On Hallowed Ground

Highlands, NJ — Throughout the summer-long 150th anniversary celebration, visitors to the Twin Lights National Historic Site have been urged to “Get Connected!” On Sunday, August 5th, they’ll be doing just that during On Hallowed Ground: Making History at the Twin Lights. The interactive program focuses on five important “firsts” associated with the lighthouse, which was completed a century-and-a-half ago, in 1862.

“Each of these events has a deep connection to some aspect of our daily lives,” says Twin Lights Historical Society President Mary Jo Kenny. “When you stroll around the lighthouse, you are quite literally on hallowed ground.”

The five focal points of the event—which runs from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.—are the first U.S. Lifesaving Service Station, the first official recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, Marconi’s first commercial wireless broadcast, America’s first Fresnel lens, and the U.S. Army’s first radar experiments—aka The Mystery Ray.

Each famous first will be interpreted for visitors by expert volunteers in a relaxed, informal atmosphere. With exhibits spread about the entire site, folks are free to roam around, enjoy the breathtaking view, climb both the North and South Towers, and cool off in the auditorium, where Twin Lights of the Navesink Highlands (winner of Best Documentary at the 2012 Garden State Film Festival) will be playing. 

The Twin Lights auditorium will also play host to two 25-minute On Hallowed Ground presentations (scheduled for 12:30 and 2:30), where the five expert volunteers will team up and host a fun, rapid-fire audio/visual show. At approximately 1:30, there will be an official dedication of the new flagpole, erected this summer in recognition of the Twin Lights’ 150th anniversary. There is no charge to attend any part of On Hallowed Ground and there is never a charge to visit the Twin Lights.

Parking for On Hallowed Ground: Making History at the Twin Lights is available at Henry Hudson High School, located on the opposite side of the athletic fields adjacent to the lighthouse grounds—a five-minute walk away. The beloved Clam Festival concludes on Sunday, so Highlands will be hopping. There is ample time to grab a bite at the festival and do both events.


The Spermaceti Cove Lifesaving Station c.1930

• The Spermaceti Cove Lifesaving Station is the first lifesaving station built by the U.S. Lifesaving Service after it was established in 1848. The historic structure was moved up the hill to the Twin Lights in the 1950s along with an astonishing array of lifesaving artifacts. On display August 5th will be two Francis Lifecars—a prototype and a final version—both of which were used to rescue passengers from ships wrecked on the sand bars off the Jersey Shore. A move is afoot to apply for National Landmark Status for this building.


Visitors at the Twin Lights during the First Recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance as our National Oath of Loyalty and Liberty Pole Flag Raising in April 1893

• On a drizzly April day in 1893, hundreds of dignitaries and patriotic Americans gathered at the Twin Lights to dedicate the 135-foot Liberty Pole and hear the Pledge of Allegiance recited for the first time as our national oath of loyalty. The ceremony kicked off several days of patriotic celebration that coincided with the opening of the Chicago World’s Fair. The Twin Lights site was chosen because it was the first glimpse of America for passengers on ships coming across the Atlantic from Europe. Anyone whose family tree is rooted in this great wave of immigration has a special connection to that remarkable day.


Guglielmo Marconi

• In September 1899, Guglielmo Marconi chose the Twin Lights to prove that his “Magic Box” had commercial value. While the world stood in awe of the concept of wireless communication, believe it or not, most people wondered if it had any practical application. Marconi believed the possibilities were limitless, and foresaw a day when people would transmit their voices through the air to portable devices in the homes and even pockets. Hello radio and cell phones! The Twin Lights’ very special guest volunteer on August 5th will be Bob Lucky, Chairman of the Marconi Society. If you have a Marconi question, he’s the man to answer it.


The South Tower of the Twin Lights and the Postal Telegraph-Cable Signal Tower

• In 1841, more than two decades before the current Twin Lights were constructed, a different pair of beacons guided mariners safely into New York harbor. That year, a very special package arrived—America’s first Fresnel Lenses. The moment they went on-line, the science of optics in this country took off. Prior to the Fresnel lens, U.S. lighthouses used giant versions of the everyday magnifying glass to amplify their light source. These lenses were incredibly heavy and expensive, and only marginally effective. Augustin Fresnel’s lens bent and moved light in wonderful new ways. Fast-forward to modern fiber-optic technology and you begin to understand the profound importance of that day more than 170 years ago.

• During the 1930s, scientists around the world worked on a technology project they knew would be vital to national security. Eight nations—the U.S., England, Germany, Japan, Italy, France, Russia and New Zealand—were conducting secret experiment on a device that could bounce radio waves off metallic objects. The Brits called it RDF, short for Radio Detection and Finding. Here it went by a slightly different name: Radio Detection and Ranging—or Radar. When the first models were developed by the Army and tested at the Twin Lights, it had a much cooler name: The Mystery Ray. The radar experiments conducted at the Twin Lights would contribute to the saving of countless thousands of lives and helped win World War II.   

For more information about the On Hallowed Ground event—or the Twin Lights—visit www.twinlightslighthouse.com.  

To access photography, contact:

Twin Lights Historical Society at 732.291.9900 or the lighthouse at 732.872.1814