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The Elephantine Colossus

By Dan Brenner

Posted on November 6, 2019

[Elephantine Colossus], circa 1893, Illustration, V1972.1.1090; Brooklyn Historical Society.

The Elephantine Colossus was an elephant-shaped hotel attraction located in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Coney Island from 1885 through 1896. Also known as the Elephant Hotel, this unique structure stood twelve stories high and contained a total of thirty-one rooms, including a tobacco shop and a museum. At the time, it was such a site to behold that it was dubbed the eighth wonder of the world!

During its short life on Surf Avenue and West 12th Street, the Elephantine Colossus was used as a concert hall, amusement bazaar, and by 1890, when hard times befell its proprietors – a brothel. In 1896, the Elephant Hotel was destroyed in a spectacular fire supposedly visible from as far away as Sandy Hook on the coast of New Jersey. Regrettably, the Elephantine Colossus was no more.

The hotel was designed by James Vincent de Paul Lafferty, Jr., an Irish-American inventor from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who apparently had a preoccupation with designing animal-shaped buildings, specifically of the elephant form. Prior to the Elephantine Colossus, Lafferty, Jr. designed two similar structures: Lucy the Elephant, built in 1881 and located in Margate, New Jersey, and the Light of Asia in Cape May, New Jersey which stood from 1884 until 1900 when it was demolished. As of 2019, Lucy is still alive and well, holding the title of oldest roadside tourist attraction in the United States.

This image comes from the Early Brooklyn and Long Island photograph collection (ARC.201). For more information please see our finding aid here and for more photographs from this collection please visit our image gallery here.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections; visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. [email protected].

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