MARGATE — On an overcast May weekday afternoon at the shore town, Mortimer Spreng was getting ready to deliver what would be his fifth tour of the day through Lucy the Elephant.

The Ventnor resident has gotten his tours down to a routine: Clad in a gray tour guide T-shirt with his name-tag pinned to his chest, tiny elephant stud earrings secure in both ears and a black lanyard of keys hanging around his neck, he’ll stop to take a selfie with the 137-year-old roadside attraction, walk through the elephant and wait for eager groups to arrive.

“The 1 o’clock tour’s about to begin,” Spreng projected in an echoing, animated voice before roughly 50 sixth-graders came running to the six-story-tall attraction. “Who’s ready to go up inside the elephant?”

Spreng stood atop a wooden bench, towering a few feet above most of the children just before the 30-minute tour began. With a smile pinned to his face, he held open the door to a narrow staircase on one of the elephant’s legs, taking elbows and getting bumped into as the crowd from Chelsea Heights School funneled through.

This is all part of the job. The actor, who’s appeared in the HBO series set in Atlantic City “Boardwalk Empire,” is employed as a tour guide for the attraction and just surpassed his first year in the part-time gig.

Although he grew up in Atlantic City, he never expected to spend three or four days a week showing people from all over the world around the elephant.

He said he used to visit a bar across the street and merely wave “hi” to Lucy, but never went inside.

“I grew up in Atlantic City — I’m an island boy,” said Spreng, 39. “But I never ever came in here until two years ago for the first time. Now the fact that I’m working here, I absolutely love it.”

With the summer season about to begin, Lucy the Elephant never takes a break. The tour guides come in for shifts around 10:30 a.m. and start getting the elephant ready for the day.

Spreng talks about Lucy as if she’s a friend.

“I have to prepare Lucy and make sure she’s all pretty for all the guests when they come in,” he said.

Before the tours begin, he has to clean the glass, the display cases, the windows and vacuum the floors if they need it. While he’s waiting for a tour to arrive, he’ll mind the gift shop.

After he brings a tour group inside the elephant — whether it’s two people or the maximum 48 — he streams a video introducing the history of the structure with a jingle playing in the background.

Spreng encouraged the group that May weekday to pick up on the jingle and to sing along, talking with his hands through the duration of the rest of tour.

“I throw a lot of information at you — I usually tell people to take notes, because there’s a test,” Spreng said with a laugh. “There’s no test.”

Spreng was recruited to work at the elephant to join the staff of about 15 and help fill in during a busy season. He spends the rest of his time as an actor and as a bartender at an Atlantic City bar.

Richard D. Helfant, the executive director and CEO of Lucy the Elephant, said he has known Spreng for years and thought he would be a good fit for a tour guide at the attraction – a selective position.

“Working here at Lucy is not like working anyplace else — there’s a lot of jobs out there in a resort for the summer,” Helfant said. “This is very unique. We tend to look at Lucy as: It’s a show, Lucy is the stage, and the tour guides are the actors.”

But what people take away from the attraction is from the guides — they have to be outgoing, confident, personable, and be able to tailor the tour to the audience and know who they are speaking to.

This isn’t just a job to Spreng, Helfant said. It’s a performance.

On that May Thursday, Spreng’s tour of sixth-graders on a field trip made their way to the top, looking up and down the structure. Toward the close of the tour, Spreng drew their attention to the back-end of the elephant.

“If you look over here, through the pane of glass, at Lucy’s tail,” he said. “We call that the pane in the butt.”

The group’s laughs echoed through Lucy, including the laughter of Richard Sless, a teacher at the Chelsea Heights School.

Sless is in his last year of teaching after three decades, and wanted to bring his students on a field trip to learn about historic sites around their own island. The trip didn’t disappoint, he said.

“This went exactly how I expected it to go,” Sless said. “Mort was great.”

Contact: 609-272-7239 ESerpico@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressSerpico

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