 22, 2008


L'éléphant de la Bastille
posted by Wolof at 5:25 PM on June 22, 2008


Somebody buy me one.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:37 PM on June 22, 2008


I love this type of Americana. Here is Route 66 Blue whale
posted by francesca too at 5:39 PM on June 22, 2008


It's 1881. You're real estate speculator James Lafferty, and you've just bought a large parcel of empty, scrubby shoreside land just south of Atlantic City.

INVENTORY

GO NORTH
posted by DU at 6:03 PM on June 22, 2008 [9 favorites]


Roadside architecture has loads of pictures of other giant stuff. I found the page while looking for one particular building that I was going to throw in a comment here, and learned a new term: mimetic architecture.
posted by dilettante at 6:10 PM on June 22, 2008


Okay. I plead illiteracy. The original post has a link to the page I just popped up with in the comments.
posted by dilettante at 6:12 PM on June 22, 2008


I visited Lucy about 6 years ago, in the dead of winter, when the Jersey Shore is like a ghost town. She was looking a bit worn out and sad at the time. I'm glad to see they have cleaned her up and made some repairs.
posted by acetonic at 6:33 PM on June 22, 2008


I have seen the Airplane Diner.
posted by subgear at 7:00 PM on June 22, 2008


I was inside Lucy as a child.

That sounds so wrong.
posted by JaredSeth at 7:42 PM on June 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Actually now that I think more about it, Lucy was a lot like the giant heart you can walk through in the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. It all sounded very impressive, especially to a young geeky kid, and then you got in there and realized it was all just crumbling papier-mâché.
posted by JaredSeth at 7:45 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Lucy was a highlight of my childhood visits to my grandparents house. What a great thing that was. Nice post.
posted by lumpenprole at 7:56 PM on June 22, 2008


I love things that take me forcibly into the mindset of an earlier time as to what must have passed for entertainment. A building cunningly wrought into the shape of an oliphaunt! We must see it, dear, we must!

Absolutely! That's what I love about her. The idea is so insanely Victorian - there was nothing too grandiose, too weird, too novel! A giant elephant - of course! Nature cannot restrain us! Anything is possible!

I've been to Lucy three times over the past few years (taking other people, because you gotta see Lucy) and she's in very good shape. I don't think she's a letdown - you just really have to approach it with the proper spirit. She's an odd vestige and a wonderful piece of Weird New Jersey that has been ably restored. She looks great. The tour can be cringeworthy (lots of canned jokes) and could offer much more in the way of historical context, but it's the only way you can go inside and then climb up to the howdah and behold a long stretch of Jersey shore. As a town's claim to fame, it ain't bad.
posted by Miko at 8:10 PM on June 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


The "Airplane Diner" plane is now in the Air Mobility Command Museum. Retrofitted as a military version rather than the airliner it once was. I'm glad to see it's preserved rather than scrapped at least. I saw it on the diner and I plan to visit it in its new home soon.
posted by acetonic at 12:52 AM on June 23, 2008


Miko, I'm glad to hear Lucy's been cleaned up. It's been about 30 years since I was there, and it's nice to know something from my childhood has actually gotten better with age.
posted by JaredSeth at 3:56 AM on June 23, 2008


Slamming post, Miko.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:33 AM on June 23, 2008


This is totally awesome! I love elephants and elephant schtickery. Although I am sad that the Moulin Rouge elephant is gone (I was a little confused by that scene in the movie).
posted by bettafish at 8:16 AM on June 23, 2008


Lucy was a lot like the giant heart you can walk through in the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. It all sounded very impressive, especially to a young geeky kid, and then you got in there and realized it was all just crumbling papier-mâché.

Ah, the nature of a heart.
posted by ersatz at 9:48 AM on June 23, 2008


How do you masturbate an elephant?
posted by homunculus at 6:35 PM on July 8, 2008


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