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A Pledge to Remember

Twin Lights in 100 Artifacts #7- Liberty Pole Base

On a rainy morning in 1893 at Twin Lights, an enthusiastic crowd gathered to dedicate the Liberty Pole, a 135 foot flagpole, and to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The original pledge was a simple affair and did not include passages ‘the United States of America’ or ‘Under God’ as we know it today – those changes were still a generation away when the crowd gathered here at Twin Lights.

Source: New York Herald, Wednesday, April 26, 1893

To understand how the Highlands of Navesink was selected for this moment in American History, we need to take a step back in time. Francis Bellamy, a former minister, was hired by The Youth’s Companion to assist with the publication’s efforts around the new Federal Holiday, Columbus Day. Bellamy’s efforts on the Columbus Day program for 1892 were soon merged with The Youth’s Companions long-running campaign to encourage public schools to prominently display the American flag. It was felt a new pledge might encourage schools to buy an American flag.

It was to this cause that Francis Bellamy was set on a sweltering Summer afternoon in 1892. The resulting 22-word pledge first appeared in print on September 8th in preparation for the upcoming Columbus Day program. While Bellamy is often credited with sole authorship of the pledge, recent scholarship casts doubt on this claim in favor of a Kansas High School student of the same last name. Regardless of who wrote the pledge, it was an immediate success, with school children across America reciting it daily and presidents Harrison and Cleveland endorsing its use.

What was needed next was a suitably historic place for an official Pledge of Allegiance ceremony to take place. Enter New Jersey native, William McDowell, who felt that a large, prominently displayed flag would inspire a sense of patriotism in immigrants and visitors coming to America. The Highlands of Navesink was selected due to its prominent location on the approach to the New York Harbor. McDowell was able to raise $571.50 in public donations to fund the new 135-foot Liberty Pole, standing nearly twice the height of the Navesink Light Station behind it.

Source: Twin Lights Collection

Returning to that damp morning of April 25, 1893 – the assembled crowd gathered to hear Bellamy, McDowell, and a host of local dignitaries speak about patriotism and the flag. The event was part of the larger Columbian Expositions taking place in Chicago the week there-after. A tattered flag, believed at the time to belong to the American Naval hero John Paul Jones’ ship, was hoisted up the new Liberty Pole to the cheering of the crowd.

Source: The Illustrated American

This early recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at Twin Lights was also timed to the arrival of an international flotilla of ships heading for the pre-fair celebrations in New York. High winds and costly upkeep eventually made the Liberty Pole unsustainable, but you can visit the site today – just look for this concrete footing by our famed mystery cannon!


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