Lucy the Elephant, oldest roadside attraction in U.S., gets birthday bash
MARGATE — Lucy the Elephant, a National Historic Landmark since 1976, and the oldest surviving roadside attraction in the United States, will be celebrating her 137th birthday this Saturday, July 21.
“This is our biggest fundraiser of the year, and everything that is raised during the day goes back toward Lucy’s preservation,” said Richard Helfant, executive director and CEO of Lucy the Elephant.
Over the years, Lucy has been a tavern and was even a single-family residence for a year, but most of her life she has been a tourist attraction.
Lucy was built in 1881 as a real estate marketing gimmick to try to sell property in what was then called South Atlantic City, present-day Margate, according to Helfant. The man who built her, James Lafferty, thought a large, attention-grabbing structure (modeled after P.T. Barnum’s Jumbo) would provide an incentive for people to take the trolley from Atlantic City, which at the time was just coming into its own. Lucy became a tourist attraction, while also promoting real estate sales in the surrounding area.
The event will feature “a big carnival atmosphere all day long,” from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., including skee ball, a waterslide, slip ‘n’ slide, mini-golf, a stilt-walker, and games of chance, according to Helfant. There will also be a trackless train retracing the route between Decatur Avenue and Cedar Grove Avenue that Lucy took in 1970 when she was moved to her present location.
Commemorative T-shirts will be sold, and food including hot dogs, soda, popcorn, Philly Pretzels, cotton candy, snow cones, ice cream and funnel cakes, will be available. Birthday cake will be served at 3 p.m.
As an added attraction, Evelyn Johnson, author of Lucy’s official bedtime storybooks, will hold a book signing from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and tours inside Lucy will be offered every half hour.
Parking is free as is a jitney shuttle running every 15 minutes between the parking lot and Lucy.
Helfant said the theme of this year’s celebration is Lucy’s historical relationship with the railroad on Absecon Island, where Lucy’s home in Margate is located.
“Lucy was very, very instrumental in having the railroad extended from Atlantic City into Margate, and then a few years later into Longport,” said Helfant. “The theme is ‘All aboard the Lucy Express,’ so everything is themed around the railroad and trains.”
Visitors can buy tickets in Lucy’s Thanks for Giving 50/50 Raffle, which will have a grand prize of 35 percent of sales and a second prize of 15 percent of sales. The drawing for the raffle will be on Wednesday, November 28, with the other half going toward preserving Lucy, in hopes that she’ll still be around 137 years from now. Tickets can also be bought on lucytheelephant.org.