Highlands, NJ — The state of New Jersey is home to 58 National Historic Sites. None has stronger ties to Columbus Day than the Twin Lights, which stand atop the Navesink Highlands, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and New York City Skyline.
Visitors to the Twin Lights this Columbus Day (open 10:00 – 4:00) will be treated to a newly launched exhibit, Seeing Stars: Every Flag Tells a Story. Part of that story involves the role of the lighthouse in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The lighthouse was constructed in 1862. However, it was a series of events three decades later that link the landmark structure to Columbus and the Pledge.
In 1892, a surge of patriotism and national pride spurred a movement to make the 400th anniversary of the “discovery of America” a year of celebration. Part of the plan was to use Columbus Day rituals and celebrations to foster patriotic spirit in schoolchildren. On that day, millions of kids recited the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time.
Many schools continued to recite the Pledge after Columbus Day. Newly elected president Grover Cleveland supported the idea of making the Pledge a national oath of loyalty.
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On April 25th, 1893, during a ceremony at the Twin Lights, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited as the national oath of loyalty for the first time.
Francis Bellamy, author of the Pledge, led the crowd in reciting the Pledge, while the famous John Paul Jones flag was raised to the top of a special 130-foot “liberty pole,” which had been erected for the event. It was twice the height of the Twin Lights. An international flotilla of naval vessels sailed past the lighthouse during the ceremony, and several days of parties and parades followed in New York.
The Chicago World’s Fair (which was delayed from opening in 1892) officially opened a few days later. In all the fanfare, the landmark Pledge of Allegiance event was lost to the shadows of history.
The Twin Lights Historical Society has combed through its archives to reconstruct the events of that day, and created the Seeing Stars exhibit in its newly renovated museum to call attention to this seminal moment in the cultural history of America.
“This is a lesson to anyone who is involved with a museum collection,” says Mary Jo Kenny, president of the Society. “If you go poking around in your archives with eyes wide open, you never know what amazing things you will find. I never understood what it meant when they’d say that most of the great dinosaur discoveries are now made in the store rooms of major museums…now I get it.”
To further promote its role in history, the Twin Lights Historical Society is putting the final touches on a 30-minute documentary entitled You Heard It Here First: The Pledge of Allegiance at the Twin Lights. The film is narrated by Edward Asner. The Society’s last film won Best Documentary at the 2012 Garden State Film Festival.