Highlands, NJ — On a drizzly spring day in 1893, a crowd numbering in the hundreds gathered atop the Navesink Highlands to witness the dedication of the Liberty Pole, a 135-foot flagpole installed in front of the Twin Lights to “welcome” immigrants as they steamed toward New York harbor.
During that rain-soaked ceremony, the Pledge of Allegiance was given as America’s national oath of loyalty for the first time. The Liberty Pole is long gone, but the Pledge has become embedded in our national culture.
A 40-minute documentary entitled You Heard It Here First: The Pledge of Allegiance at the Twin Lights tells the unlikely tale of how that history-making event came to be.
The film, produced by the Twin Lights Historical Society and narrated by Emmy-winner Ed Asner, debuted at the 2016 Garden State Film Festival in Atlantic City on Sunday, April 3rd—and won the award for Best Documentary Short. Asner and the film’s director, Fred Frintrup, were on hand to accept the award.
“This was an extremely competitive category,” says Frintrup. “We were surprised and gratified to win. The film tells a complex story that dates back more than a century, yet it’s remarkable how little the forces of politics, power and human nature have changed.”
Indeed, as Asner explains, national anxiety about “new Americans” in the 1890s closely mirrored themes we see in the news today: “The importance of the flag and the Pledge were heightened by new people coming to a new land and solidifying some sort of uniform culture. We wondered, would they be loyal to their new home or cling to old ways? Would they fight to defend America?”
The Twin Lights Historical Society is one of the country’s most active museum Friends groups. While the rest of the Jersey Shore’s tourism destinations struggled to recover from Hurricane Sandy, the Twin Lights completed an ambitious renovation project of its popular museum, which draws more than 75,000 visitors a year. It’s new exhibit, Seeing Stars: Every Flag Tells a Story, is open to the public this spring. It features more than $2 million worth of historic flags, patriotic artifacts and works of art.
You Heard It Here First is not the Twin Light Historical Society’s first award-winning effort. It’s last documentary, which explored the culture and history of the iconic national landmark, won Best Documentary Short at the 2012 Garden State Film Festival, which was held in Asbury Park.
“We entered that first film almost for fun, with no expectations,” recalls Mary Jo Kenny, President of the Society. “We were surprised to be nominated then, and completely shocked when we won. They say that great storytelling is the key to an engaging film, and I guess we are fortunate in that we have so many great stories to tell.”
Those stories include several famous “firsts” associated with the lighthouse, which was built as unconnected light towers in 1828 and then completely reconstructed in 1862 to become America’s only connected lights:
• In 1841, Admiral Perry delivered the country’s first Fresnel lens to the Twin Lights, jump-starting the science of optics in America
• America’s first lifesaving station, built in 1849 at Sandy Hook, is now located on the Twin Lights campus
• A prototype and working example of the game-changing 1850 Francis Lifecar is on display
• In 1883, the Twin Lights was the first lighthouse to switch from whale oil to kerosene
• In 1898, the Twin Lights became the first lighthouse in the world to generate its own electricity. At 25 million candlepower, it was the brightest lighthouse in America for many years.
• In 1899, Gugilelmo Marconi made history’s first commercial wireless broadcasts, reporting on the arrival of Admiral Dewey’s victorious White Fleet from the Spanish-American War, and sending updates on the America’s Cup races off Sandy Hook.
• In 1935, the U.S. Army unveiled its new Mystery Ray (aka radar) at the Twin Lights
• In 2001, attendance at the Twin Lights topped 100,000 for the first time.
• In 2011, the Twin Lights Museum displayed the original watercolor study for the famous Twin Lights of the Navesink print originally published in the 1872 edition of Picturesque America. It was the painting’s first public showing in more than 140 years.
You Heard It Here First: The Pledge of Allegiance at the Twin Lights will be available for sale at the Twin Lights Museum Store next week and for sale at twinlightslighthouse.com by the end of April.
For more information call the lighthouse at 732.872.1814.