HIGHLANDS – Friends and supporters of the Twin Lights Historical Society gathered atop the Navesink highlands on Monday, April 25, to mark the 123rd anniversary of the day the Pledge of Allegiance was given as America’s national oath of loyalty for the first time.
In a ceremony held on a bright, breezy day in front of the iconic lighthouse, state, county and local officials gathered to recall the historic 1893 reading of the Pledge along with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Twin Lights Museum.
Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden led the crowd in reciting two versions of the Pledge, the one given by Francis Bellamy and young members of the Lyceum League at the lighthouse in 1893, and the current version which has remained unchanged since 1954. Sheriff Golden was accompanied by a group of schoolchildren from The Rumson Country Day School, where the Pledge is recited each morning. Bellamy had originally written the Pledge of Allegiance for students to recite during an 1892 Columbus Day celebration.
John Trontis, Assistant Director of the State Park Service, sang The Star-Spangled Banner. A color guard unit from the U.S. Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook participated in the ceremony, which took place against the backdrop of an 18-foot flag on the side of the lighthouse.
Speakers at the event included State Senator Joe Kyrillos, Monmouth County Freeholders Tom Arnone, John Curley and Lillian Burry, museum designer John Williams, Dr. Peter Keim, an authority on the history of the American flag, Mary Jo Kenny, president of the Twin Lights Historical Society and Richard Boornazian, Assistant Commissioner of Natural and Historic Resources, who spoke on behalf of Governor Christie. The speaker’s podium was positioned in front of the Twin Lights’ 1756 “Mystery Cannon”—the most-photographed piece of artillery in the state.
Boornazian described the Twin Lights as one of the state’s premier historic sites, among the most used, best interpreted, and well maintained. Freeholder Arnone echoed his sentiments, adding that heritage tourism in Monmouth County is an important economic engine, and that the Twin Lights, which sees over 75,000 visitors a year, is a key part of that picture. He invited fellow freeholders Lillian Burry, Serena DiMaso and John Curley to the podium to read a proclamation setting aside April 25th as “Twin Lights Museum Day.”
“When we look at this edifice behind us,” said Curley, “it is truly the face of Monmouth County and the face of New Jersey, because this is where our history rests. This was the beacon that brought so many people to our shores.”
“I’ve often said you don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been,” said Burry. “It’s important to recognize exactly what this building symbolizes to us all.”
John Williams recounted details of the three-year museum renovation project, which was officially completed with the ribbon-cutting, and the challenges of mounting the Seeing Stars exhibit, which is scheduled to run through the end of the year.
“The State of New Jersey, and surrounding community, is lucky to have an organization like the Twin Lights Historical Society,” said Williams. “To plan, to assemble and to finally execute an exhibit of this quality is a testament to the commitment to excellence by its leadership. It’s clear to me that this is a small but mighty organization. It is not uncommon that a friends group such as this one exhausts all of its resources, or loses the patience to move forward,” he pointed out. “But not this group. They succeeded in putting together an exhibit of the American flag that does every American proud.”
Senator Kyrillos congratulated the Society on its “extraordinary feat” and called the Twin Lights a “touchstone destination.”
“They have done this for all of us—in this community, in this state and, frankly, in this country,” he said. “I still don’t think there are many Americans who understand the basic facts behind why we are here this morning. If the word gets out that the Pledge of Allegiance—this oath that binds all of us—was first recited here, I don’t think [we’ll] be able to maintain order around this great historic site…everybody will want to be here!”
The morning’s final speaker, Dr. Keim, talked about the Seeing Stars exhibit, which features some of the gems from his personal collection—including a 13-star flag, a cavalry guidon carried into battle by the famous Buffalo Soldiers. The collection also showcases an 1876 folk art statue of Uncle Sam, as well as patriotic artifacts from the collection of the Monmouth County Historical Association, stretching from the Civil War to World War II.
“This exhibit is going to help you understand why you feel the way you do about the American flag,” said Keim. “It’s the fabric of our nation, and there is no better place to tell the story of our flag than where we first pledged allegiance to it.”
The Twin Lights National Historic Landmark is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 A.M. to 12 P.M. and 1 P.M. to 4 P.M. The museum’s Seeing Stars exhibit will be open through 2016. Admission to the North Tower and museum is free. All donations, as well as proceeds from the Museum Store, fund new exhibits and special projects such as ‘You Heard It Here First: The Pledge of Allegiance at the Twin Lights’ winner of Best Documentary Short at the 2016 Garden State Film Festival. For more information on days, hours and special events, visit twinlightslighthouse.com or call 732-872-1814
A contingent from U.S. Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook presents the colors in front of the Twin Lights.
Photo by Casey McChesney