“I pledge allegiance to the flag...”
On April 25th, 1893, these words were uttered as the nation’s official Pledge of Allegiance for the very first time. The site was New Jersey’s Navesink Light Station-better known today as the Twin Lights-and the occasion was the most eagerly anticipated Flag Raising Ceremony in American history.
On an overcast day overlooking the Atlantic, a gigantic enthusiastic crowd peppered with national and local dignitaries watched the stars and stripes ascend to the top of the “Liberty Pole,” a massive 135-foot flagpole that seemed to dwarf the flanking light towers by a factor of two. A review of naval vessels from all over the world, invited by President Grover Cleveland, filled the horizon as it joined the U.S. Navy in providing a glorious backdrop to the proceedings.
On October 18, 2008, a somewhat more modest gathering took place for the rededication of another historic flagpole with a long history at the Twin Lights. After several months or refurbishing and restoration, the Twin Lights flagpole was returned to the spot where it had stood for more than a century. Work on the Twin Lights flagpole was recently completed by the Hans Pederson & Sons Boatyard in Keyport. It was returned to its home atop the Twin Lights Museum central structure on September 11, 2008.
“The 1893 event was dreamed up two years earlier by a Newark, NJ, businessman named William Osborne McDowell,” explains Twin Lights Curator Margaret Carlsen. “In anticipation of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, McDowell wanted to erect a flagpole of unusual height at the highest point of land on the Atlantic coast in the continental United States. That’s where the Twin Lights entered the equation.”
McDowell, the founder of Sons of the American Revolution, wanted the Liberty Pole to be the first sight to greet immigrants and travelers as they approached New York harbor.
In his two-year effort to achieve this goal, he joined forces with a highly respected and popular magazine called The Youth’s Companion. The magazine first published the pledge, authored by Francis Bellamy, in July of 1892. Using The Companion’s considerable influence with the nation’s public schools-and capitalizing on the rising tide of patriotism in the run-up to the Chicago World’s Fair-the publisher’s nephew, James Bailey Upham, was able to introduce the American flag along with the pledge itself into countless school classrooms.
At the Twin Lights event in the spring of 1893, Upham was one of the featured speakers. An organization he had recently started, the Lyceum League, furnished the Twin Lights with flags of many nations, which were displayed around the grounds during the event.
According to the New York Herald, which was one of the many newspapers covering the event, John Winfield Scott presided over the ceremony using one of the most famous gavels in world history. The gavel had been once used by the presiding officer at the 600th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation, at the centenary of the inauguration of Washington as the President of the United States, on the 100th anniversary of the French Confederation, on the fall of the anniversary of the Bastille, on the 398th Anniversary of the Discovery of America by Columbus, and at the organizational founding of the Daughters of the American Revolution. “Our fathers,” proclaimed Scott, “following in the great procession, which Hudson led into yonder gateway, saw this hill-big with promise, smiling with hope-rise from the waters.”
The first flag to climb the Liberty Pole was considered one of the nation’s greatest treasures, reported to be the one shot off of John Paul Jones’s ship, the Bon Homme Richard, during a critical battle with the Royal Navy on the other side of the Atlantic in 1779. Amidst the flying cannonballs a Lieutenant Stafford had reportedly leaped into the sea and recovered the flag. The 1893 edition of the New York Herald said, “And then the old John Paul Jones flag, tattered and shabby, and the new one, brave in its bright red white and blue were presented to the Lyceum League by J.B. Upham in a neat speech. Then, up went the flags. Mrs. H.R.P Stafford, whose ancestor jumped overboard so long ago to save Paul Jones flag, pulled the same flag to the masthead, eighty years old though she is. Then while she ran it down, Mrs. Schuyler Hamilton, Jr., Honorary Regent of the New York State Daughters of the American Revolution hoisted the flag with the forty-four stars.” Mrs. Hamilton had taken the place of Letitia Stevenson, wife of Vice President Adlai E. Stevenson I, who had been scheduled to raise the flag, but according to the New York Herald, for some reason she and her husband didn’t make it on time to the event, causing great disappointment to the crowd. Not known to the reporter at that time was that the John Paul Jones flag was not the original, but was in fact, a replica of the flag.
Offshore, the Miantonomoh saluted this moment with a thundering report of its guns. The monitor-class ship was the last of its kind, a piece of floating history dating back to the Civil War. The New York Herald reported, “The people cheered and there was a burst of smoke from the Miantonomah away below; again another and another and another, until the ears ached. Nobody about the grandstand could think for the cannon shots that were fired right there in answer to the guns that were fired from the big monitor put hearing or thought past hope. Meantime a Spanish flag was being waved form the north tower of the lighthouse,” which was likely done to honor the Spanish sailors who were in the harbor onboard replicas of the Pinta, Nina and Santa Maria.
According to the New York Herald story, “Amos P. Wilder was the speaker of the day. He paid high tribute to the flag and told all sorts of good things which it symbolized.”
The Herald also reported that a Madame Alberti read with much dramatic force an original poem written by Hezekiah Butterworth, who was a well-known writer of children’s books of the era, entitled “The Banner that Welcomes the World.”
The story has it that number of young people then recited the pledge to the crowd, the first time it was done so in history outside of school classrooms. However, that early pledge read,
“I Pledge Allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which
its stands . . . .” It wasn’t until 1923-24 that the words my Flag were changed to read, the Flag of the United States of America.
However, the New York Herald reported it somewhat differently saying that the young men from various organizations recited, “ I vow myself to my flag and the Republic for which it stands and liberty and justice for all.” One can only surmise that the reporter either couldn’t read his own notes, couldn’t exactly hear what the boys were saying, or couldn’t recall the exact words when he wrote the story back in the newsroom, or perhaps those were the words that were recited.
However, on that day in 1893 it was a lighthouse that played a pivotal role in history, a story that had somehow been nearly forgotten in the annals of time and has now been retold to be shared by all.
At the end of the day, the flotilla of ships from Navy’s from all over the world swung around Sandy Hook and anchored in the bay. The multinational fleet then exchanged shots with the big guns at Ft. Hancock on Sandy Hook. These were not shots of war, but the shots of celebration honoring the way of life that the United States of America had been founded upon.
“This was the most elaborate patriotic event on the East Coast during the 1890s, and probably the largest prior to the tall ships in 1976,” says Carlsen, who adds that a new video being produced for the Twin Lights will focus on its role in the history and popular culture of America.
Coincidently, the 18th of October also marked Day One of the Annual New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge, which recently garnered the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Tourism. The spectacular North Tower and the Twin Lights Museum were open for the event.
Lighthouse Digest Note: Interestingly, our editor, Timothy Harrison, who is also the co founder of the American Lighthouse Foundation and served as the president of the group for 13 years, has often said in many of his lectures and to others in conversations, “That one can learn more about early American history by studying lighthouses than from any other single source.” This is a point that can be well taken from the historic happenings at the Twin Lights of Navesink, in Highlands, New Jersey.
This story appeared in the
Jan/Feb 2009 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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