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  • Danielle Bennignus

Elephants Never Forget

Updated: May 27, 2018


I tend to find inspiration in all sorts of unexpected places, especially when those places have been touched by fellow creative people. Never more so when the creative person is something of a mad genius, which was certainly the case with James Lafferty. This architect had a noble dream of designing an elephant-shaped building, and succeeded - three times. First, there was Lucy, constructed in 1881 and still, happily, very much extant in Margate, New Jersey:

Lucy was saved through the valiant efforts of her home community, and actually relocated, via truck, to an area safer from the beach elements. I cannot begin to recommend a pilgrimage heartily enough! There was also the "Elephantine Colossus", one of Coney Island's most legendary attractions, built in 1884:

Let's have another look at this beast, in the context of the surrounding buildings. This thing seriously lived up to its name:

It certainly holds its own among the pavilions and amusements! Colossus didn't fare as well as Lucy, having fallen into a tawdry fate as a hot-sheet boarding house, and finally burning to the ground in 1896. This leaves us with my favorite, the oddball "Light of Asia" also constructed in 1884 in Cape May, one of New Jersey's most beautiful Victorian towns:

As you can see, she didn't fare very well, either. By the time this photo was taken, Light of Asia was well on her way out - down to the base structure and getting worse by the day. In 1900 she was set ablaze in a final farewell. Though all three structures are fascinating, I have a soft spot for this one, with her wacky little eye-windows and static trunk. I took inspiration from her, and ran riot with this illustration...

This piece has an awful lot to say, and I'll try to explain it in words as well as pictures. We have a vaudevillian archer, astride her trusty elephant. As her arrow courses across the sky, the stars that cascade from the point create a skyline of buildings present during Coney Island's heyday during the early 1900s. Luna Park's structures are predominant, as a reference to the presence of the night sky. Let's have a closer look:

Though I tinted many of the stars in varying shades of gold, the remaining white stars are actually negative areas, allowing the white bristol paper to shine through. The same goes for the elephant, picked out with pointillism in varying density:

How about a closer look at Light of Asia herself, resplendent in a wonderful ensemble, a tribute itself to the notorious belly dancer, Fahreda Mazar, better known as "Little Egypt", herself another great Coney Island institution!

And why not include one of my favorite images of Mazar, doing her thing on my beloved Coney Island? Her dance was tame by today's standards, but no small feat back then...

Soon enough, I'll share the other vaudevillians I've illustrated - all delightful flights of meticulously detailed fancy, much like this one. It's a subject I'm happy to discuss and even more joyful to put on paper, because the variety of these performers and their specialties is downright mind-boggling. But for now, I'll head to bed, aiming for dreams of peacock feathers, hootchy-kootchy dancers, Coney Island and, yes, Elephants.


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