Meggan Haig is obsessed with elephants in general and Margate’s Lucy the Elephant in particular.
Every birthday and Christmas, family and friends add to her collection of elephant trinkets. When she bought her first car, a Ford Fusion, she called it an elephant of a purchase. So of course the car’s name is Lucy.
When Haig was a kid growing up in Cape May County, every family trip to Atlantic City, where her dad worked at casinos, "we specifically had to take that road so we could drive by and say hi. Even though it’s her heinie staring at you,” said Haig, 35, of Dennis Township, Cape May County.
When she saw an article last month that said three people would be able to book Lucy as an Airbnb for the first time, she immediately set a reminder on her phone. At 11:50 a.m. March 5, the bank assistant manager left for lunch, her Airbnb app ready, and started refreshing the listing, having already practiced the clicks she’d make. When the listing went live at noon, she clicked through and booked.
"I’m still in shock to this moment. I was shaking. … I was close to tears,” Haig said. “I still have no idea how I’m one of the lucky three, and I will not take that for granted.”
Faster than the time it takes for a hungry seagull to swoop down and peck a sandwich from unsuspecting fingers, the once-in-a-lifetime chance to spend the night inside a Jersey Shore landmark was gone. The three nights next week that Lucy the Elephant, the six-story iconic wooden elephant, will become an Airbnb were booked in a matter of seconds.
It was not surprising to all who know Lucy, the National Historic Landmark that has been welcoming visitors to Margate for 138 years.
“I guess their website was just inundated,” said Rich Helfant, executive director of the Save Lucy Committee, the group that restored and manages Lucy.
Six people — four from New Jersey and two from Pennsylvania — will stay inside Lucy for one night each March 17, 18, and 19. It’s the first time anyone has lived in the landmark since a British family of six stayed for the summer in 1902. It’s a fact Haig knew from tours and why she picked the last date available.
“So going forward if they included that in the tour, I would be the last person to stay in Lucy,” she said. “Going there, I would think how cool it would be to stay there. And now it’s actually happening.”
She said she’s feeling "just pure joy and excitement” at the thought of staying inside “the gentle giant of Atlantic County.”
Haig is taking her 40-year-old boyfriend, Pat, who has never visited Lucy.
Staying in Lucy also will be a first visit for Sarah Jacob, 36, who grew up and lives in Johnstown, in Western Pennsylvania. In fact, she’s never been to the Jersey Shore. But her friends and family know she’s always been into quirky accommodations when she travels, and she was flooded with messages about Lucy’s listing.
“I like roadside attractions and larger-than-life stuff,” said Jacob, a software engineer. “Anywhere I go, I do research and look up crazy places" to stay, including a bubble and a Volkswagen Beetle.
Since work is preventing Jacob’s husband from coming along this time, her 32-year-old sister, Emily, is staying with her.
“I made sure I was logged on. I just had to click, click, click and get it. I figured it would go super fast,” Jacob said. “I read other people’s comments [online], and it didn’t sound like they were ready.”
She said she’s excited to see Lucy and the beach.
Airbnb partnered with the nonprofit Save Lucy Committee to list the landmark on the website as part of a tradition of short-term, iconic stays, including at the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile and Mattel’s Barbie Malibu Dreamhouse. The committee hoped to raise awareness about Lucy, especially as the elephant gets ready for a major paint restoration project set to cost a half-million dollars.
“This has been a tremendous event for Lucy," Helfant, of the committee, said. “Exposure around the world greater than we ever anticipated.”
The lucky guests had to fit certain criteria: no children and no problem using an outside trailer for showers and toilet trips.
Doris Perkins doesn’t care. "That’s where all my childhood memories are,” the 46-year-old said. "That was the most exciting thing down here.”
Every Sunday as a kid, Perkins went to morning church service, Sunday school in the afternoon, and an evening church service in Longport, next to Margate. In between services, she’d walk along the beach and inevitably end up at Lucy.
Perkins and her family now live in Egg Harbor Township, about 15 minutes from Lucy’s home in Margate. But she’s never been inside.
Perkins is a photographer for a couple of local nonprofits and plans to take lots of photos. "I’m a little nerdy about the Victorian stuff they put in there,” she said, referring to Lucy’s Victorian-style furnishings.
In the days before the listing went live, Perkins was stressed out by stories far and wide advertising the opportunity to stay in Lucy, including in the London-based Daily Mail. "I’m having mini heart attacks,” she said.
Lucy was one of the first sites Perkins took her now-husband, Seth, to see when he visited for the first time from Oregon. The mother of three said her children are excited and had wanted to go, so she told them she’d take videos from inside.
Perkins, who said she hasn’t been away from her kids in five years, said she plans to relax, watch the birds, breathe in the sea air, and reminisce about her first visits with Lucy.
“It’s a great thing for Margate to have,” she said. "I hope we don’t get to be too complacent about things in our area.”