Most people on the east coast may not be as familiar with Margate City New Jersey as they may be with the larger “playground” city to the north called Atlantic City. Margate is really not much of a suburb but more a beach community, where the glitz and glamor of their northern neighbor gets lost in the ocean breezes and sandy beaches.
One of the coolest things you will ever find in the world lives in Margate and has since 1882 and in the last 130 years has been carted down the street, neglected, walked all over and photographed countless numbers of time.
Lucy the Elephant, or Elephant Bazaar as she was called until 1900 is constructed out of wood and tin sheeting, stands 65 ft tall and weighs about 90 tons! She served as a pioneer as many other giant elephants at one time or another after her construction donned the beaches across the east coast including perhaps the more famous “Elephantine Colossus” that had called Coney Island home until a fire destroyed her before 1900.
Lucy is certainly a relic and a place where families have posed for thousands of pictures, children have climbed on her legs and perhaps most fun, people have traveled up her butt… by staircase and looked out the windows and eventually onto her riding basket that sits atop her frame, giving expansive views of Margate City.
Over a decade of neglect in the 1960’s yielded the “Save Lucy” campaign in 1970, resulting in her relocation of a few blocks down the street and also got her a National Historic Landmark status in 1976.
Interestingly, the structure was struck by lightning in 2006, blackening her Tusks which resulted in a nice fresh coat of white paint that is now clearly visible when you visit her.
While in Margate City over the fourth of July weekend, I got to spend time with my girlfriend’s family that has lived in the Atlantic City area for 3 generations now. When we go down there, the history of the city comes alive through the stories her family tells.
Much like many people of Yonkers, my girlfriend’s father can easily have a story for you about almost every 20 ft of sidewalk in the old downtown section of Atlantic City, pointing out places that once were cornerstones of the community and now are in some cases forgotten entities or in other cases, simply different places for different faces of the neighborhood. His stories however are from the glory days of Atlantic City, even the “Boardwalk Empire” days and time has certainly changed the complexion of the area.
Most often, the stories turn back to the old neighborhood, at a time when there weren’t any casinos blocking the ocean views and life moved much slower.
Their apartment that sat adjacent to the now famous White House Sub Shop, one of the local eateries that oozes history along with the cheese that comes out of their signature steak and cheese sandwiches.
Since 1946, this sandwich shop has fed its hungry patrons, from stars like Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., to the locals of the neighborhood, like the LaVerdes.
From sandwich shops to gargantuan grey elephants, much like Yonkers and the people who have called it home for years, Atlantic City and its surrounding suburbs also have a steep history and learning about their memories that can never be erased is in some ways even more fulfilling then telling people about my own.
And while some of the family members from Atlantic City are growing older, celebrating a 70th birthday last weekend and bringing together an entire family in one place, the place where it all got started is still a very special thing. The weekend saw a new generation of the family taking pictures by the giant feet of Lucy and once again showed why place is often more important than time.
Below is a picture of the same 3 people you saw in the B&W photo above, that photo is from 1954 and then this one, taken 57 years later celebrating the 70th birthday of the oldest sibling seated in the middle.
As for Lucy, the great elephant that has not only stood the test of time but has like us, had to persevere through good times and bad times still stands today in Margate City and while she may not last forever, just as you and I, she is however, here today.
Next time you find yourself down in Atlantic City, head South about 7 miles to Margate City and pay a visit to the worlds biggest Elephant and know that you are just one of the millions of people over many generations that have enjoyed Lucy’s company for an afternoon.