twin lights flag dayHighlands schoolchildren speak about ‘What the Flag means to me’

PHOTO: Highlands 4th Graders   Credit: Shine Bright Studios

(June 14, 2016 — Highlands, NJ) -  The connection between the Twin Lights and the American flag is being celebrated this year with ceremonies, celebrations and the opening of the Seeing Stars exhibit at the newly renovated Twin Lights Museum. On June 14th, the Twin Lights Historical Society celebrated Flag Day in front of the lighthouse. Featured speakers included members of the Highlands Elementary School 4th Grade, as well as John Trontis, the Assistant Director of State Parks.

Two of the grade schoolers, members of Ms. Puffenbarger’s class, delivered short speeches on “What the Flag means to me.” Mr. Trontis talked about the history and importance of Flag Day. The Pledge of Allegiance was recited by Walter Guenther of the Historical Society of Highlands and the ceremony was hosted by Mary Jo Kenny, President of the Twin Lights Historical Society. Kendall Brighton of Rumson opened the program with the Star-Spangled Banner and closed it with America the Beautiful.  Highlands Elementary principal Rosemary Schutz was also on hand, as was Highlands councilman Doug Card.

Flag Day gets plenty of respect, but not a lot of attention. In fact, its 100th anniversary passed almost without mention in the popular press. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that June 14th, would henceforth be set aside for the observation of Flag Day with special patriotic exercises and celebrations. Thirty-three years later, President Harry Truman made it a law. It is not an official holiday in any state and, because most schools are in session, public events and parades are few and far between.

Assistant Director Trontis provided the crowd of 100 or so attendees with some background on Flag Day. It commemorates the act of Congress on June 14, 1777, when the stars and stripes design was officially adopted. Over the next century, Flag Day was celebrated sporadically in small towns, often on a day other than the 14th. Typically, it passed without notice.

During the 1880s and 1890s, the push to make Flag Day “official” was led by Bernard Cigrand, an ardent patriot who would become head of the University of Illinois Dental School, in Chicago. Cigrand wrote over 100 articles about the importance of the flag for magazines and newspapers. In 1894, he convinced Chicago’s public schools to let the kids celebrate Flag Day in the city’s five major parks. More than 300,000 people showed up.

“That part of John’s talk made the students’ ears perk up,” says Mary Jo Kenny. “A century before the Internet and social media, here were kids making things happen on a massive scale. Basically, because of their enthusiasm, Flag Day got 300,000 Likes!”

In the years that followed, 36 Governors and five former U.S. Presidents urged Congress to make Flag Day official. Woodrow Wilson’s 1916 proclamation was printed in its entirety in the Twin Lights Flag Day program.

Mark Stewart, one of the Twin Lights trustees that worked on the Seeing Stars exhibit, feels that although Flag Day may not merit parades and fireworks, it is an important day for Americans to stop and think about.

“Every one of our nation’s flags tells its own story,” he says. “That is the theme of the museum exhibit, and it is what makes our flag unique in the world. Each of us relates to the flag or honors it in our own way almost every day. June 14th is the day set aside to think about the story of the flag itself—and like most stories from American history, when you dig down a little, it’s a good one.”

Stewart was a guest on the state’s Flag Day podcast, hosted by Bob Borlick of the NJDEP. The June 14th podcast can be easily accessed on the Twin Lights Historical Society Facebook page.

The Twin Lights National Historic Landmark is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 AM to 12 PM and 1 PM to 4 PM. 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