Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Spring Break in New Jersey #4: In Which James V Lafferty Invents Happiness.

Sometimes location is not enough so the conscientious land promoter or real estate developer needs something extra. Back in 1937, an 18-foot-tall statue of Paul Bunyan appeared in Bemidji. The statue was built to promote a carnival. This being Minnesota, contractor Cyril Dickinson didnt think anything unusual about the assignment.

About 40 years before this, Henry Flagler began building an entire railroad, the Florida East Coast Railway, to bring people from the urban East down to Florida, where he was developing resorts and communities all along the states Atlantic shore. The FECRR is still in business (just not that of promoting real estate).

And in 1881 or so, most of the area south of Atlantic City was pretty much dune grass, bayberry bushes and scrub pine...not too appealing for someone wanting to sell vacation lots to serve the increasingly well-off middle classes of New York and New Jersey. This particular “someone” was James Vincent de Paul Lafferty, Jr:

...born in Philadelphia, Pa., in 1856 of prosperous Irish immigrant parents from Dublin, Ireland. Lafferty, who grew up to be an engineer and inventor, came into possession of a number of sandy lots in the South Atlantic City area. They were cut off from the frame houses and mule-drawn street cars of Atlantic City, by a deep tidal creek. Only at low tide could anyone make his way down to the sands of his properties.

Naturally, the idea he lit upon was to build a giant elephant. Wouldnt that be your first thought? According to the good people at LucytheElephant.org (“Lucy” being the giant elephant's name), Lafferty then:

...enlisted the aid of a Philadelphia architect named William Free to design this unusual structure he felt would attract visitors and property buyers to his holdings...Lafferty always claimed that before the work was finished the cost skyrocketed to $38,000.

The United States Patent Office thought this an outstandingly clever idea (and it was!) So the USPO granted Lafferty a 17-year patent giving him the exclusive right to make, use or sell animal-shaped buildings. Which he did at least two more times.

Lafferty could not create his way to real estate success – unlike Flagler, the elephants inventor died broke. But he left behind a happy-making piece of Americana in Margate, NJ, which has been preserved by people who love it...and its just as eye-popping as you think. Sayeth Lucy’s promo flyer:

...Climb up to the museum in her belly on a spiral staircase in her legs!

...View the ocean through her eyeballs!

...Get a spectacular 360° view from her howdah high in the sky!

...See out her posterior window, aka “the pane in her butt!” (Really.)

Everything you ever want to know about one of America's premier early advertising promotions is here. The story of Lucy's great paint job, by Alpine Painting, is here. And consider this: Any real estate mogul can build a great Facebook page. It's not even in the same galaxy as your classic 65-foot elephant.


Susan Reeves said...

I have always wanted to see Lucy - in person. Climb up inside and peek out to sea.

Why is there a dead elf on the lucy the elephant dot org. site?

Richard Laurence Baron said...

I coulodn't spot the dead elf on the Lucy site, Susan - but the thing is a rare treat. See personal photos here:


Thanks for reading...

Richard Laurence Baron said...

Thanks to Gary Lassin, you can read more about Margate (and Lucy) on the Hot Flashes blog, http://arlenelassin.com/?p=290

Fun stuff II!