Twin Lights Museum Highlights American Flags Throughout History

February 4, 2016 | Around NJ, Arts & Entertainment

By Lauren Wanko

Inside the Twin Lights museum, America’s history is on display — flags that tell the story of our nation.

“During history, every time a state was added a new star was added and a new flag was created. So, you can look at American flags throughout history and by counting the stars know exactly where you were,” said Mark Stewart.

It’s all part of the Twin Lights Historical Society’s “Seeing Stars” exhibit. Trustee Stewart says there’s another story few have heard.

“One of the great unknown facts about New Jersey history is that the Pledge of Allegiance was given here as our national oath of loyalty for the first time on April 25, 1893. And it was led by Francis Bellamy, the author of the Pledge of Allegiance,” Stewart said.

Celebrities, war heroes, authors, politicians and others traveled to Highlands to celebrate the dedication of a 135-foot national liberty pole.

“Which was kind like an auto dealership flagpole on steroids, it was just enormous. The big event though was the raising of the John Paul Jones flag up the liberty pole. At the time the Star Spangled Banner was in private hands, so the most famous flag in the country was the John Paul Jones flag,” said Stewart.

The free exhibit opened last fall.

Stewart says Twin Lights wasn’t damaged during Superstorm Sandy but the surrounding area was devastated. Rather then putting the brakes on existing plans to redesign the museum, the trustees decided to fund the project themselves, using small donations they collected over the years from lighthouse visitors.

The historic pieces came from flag collectors throughout the country. The Grand Union flag, the first flag, has a British component.

“Essentially at the outbreak of the revolution we had no flag so we took the existing British flag, which had a bright red field, and just so we could distinguish between the two sides during hostilities, we put white stripes across the red and that’s what gives us our red and white stripes,” Stewart said.

The flag’s stars weren’t always in neat, uniform rows.

“That actually didn’t happen until the 1920s. Prior to that, as long as you had the right number of stars, you were free as a flag-maker to arrange them any way you wanted,” said Stewart.

As for the flag’s designer:

“The designer of the first flag was actually Francis Hopkinson, a New Jerseyan. But Betsy Ross gets a lot of credit for doing the first flag,” Stewart said.

By the 1890s, her family began to commercialize on that, says Stewart. This is a souvenir flag, sewn by Ross’s granddaughter in 1902.

“I think people look at the American flag and it brings out emotion. Usually it’s pride, sometimes it’s anger, sometimes it’s frustration, but for everybody it tells their story,” said Stewart.

The exhibit will remain open throughout the rest of the year.