Chapter 5 – Tourist Camp

John Gertzen died in 1916, leaving Sophia with two young children to raise and support. To add to the family income, she began a tourist camp which was to become so popular that it required 40 tents to satisfy the demand. Others began to copy Sophia’s successful venture until a “Tent City” arose along the waterfront. The City Fathers did not relish the situation and passed an ordinance banning all “Habitation In Tents” on the Margate beaches.

The Pavilion had been leased to a family named Dougherty and operated as a “speakeasy”. It was shut down when the Volstead Act of 1920 became law.

Sophia, undaunted, converted the Pavilion into a rooming house and this plus her 10-cent admission to the famed Elephant became her only source of income. A guest register shows that in 1916 such notables as President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, Vincent and John Jacob Astor, the duPonts of Delaware, Henry Ford and even the Rajah of Bhong and wives from Singapore all visited Lucy and climbed her 130 steps to the howdah on her back.


Click to view guest registers


In 1929 a violent storm tore off the howdah, which was later replaced by a less ornate one.

website_lucy_elephant_hotelThe Volstead Act (Prohibition) was repealed in 1933 and Sophia again went into the saloon business along with her two children, who were now adults. They renovated the Turkish Pavilion into an old-fashioned beer garden, obtaining license #1 from the City of Margate. It was named the Elephant Cafe. The popularity of the cafe continued through World War II until Sophia’s advancing years prompted her to sell the cafe, but still retaining Lucy the Elephant and the family’s summer home. After several owners, Sophia repurchased the Elephant Cafe and converted it into the Elephant Hotel.

In 1944 a hurricane devastated the Jersey coast. Lucy took a beating but somehow survived. Other nearby properties including the entire Margate Boardwalk were destroyed.


lucy_in_hurricane Wreckage of boardwalk following storm of Sept. 1944. Boardwalk was never rebuilt.

Sophia died in 1963 at the age of 86. Those who knew her said she had a beautiful nature and a great sense of humor. Sophia’s children, Caroline Bonnelli and Joseph F. Gertzen, continued to  run the business, the hotel and the famous Elephant Lucy as a tourist attraction, a refreshment stand, bathhouses and small rental cottages until 1970. In that year they donated Lucy to the City of Margate, sold the land to developers, and retired to Florida.


A Few Statistics

  • Lucy The Elephant stands in a feeding position, trunk down. Access to the interior is gained through spiral stairways in the hind legs, one being for the entrance and the other the exit. Entrance stairs lead to a reception room, which is 18 by 18 feet. Other rooms are off this main one. There are 22 windows.
  • In the construction of this monster, made of wood and metal, it is said that a million pieces of timber and 8,560 ribs or arches, 200 kegs of nails, and four tons of bolts and bars were used. It required 12,000 square feet of tin to cover the structure.
  • The body is 38 feet long and 80 feet in circumference; the head is 16 feet long and 48 feet in circumference. Lucy’s neck is six feet long and 48 feet in circumference; legs are 22 feet long and 10 feet in diameter.
  • The ears are 17 feet long and 10 feet wide. It is estimated that each weighs 2,000 pounds.
  • Lucy’s tusks are 22 feet long; tail 26 feet and eyes 18 inches in diameter. The latter are made of glass.
  • It is estimated that Lucy can be seen (without use of binoculars) up to eight miles.