Chapter 2 – The Gertzens

The Gertzens, who were to play a prominent part in the early history of both Lucy the Elephant and South Atlantic City (now Margate), were an interesting family. Anton Gertzen, the patriarch of the family, was born in 1823 in the German State of Prussia, which is now part of the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1844 Anton left his native land for the United States and settled in Philadelphia where he met Caroline Schurmann. Oddly enough, both had crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the same ship but had not met aboard.

Caroline, daughter of Dominicus Schurmann and Dorothea Webber Schurmann, was one of eight children born in Rotterdam, Holland. Anton, who had changed his name to Anthony, and Caroline were wed in St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Philadelphia. During the years they had seven children, Anthony, Jr., Henry F., John, Ignatius, Caroline, Ann-Catherine and Josephine.

On a visit to South Atlantic City, Anthony, who loved sports fishing, was impressed by the community as a future home. He began to spend more and more time at the seashore and finally settled after buying various parcels of land and going into the fishing-boat business. Lucy the Elephant was one of his purchases.

Anthony Sr., died in 1902. All of the properties he had acquired including the fishing business were divided among his children. Anthony Jr., expanded the investments and served for many years as City Clerk of Margate, which was incorporated in 1909. He had one son, Anthony III.

gertzwifeHenry F., the second son of Anthony and Caroline, was born in 1849 and participated in the family carpet business. He also moved to South Atlantic City and served as mayor of the town for eighteen years. He is credited with the selection of the Independence Hall of Philadelphia as the architectural model for the new city hall of Margate City. Henry F. also operated the Gables Hotel and fishing fleet of 100 boats as well as Fishermen’s Hotel. All were located near Washington and Amherst avenues. Henry F. died in 1933 at the age of 84.

John Gertzen, the third son, married Sophia Blackowski, and they had three children, Caroline, John, and Joseph F. John purchased the six-story Elephant structure and other properties from his mother, thus continuing a long family history of connection with the Elephant building. Gertzen charged visitors 10 cents to tour the furnished interior of the Elephant building and climb the spiral stairway to the howdah or observatory on its back.

In the summer of 1901, two young German sisters from Philadelphia, Hedwig (Hattie) and Bertha Pfeil came to the seashore seeking board and summer employment. John and Sophia Gertzen hired Hattie as a child’s nurse for their young daughter, Carol. Hattie became the first official tour guide of the Elephant, learning her “spiel” well as she guided visitors up the 130 steps and making certain that they all signed the guest register. There were notable visitors such as opera and stage stars and foreign dignitaries.

One such important visitor was a young lawyer from Virginia who gave her a generous tip of one dollar — the future 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson.

Sophia and Hattie remained dear friends through the years with letters and cards until the death of Sophia in 1963. Hattie died in 1981 at age 93. Her story and scrapbook were given to the Save Lucy Committee by daughter Marie Kobres Bone, of Atlanta, Ga.