Lucy the Elephant is a childhood icon. Her head is like a wishing well, sometimes full of tossed coins. Her eyes are windows. She overlooks the ocean with perfectly painted toenails (this year is gold!). But times are changing. This childhood staple needs some major upgrading. She’s had so many coats of paint, one more would bubble off. The metal under the pain is rotted and rusted. The wood under the metal might also require replacing.
But where did Lucy come from?
She was “born” in 1881.
“Lafferty was a developer in Philly. He owned most of the beachfront property in what was South Atlantic City. He thought that if he could create this crazy giant thing, curiosity seekers would come and see it and people would come and buy real estate,” said Richard Helfant, CEO and executive director of Lucy the Elephant.
It didn’t work out too well for Lafferty, but Lucy has been a tourist attraction since 1904. Lafferty has numerous real estate ventures and it became too much land. He sold the land and Lucy in 1887.
“She started as a real estate office. Then she was a residence for one summer, tavern for one summer, then a tourist attraction starting in 1904,” said Richard.
Over the years, Lucy has moved twice.
“She was moved once in the very early 1900s from where she was built. She was built closer to the water’s edge on the beach. She was moved back and then after they moved her the boardwalk and bulkhead was built,” said Richard.
On July 20, 1970, she underwent a bigger move.
“1970 was when she moved from Cedar Grove Avenue from where she is today,” said Richard.
July 20 is celebrated as Lucy’s Birthday. Usually, there’s a celebration but this year was a little different.
“The big party got canceled because of COVID-19 but we had to celebrate somehow. We did a small celebration spread out over two days. It was very scaled down from what we normally do,” said Richard.
Over the years, Lucy has been through major weather events. She has been through Superstorm Sandy and has been struck my lightening- twice.
“Nothing happened when Sandy hit. The storm didn’t affect her at all. Lucy leaks during a bad rain storm. She didn’t even leak,” Richard said.
Lucy’s age means that her repairs, beginning next spring, are substantial.
“Every five years or so, Lucy has to be painted. There’s so many coats of paint on her now, the paint bubbles off. We knew that it was coming. You had to strip her down to the bare metal and start again. You can’t sandblast her so you have to use chemical stripping to get the paint off. Much of her metal has rotted. The engineers and architects came and they determined that it would be more cost effective to replace the metal than to strip the paint off and fix her,” Richard said. “We have to test paint on her for a year.”
When the repairs are complete, Lucy will look the same.
“Her colors can’t change, the shape of her can’t change. She just won’t have any rust on her and a brand-new paint job,” said Richard.
She will be open to the public during repairs.
“She’ll look like she’s in a giant cage.”
Richard has been involved with Lucy almost his whole life.
“I’ve been involved with Lucy since forever. I sold candy in 7th grade to help to move her,” said Richard. “I became ED in 2000. I was a volunteer on Lucy’s board. It became evident that Lucy became a full-time director. There was a job description written for it and because I was involved with her for so long, the committee felt that I was the most qualified. I love what I do, it’s not work. I do all of the financials, marketing, advertising, staffing, merchandising and overseeing the volunteers.”
One of his many tasks? Stepping out onto her head to collect the coins.
“People watching me are scared but I’m not,” said Richard.
To raise money, they recently rented out Lucy as an AirBNB for the weekend. Lucy was closed for two weeks prior to the stays.
“I didn’t want to run the risk that something would go wrong. We’re not doing the kind of volume we did last year.”