Enduring Lucy the Elephant to host a same-sex wedding

Rich Helfant and Lucy.
Rich Helfant and Lucy. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 25, 2014

Lucy is one of the oldest surviving examples of zoomorphic architecture (building in the shape of animals), a male elephant (tusks) who identifies as female. But that only begins to get at the hollow by enduring and evolving heart of Lucy the Elephant, who will host her first same-sex wedding June 7.

If Lucy the Elephant is the unofficial mayor of Margate, then Rich Helfant would have to be her chief of staff. "Janitor," he asserts when asked his title. It's also executive director, CEO, all of which sounds ridiculous when you're talking about a wooden roadside elephant 100 feet from the ocean.

Question: So what's the deal with Lucy these days, do people still care?

Helfant: It is absolutely astonishing how much people care. And I don't mean locals, because locals don't care. They don't. But that's not unique to Lucy. I don't think that people who have treasures like this in their own backyard care no matter where they are. I don't even think people rally around the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. But people who have second homes here, that are not from here, people from Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, visitors, they care beyond belief. Lucy is unique. And she's adorable. After the hurricane [Sandy], the outpouring of concern for Lucy was overwhelming. In the 10 days after the storm, 266,000 people talked about Lucy on Facebook.

Q.: Lucy came through Sandy with her tusks and all unscathed. Is she a symbol of Shore resilience?

Helfant: That's the thing, you know, we saw this so many times. After the storm, the governor was flying in the helicopter up and down the coast and showing Lavalette and Seaside Heights, and Seaside Park and Asbury, all of these towns to the north that were destroyed. And then the helicopter was over Margate, and there was Lucy standing proud and strong. She became a beacon of hope. People were writing in to us, more concerned about the elephant than they were their own homes. We're 100 feet from the ocean, and yet, four inches of water in her feet, that's it. We had to replace some of the wood inside her feet and some air-conditioning equipment underneath the gift-shop, but the monument itself? Unscathed.

Q.: You're active in the gay community in Atlantic City and president of Greater Atlantic City GLBT Alliance. With an openly gay mayor in Atlantic City, the return of Miss and Miss'd America, the Sandblast (gay beach fest) ditching Asbury Park for A.C. this summer, has Atlantic City's gay moment arrived? Can the gay community save Atlantic City?

Helfant: That's a loaded question, and no, it can't. No matter what happens, until the business community starts to embrace the gay traveler, and offers something for the gay public, it doesn't matter.

We need a gay community. We need a gayborhood, like we have in Philadelphia. I don't know what the formula is. It's a community, not just bars.

We will be having our first same-sex wedding here at Lucy on June 7, and we're really excited about that. To have a same-sex wedding here is special to me as a gay man, but it's great for the monument. It's going to be great for Lucy as the world's largest drag queen [her tusks mean she's technically male]. Don Guardian [mayor of Atlantic City] is an awesome human being, but promoting A.C. as a gay-friendly destination shouldn't be at the top of his list. He's got bigger issues, bigger fish to fry. The gay community saved Asbury Park, so yes, it can happen in Atlantic City, because they absolutely saved Asbury Park.

Q.: Overlooking Lucy's purple pedicure with the French tips and glitter, do you consider Lucy a style or fashion icon?

Helfant: I would. I think she is a style icon. If you look at a lot of kids who are doing selfie pictures today, they stick their tongue out. And Lucy's tongue is out. She did it first.

Like Miley. From the street view, Lucy does look ready to twerk. From the beach, she is striking the Miley tongue pose.

Helfant: All the kids in high school, they do that. Plus, Lucy's eyes light up blue at night. I used to work with Frank Sinatra back in the day. When he played Resorts, I took care of him [as V.P. of entertainment]. That's my permanent tribute to Frank Sinatra: Lucy's eyes light up blue like Old Blue Eyes.

Q.: Who's higher maintenance, Lucy the Elephant or Frank Sinatra?

Helfant: Lucy.

Frank Sinatra didn't have a habit of getting hit by lightning.

Helfant: Frank makes lightning hit other people.

You know what happened yesterday? We had this big event, nice elegant event [a Lucy-themed art show], and a quarter of 6, the fire alarm goes off. Zone 23. I call the alarm company, "What's Zone 23?" Fire inside her left front leg. It's 120 degrees inside her leg. That's stuff that happens routinely. But she looks good for 123.




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