lucy's birthday

Madison Peters, 10, of Longport prepares for a dunking at the dunk tank during the event. Sunday July 22 2012 131st Birthday Celebration, Lucy the Elephant, Margate. (The Press of Atlantic City / Ben Fogletto)

Ben Fogletto

Margate’s oldest and best-known public figure was feted in a birthday celebration Sunday that included a water slide, dunk tank and people sitting on her hooves and walking up and around her interior.

Lucy the Elephant, the city’s most famous wood and metal monument, is marking its 131st birthday this year. Originally scheduled for Saturday, the festivities were delayed one day due to weather.

Organizers said they were hoping the blue skies, warm temperatures and extra day would draw even more crowds than the approximately 1,500 to 2,000 who attended last year’s birthday party, which raised $8,000.

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“We got an extra day of advertisements,” said Richard Helfant, executive director of the Save Lucy Committee. “We’re hoping this event will rebuild our cash reserves.”

Lucy is one of the best known landmarks in the greater Atlantic City region, drawing more interest than any other nongaming attraction, Helfant said.

While tourism officials encourage visitors to “Do AC” — Atlantic City’s slogan — Lucy’s promoters are using the slogan “Going Nuts.” A T-shirt with that slogan was created for this year’s festivities, Helfant said.

Sunday’s event also featured guided tours inside Lucy and photographs of tourists standing next to the landmark, altered so that both the person and 6-story-tall elephant appear next to one another in the photo.

Riley Figiel, 9, of Voorhees and Seth Wise, 8, were among the many children and families who took the tour.

“Up at the top we could see everything,” Riley said.

Jamie Gormley, of Margate, and her two children, Lexi, 5, and Sean, 3, also took the tour. Gormley said she first saw Lucy in 1979 and now frequently takes her children to climb the landmark.

“We’re frequent flyers,” she said.

Cieria Hassall, 7, of Galloway Township, came with her grandfather, Bill, 68, for the first time. Cieria knew little about Lucy except for what she could see and what she was told.

“She was built a long time ago and I know there’s a window in her butt,” Cieria said of Lucy.

But however enthusiastic Cieria was about climbing Lucy, Bill Hassall was more hesitant, saying he has lived in the area all of his life and until Sunday had never been inside Lucy.

“After 68 years, I’m going to give it a try,” he said.

Also included as part of the birthday festivities was a traveling zoo staffed by members of the Philadelphia Zoo who brought animals such as a boa constrictor and African pygmy hedge hog to show off.

Hedge hogs are night creatures with limited eyesight and the ability to roll up into a tight ball to fend off predators, animal handler Samantha Funk said.

“She relies on her sense of smell to get around,” Funk said.

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