So, when I was a kid, my father took me up to Margate City (that’s in New Jersey), to visit The Elephant Hotel. This would’ve been some time in the mid-60s (Yes, the nineteen-sixties. Smarthat.)
The Elephant Hotel faced out to sea. There was a sign nearby, explaining that it had been built by a Mr. Lafferty — clearly a peculiar fellow — back in the 1880s — and was one of three Elephant Hotels built at about the same time — the others being sited at Coney Island, New York*, and at Cape May, New Jersey**. The Margate building at the time of my first viewing was in sad, sad shape — somewhere I have pictures*** — and my dad wanted to be sure I’d seen it, because it was a wonderful thing — a silly, foolish, marvelous thing — and it was going to be torn down.
Well, long story short — people intervened. The next time I went to Margate, I drove myself and my-then-boyfriend, specifically to see the Elephant Hotel, because I’d told him about it, and he didn’t believe me. The time being pre-internet, the only thing for it was to get in the car early one Saturday morning and make the drive up from Baltimore.
The Elephant Hotel was gone.
Well, of course it was gone; how could I have expected it to stand in the face of the strong seas and hurricanes that had hammered the Jersey shore in the intervening decade?
Except, as we were leaving, kind of weaving semi-aimlessly through Margate — I found it again. It had been moved to a place of. . .slightly greater safety, the structure looked. . .dangerous, and it could have only survived the move to this new situation by the direct intervention of Lord Ganesha himself. There was a fence around the tired old building, and a billboard that said:
. . .and went on to tell how the Schoolchildren of New Jersey were pitching in their milk money to restore the Elephant Hotel, now known familiarly as “Lucy.”
Goddess bless the kids of Jersey: they did it. The Elephant Hotel, no longer a hotel, is now on the National Registers of Everywhere Imaginable; and you (yes, you!) can visit her, and take a tour of the restored interior, look through the portal eyes, out to sea; and buy t-shirts at the gift shop.
Knowing that the Elephant Hotel still exists, that makes me feel good, though the chances I’ll ever see it again are small.
* * *
Having, then, this early and enduring interest in unnatural pachyderms, many years later, I followed with interest the progress of the Sultan of the Indies on his Time-Traveling Elephant.
. . .and have wondered, off and on, for some years now, whatever had happened to the Time-Traveling Elephant.
I discover today, through the Magic of Facebook, that he’s in Nantes, employed as a mover of people and a thing of wonder, as is, you’ll agree, only fitting and right. It’s also a great relief to me, to find that he hasn’t been dismantled, or broken down for parts.
But, no, it appears that the people of Nantes are devoted to their elephant and intend to keep him in good working order for a number of years, and if, for some reason they fall short of their intention, I hope that the children of Nantes will take their cue from the kids of Jersey.
It’s only icing on the cake — or howdah on the elephant — that the Makers of Nantes, who are responsible for the birth of the Time-Traveling Elephant, found themselves with idle hands, and decided that the best employment for themselves, their hands, and their creativity. . .was to build a carousel, complete with a batwing, err, unicorn.
. . .this has been your report from Maine for Sunday, June 18, 2012.
Yes, I finished proofing Dragon Ship.
*The Elephantine Colossus, twice as big as Lucy, burned down in 1896
**Light of Asia was torn down by the City of Cape May, date unknown
***Actually, go here. The picture on the right — that’s what I saw