Lucy the Elephant, America’s oldest roadside attraction

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014. Filed under: Architecture United States
Lucy the Elephant, New Jersey

Lucy the Elephant (1881) is located in Margate, New Jersey.

Lonely Planet named the Jersey Shore a Top 10 U.S. destination for 2014. What’s the big attraction? Lucy the Elephant, of course!

Located about four miles south of Atlantic City, Lucy the Elephant has stared out to sea since 1881, making her America’s oldest roadside attraction.

Lucy Couple

This piece of 19th century advertising architecture is located about 4 miles south of Atlantic City.

The six-storey novelty architecture was built by James V. Lafferty, Jr., a Philadelphia land speculator who needed a big advertising tool to lure buyers for his then-desolate dune lots.  Lucy became a popular attraction for Victorian-era holidaymakers on the Jersey shore.

Lucy Leg Door

Staff and tours enter Lucy through a door in her leg.

Decades of hurricanes off the Atlantic took their toll, though, and by the 1960s Lucy was facing the wrecking ball. An expensive renovation in the early 70s brought Lucy back to her original glory and in 1976 she was designated a National Historic Landmark, ranking her alongside other sites of national significance like the Alamo.

Lucy Howdah

Lucy’s howdah offers panoramic views.

Today visitors can climb Lucy’s narrow staircases to marvel at her ship-like interior and take in 360° views from the open-air howdah on her back.  A peek through her porthole eyes is not just a window onto the beautiful South Jersey shore, it is a window on America’s past.

Lucy View

View of Margate Beach from Lucy’s howdah.

If you go:

Lucy the Elephant is open seasonally for tours; check her website for details.

Margate is a quiet residential beach town about four miles south of Atlantic City, an easy drive down Atlantic Avenue.  If you don’t have your own vehicle, I can recommend hiring a car and driver from Ceasar Limousine (609-383-6069). It’s great value for the money, especially if you have a group.

From the Victorian architecture of Cape May to Wildwood’s ‘Doo Wop’ motel strip, Atlantic City is a great base for exploring the history, architecture and beaches of southern New Jersey.  For more fun things to do in and around Atlantic City, see Visit AC.

Lucy Tattoo

Lucy the Elephant’s gift shop sells all kinds of elephant-theme souvenirs including temporary tattoos and limited-edition Lucy prints.

Margate Beach Patrol

Margate, New Jersey, is right on the ocean.

Margate Shells

The beach at Margate is naturally beautiful.


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