Chapter 3 – One of Three
Lucy the Elephant is one of three such structures designed by James V. Lafferty. It is the only one still intact.
Lucy’s nearest relative was the Light of Asia, a 40-foot wooden Elephant built on land owned by the Neptune Land Company, near the beach in what is now the Borough of South Cape May. This Elephant was owned by Theodore Reger of Philadelphia and built under the supervision of James Bradley, a builder of the area. Work began on the frame in May of 1884 from plans drawn by architect N.H. Culber, also of Philadelphia. The structure was 40 feet, 10 inches tall, or 58 feet, 2 inches to the top of the howdah. The howdah itself was 11 feet long and the Elephant’s trunk, which terminated in a large barrel on the ground, was 21 feet long. A wooden platform on which the Elephant was based was 834 feet, 9 inches long and 40 feet wide.
It was estimated that a million pieces of wood were used in the construction, plus 250 kegs of nails and six tons of bolts. The tinsmith supplied 13,400 square feet of tin to cover the framework. Entrance was made through the hind legs and a spiral staircase led to a small concession stand inside. Refreshments were also sold from stands in the front legs of the structure. In spite of the fact that hundreds of people arrived by excursion trains and boats to Cape May to see this oddity, it was never a financial success. Concession and admittance fees never covered the $18,000 cost of construction.
The Mount Vernon Land Company became owners of the Elephant in 1887 and used it for advertising a new real estate development. By the spring of 1900 the Elephant had deteriorated to the point it was declared beyond saving and Capt. Samuel E. Ewing of Cape May was given a contract to tear it down. The last remains, according to newspaper reports of the day, were cremated on May 26, 1900.
Lucy’s other relative, Elephantine Colossus, was built by James V. Lafferty at Coney Island, N.Y., as an attraction for the spot that at the time was the Disneyland of its era. Work was started in the spring of 1884. The Elephant, intended strictly as an amusement attraction, is said to have cost $65,000. It measured 122 feet in height and contained seven floors of exhibits and rooms.
Built two years before the Statue of Liberty, the Coney Island Elephant caused considerable excitement. However, it was a financial loss from the beginning. From the Howdah which topped the structure the visitor had an aerial view of more than 50 miles of ocean, bays and the cities of New York, Brooklyn and Jersey City. The elephant was divided into 31 rooms, each with its own designation such as Main Hall, Shoulder Room, Throat Room, Stomach Room, etc. Sixty-five windows took care of ventilation. It was illuminated by 25 electric lights.
According to notes of J. T. McCaddon, manager, the Elephant contained 3,500,000 feet of lumber, 11,000 kegs of nails, 12 tons of iron bolts and is covered by 57,000 square feet of tin. It took 263 men, 129 full working days to complete.
Located on Surf Avenue, it was just across from the terminals of all the railroad and steamboat lines into Coney Island. In fact, McCaddon bragged that the “New York and Sea Beach RR runs direct to the entrance of the Elephant”.
Finally Lafferty sold the structure to a Philadelphia syndicate.
The structure’s worth as an attraction faded as newer ones grew up around it and competed for the visitors’ dollars. From newspaper accounts of the time it became somewhat of a run-down boarding house. By 1896 it was practically a deserted structure.
On Sunday evening, Sept. 27, 1896, the Elephant building caught fire and crumbled to the sand.