Lucy the Elephant turned 132 years old at an all-day birthday party Saturday.

You know you're something special when there are road signs directing motorists to your location.

Further, those signs mention that you've been designated an official National Historic Landmark.

Oh, there's one other thing: Those signs also note your birth date - way back in 1881 - the same year that James Garfield took office as the 20th president of the United States.

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Despite her advanced age, Lucy the Elephant - the fabled tourist attraction - is looking pretty good these days, right down to her brightly painted purple-and-white toes and toenails.

The elephant-shaped structure, overlooking the ocean from its beachfront location in Margate, was on full display Saturday during a lavish 132nd birthday celebration that drew families and admirers. No doubt some of the people followed the Lucy the Elephant road signs to get to her birthday party.

About 32,000 people annually pay to tour the inside of the colossal beast, which stands six stories high and weighs 90 tons. Richard Helfant, executive director of the Save Lucy Committee, estimated an additional 100,000 people per year simply visit the site, without taking the paid tour.

"According to the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority, she is the No. 1 nongaming attraction in the Atlantic City region. More people inquire about her than the Steel Pier. I think that's mind-blowing," Helfant said, noting Lucy's popularity compared to the storied amusement park on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

Families, Helfant stressed, are among Lucy's biggest fans.

Andrew and Julie Schultz, of Margate, brought their children, Layla, 6, and Riley, 2, to celebrate Lucy's birthday.

"They love Lucy," Julie Schultz said of the children.

"Yeah, they always say, 'Lucy, Lucy, Lucy,''' Andrew Schultz added.

Egg Harbor Township resident Christopher Culbertson and his 4-year-old son, Ryder, paid Lucy a visit for the first time Saturday and were swept up by the excitement.

Trying to coax some words from Ryder, Culbertson asked his son how he felt about the "really, really big elephant."

"I like going to the top," Ryder exclaimed.

A climb up a spiral staircase inside the elephant ends at the howdah, the riding carriage on Lucy's back that doubles as an observatory. There, expansive views of Margate, the ocean and the Atlantic City skyline unfold.

Through the years, Lucy served as a magnet for real estate investors, a hotel, a summer home and even a tavern before her final "career" as a tourist oddity. By the 1960s, she had fallen into disrepair and faced demolition.

The Margate Civic Association, which later became the Save Lucy Committee, rescued the structure. Helfant said it took 30 years and $1.5 million to restore Lucy into a tourist attraction.

Next up is a $30,000 refurbishment this fall to paint and rust-proof Lucy. Helfant said Lucy gets blasted by the beach sand, so a specially formulated paint is needed to protect the structure.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:


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