Elephants are not known as common creatures of the Southern Jersey shoreline. However, one elephant, 65-foot-tall Lucy, has adorned the beach in Margate coast and welcomed seafarers since 1881. This behemoth, wooden, pachyderm, which is six stories high and has a spiral staircase, was the work of a Philadelphia born real estate mogul in an effort to draw in developers and tourists. Legend has it that during the Prohibition Era, Lucy the elephant was used to signal rum runners whether or not the coast was clear. Red eyes meant to stay afloat, while green eyes was the go-ahead to come to shore.
Beachgoers in South Jersey love the jetties. A great back drop for a photo, walk out to the lapping waves or to explore the tide pools for sea glass and little creatures, jetties are definitely a feature unique to Jersey shorelines. Although these rock piles were originally created to mark beach blocks and reduce erosion, Wildwood area beaches could do without them! As a result of mother nature’s will, including storms, floods and tidal movements, sand from northern beaches move on down the coast to South Jersey, giving Wildwood and Wildwood Crest Jersey’s longest beaches. In fact, these beaches grow an astounding 30 to 40 feet longer every year! Next time you’re about to lay down the beach towel and overhear a vacationer ask, “Didn’t the water seem a lot closer last year?” be sure to tell them, “it was!”
South Jersey is well known for its coastline but what about the bogs and Pine Barrens? These ecosystems were critical to natives of long ago as well as thriving industries into the early 1900s, lumber and cranberry harvesting being the most prominent. Cranberry bogs were an especially important asset to these self-sufficient communities. “Cranberry” originated from the term “crane-berries” because the berry’s blossom resembles the neck of the sand crane, an aviary that attracts birdwatchers to Jersey shores and estuaries in hopes of catching a rare glimpse.
South Jersey and Philly have a close relationship. Since Jersey doesn’t have its own team (although some North Jerseyans will argue the Giants really belong to them) it’s only natural that the Philadelphia Eagles are the beloved football team for many South Jerseyans. Seal keepers at the Camden Adventure Aquarium trained these bewhiskered mammals to sing the Eagles Fight Song! It may not qualify them for American Idol…but it’s quite good when compared to some of the crowd warbling that can be heard at the end of the fourth quarter!
Does the American flag have room to squeeze in another star? If it were up to the Egg Harbor Town Council our grand ‘ole flag would be waving with one more star to represent the 51 states…the state of South Jersey. Yup, in 1980, in response to an editorial written by newspaper publisher Albert Freeman, the council voted to support the creation of the state of South Jersey. The arguments Freeman made for secession were meant as a joke, but once people got talking the idea took on a life, and a vote, of its own. Of course, the referendum was defeated and there is only one Jersey on the East coast. If you were to watch Jersey Shore it seems one Jersey is all this country can handle!
Boardwalks are part of the charm and uniqueness of the Jersey Shore. These famous boards are ideal for beach strolls and bike rides. They are also the perfect perch for shops, rides, game booths, ice cream vendors and deep fried snacks from Oreos to Snickers. Such an intrinsic part of the Jersey Beach experience seems like a grand plan from long ago to drum up business and bring in tourists. Actually, the boardwalks were originally created only in beach areas with hotels as a way to keep sand out of the lobbies. These wooden doormats have certainly come a long way!
Land Ho! The lighthouses of South Jersey served as a beacon in the night as a guiding point and as a signal of safe harbor for ships in distress. All lighthouses had keepers 24/7, as the lights were powered by gas which needed to be continually monitored. The incentives to this job were free board and annual pay of $500, meager even for 1900s standards. With the 1920 invention of acetylene lights, which could operate day and night, keepers were demoted to mere grounds maintenance. Salary cuts were drastic and these poor caretakers were paid only a token $1 a year. Talk about an S.O.S.!
Atlantic City is full of attractions. Along the famous Steel Pier, between 1905-1978, one of the biggest draws was the famous diving horses. These horses would dive from a 40-foot-tower into a 12-foot-deep tank with a pretty girl riding on their back. One of these girls, Sonora Carver, lost her eyesight after a misaligned jump but continued to dive with the horses for another 11 years. Nerves of steel indeed!
Along Route 70 and 72 you can still find signs directing you to Ong’s Hat Road. Although the town of Ong’s Hat was marked on maps until as recently as 2006, it is now a forgotten ghost town of South Jersey. Legend has it that the “town” actually consisted of a hut used as a stopover point for weary travelers. The owner of the hut, Jacob Ong, was known for his way with the ladies, and keen top hat. After a lover’s quarrel, his notorious headpiece was tossed in a tree and hung about for years, hence the literal “Ong’s Hat Road”.
Did you know at one time South Jersey’s Delanco Township boasted a AA semi-pro baseball team? During a 1924 exhibition game, none other than Babe Ruth played with the team at their home field on Cooper Street. Babe hit a home run and left fans, which numbered in the thousands, cheering for more.
Already knew about Lucy the elephant and other South Jersey trivia? We've got more fun facts about Jersey:
Jersey drive-in theatres and famous firsts: North Jersey history
New Brunswick State Theatre and famous faces: fun central Jersey facts