Hayden Collection will serve as focal point of upcoming exhibit

Highlands, NJ – Each year, around 100,000 visitors to the Twin Lights National Historic Site stroll past a tiny, shingle-covered boathouse without giving it a second thought. Little do they realize that this non-descript building—which sits a mere stone’s throw from the North Tower—is perhaps the most historically significant structure on the Jersey Shore.

The late Howard Hayden knew. An ardent collector of lifesaving memorabilia for most of his life, he was among the very few who understood the importance of Spermaceti Cove Lifesaving Station #2—which, contrary to its official designation—was actually the first building ever constructed by the U.S. Lifesaving Service. Hayden passed his fascination with lifesaving history, along with his remarkable collection, to his daughter, Laurie.

On April 15th, Laurie and her family—husband Roy and sons Ryan, J.J. and Aaron—donated the Hayden Collection to the Twin Lights Museum. The collection, which contains more than 400 pieces (including uniforms, badges, photos and documents from the Lifesaving Service), enables the Twin Lights Museum to begin planning a comprehensive Lifesaving Exhibit for 2012, when the Twin Lights will celebrate its 150th anniversary.

“The Hayden artifacts fill in a lot of gaps in the Lifesaving timeline,” says Mark Stewart, who heads the Twin Light Historical Society’s Collections Committee. “We are fortunate to have a full-time curator on-site who understands the significance of this donation, and can help us blend these pieces with what we already have to create an exhibit of true national importance. We are incredibly grateful for this donation.”

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Laurie Hayden Carley with husband Roy Carley and sons Ryan, J.J. and Aaron.  In front of the Spermaceti Cove Boat Building.

In the early days of the United States, when sea trade was the country’s life blood, the only approach to New York Harbor brought sailing ships perilously close to the Jersey Shore. Many wrecked just a few hundred feet from the beach. Local residents were unable to help them. Hundreds of people perished each year. U.S. congressman Dr. William A. Newell introduced legislation to allow the Federal Government to provide for the purchase and equipping of stations with lifeboats, rockets, and carronades. This “Newell Act” was passed and signed into law in 1848 and the United States Lifesaving Service was born. The Lifesaving Service later became part of the U.S. Coast Guard.

“In turbulent economic times, free museums and historic sites like ours depend on the continued interest and generosity of the public,” says Twin Lights Historical Society President Mary Jo Kenny. “We are grateful for every donation and each new member. However, when we receive a gift that reflects a lifelong passion like Howard Hayden’s, it is a ‘lifeline’ in every sense of the word. I think Mr. Hayden would be happy and proud that his collection will be available for others who share his passion to explore and enjoy for years to come.”