Highlands– The Twin Lights Historical Society, the friends group associated with the lighthouse, is putting the finishing touches on two long-term projects: a video documentary entitled “You Heard It Here First: the Pledge of Allegiance at the Twin Lights,” and Seeing Stars, a new exhibit featuring historic flags and patriotic artifacts.
The documentary is narrated by award-winning actor Ed Asner, an ardent supporter of the Twin Lights; the Seeing Stars exhibit will mark the unveiling of a re-imagined 1,000 square foot museum space. Both projects are expected to be completed sometime in July, according to Mark Stewart, a member of the Historical Society Board.
“The Seeing Stars exhibit and museum renovation were significantly sidetracked by Hurricane Sandy,” said Stewart. “The state understandably yanked its funding after the storm, but we decided to push forward ourselves, with our money and the state’s blessing. Our museum consultant estimated a 30 to 40 percent rise in annual attendance and that translated into close to a million dollars a year pumped into the devastated local economies. So what began as a ‘history project’ ended up as a key component in the region’s future,” Stewart continued. Currently, there are more than 80,000 visitors a year to the historic site.
According to Stewart, “You Heard It Here First” was a product of the additional research the Historical Society was able to do during the 18-month Sandy-related delay on the museum renovation. The Twin Lights won the Best Documentary award at the 2012 Garden State Film Festival for its first film, which chronicled the history of the lighthouse.
The Twin Lights was the setting, in the spring of 1893, for the first public recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance as America’s national oath of loyalty. Several months earlier, the Pledge had been introduced in school systems across the country as a daily exercise for students.
Through its production partner, Visionary Video Studios, the Historical Society approached Asner last year, requesting he narrate an introduction to the film. While serving as a judge at the 2012 Film Festival, Asner had offered his support to the lighthouse. When approached, he agreed to do the opening for “You Heard It Here First.”
However, after Asner read the script, he indicated his desire to narrate the entire 30-minute film. A recording crew traveled to California and spent the day with the Emmy, SAG and Golden Globe winner in his home. A “teaser” recorded by Asner is currently running on the lighthouse web site.
Stewart explained the documentary tells the complex story of how the Pledge of Allegiance came to be – and how it arrived at the Twin Lights – through an unlikely confluence of people and events, including a Boston publishing magnate, a Newark financier, a flag salesman, an unemployed minister and a pair of U.S. presidents.
The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a leading member of the Christian socialist movement, who at the time was under the employ of The Youth’s Companion, America’s most widely circulated magazine. The Companion was selected by President Benjamin Harrison to create a school program to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America and the Pledge was to be recited by children during the raising of the flag.
Stewart pointed out: “It is worth noting that most schoolhouses did not fly the American flag at the time. Conveniently, flags of all sizes could be purchased directly from the premium department of The Youth’s Companion.”
Over the ensuing months, most school officials continued students’ recitation of the Pledge each day. After Grover Cleveland defeated Harrison in the 1892 presidential election, he supported the idea of making the Pledge of Allegiance America’s national oath of loyalty.
The Twin Lights was selected as the ideal place for its “unveiling” – it was the first piece of America immigrants glimpsed over the horizon as they approached New York harbor, and it was home to an enormous 135-foot Liberty Pole flying the American flag. The Liberty Pole was the idea of Newark financier William McDowall, founder of the Sons of the American Revolution, who hoped to stir a resurgence of patriotism in the country. The event took place on April 25, 1893, and featured an international naval revue that passed in front of the lighthouse on its way into New York. The date was picked to coincide with the opening of the Chicago World’s Fair.
“It is a very complex story,” Stewart explained. “We are telling it from an entirely new perspective, with a lot of new information and resources. And how lucky we are to have the generous participation of Mr. Asner in this project. Better yet, some of what we’ve discovered during the making of this film has already gotten us thinking about our next documentary, this one about the search for New Jersey’s most astounding historical artifact. It’s a story only a handful of people know.”
The Pledge of Allegiance – and the Twin Lights’ rediscovered role in its evolution – will be a focal point of the upcoming Seeing Stars exhibit, which is scheduled to run through the fall of 2016. “You Heard It Here First” will be available for purchase online and in the Twin Lights Museum Store.
To watch Asner’s teaser, for more information on the Seeing Stars exhibit, or for the lighthouse’s hours of operation, visit www.twinlightslighthouse.com.
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