HISTORIC DISPLAYS, MARITIME FLAGS
The 33rd annual Signing of the Lease Party on the lawn at Sea Girt Lighthouse, which brings together supporters of the lighthouse for a festive celebration, will be held Saturday, August 3, from 6-8 p.m.
Final preparations are under way and a strong turnout is expected for the gala that has become for many the social event of the season. There are a limited number of tickets still available at $60 per person – unchanged from last year. The party has been a sell-out the last few years.
“This is a gathering of friends of the lighthouse. It’s an evening for our community to celebrate our beloved treasure and a chance to recommit ourselves to the challenge ahead to preserve not only the building but its rich history,” notes Virginia Zientek, president of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee.
In keeping with tradition, the president sent personal invitations to members in early July. “I now extend the invitation to all who appreciate this shore landmark,” said Mrs. Zientek. “Join us for a lively evening of fine food and drink, stimulating conversation and historic displays. If you haven’t been before, join the fun and get involved.” The rain date is August 4, from 6-8 p.m.
The party is sponsored and hosted by the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, the non-profit, all-volunteer organization solely responsible for the 117-year-old lighthouse. This is SGLCC’s only fundraiser of the year – with all proceeds going to support lighthouse maintenance and operations.
Guests will be greeted and welcomed by President Zientek, Bill Mountford, vice-president and the chair of the event, and Lauren Behr, trustee and co-chair. Partygoers will gather on the north lawn under spacious tents.
Once again Carol Ann McLaughlin, who in 1981 catered the first lighthouse lawn party and has catered most every party since then, returns with an assortment of delicious hors d'oeuvres, which her servers will be offering to guests throughout the evening. There will be three open bars. Guests have the option of mingling on the lawn or sitting at tables decorated with floral arrangements. There will be a 50-50 drawing.
Given the lighthouse history first as an important aid to navigation and then a Coast Guard station and watch tower during World War II, the theme for the party is A Nautical Night. The party tents will be appropriately decorated with U.S. Navy signal flags from World War II. The flags, from the collection of lighthouse trustee Jude Meehan, were used for ship-to- ship and ship-to-shore communications, and were vital in ship-to-ship convoy communications in hostile waters during World War II when radio silence was in effect.
The rectangular signal flags will be hanging from the lighthouse porch and the edges of the tents. There will be a card beside each flag, giving its meaning. There is a flag for each letter in the alphabet, which can be arranged to spell out a message. Each flag run up the signal mast by itself represents a complete message, e.g., the flag for “E” (Echo), also means: “I am directing my course to starboard,” the flag for G (Golf) means: “I require a pilot,” while the flag for P (Papa) indicates: “All personnel return to ship, proceeding to sea.” Also displayed will be the triangular pennants for the numbers 0 to 9.
In keeping with the party’s theme, a recorded selection of sea shanties – the rhythmic work songs sung by sailors and merchant seamen in the days of sail – will play softly in the background. A ship’s shantyman, the soloist would sing out a verse or call. The call would prompt the crew as the chorus to sing back the response, and onto the next call and response and so on until the job was done. Sea shanties were an effective way to get men into the shipboard rhythm of raising sails, stroking the oars, hoisting the cargo into or out of the hold.
Lighthouse History Recalled
The theme for the evening is a reminder and a celebration of the rich history of the lighthouse. Sea Girt Lighthouse was built in 1896 to illuminate what had previously been a dark stretch encountered by mariners who were out of range of Navesink Twin Lights to the north and Barnegat Lighthouse to the south. The earliest ships guided by Sea Girt’s beacon would have been the clipper ships and other types of sailing ships that carried cargo and passengers into the early 20th century.
Sea Girt Light came under Coast Guard command in mid-1939. During World War II, its beacon was extinguished so as not to give direction to enemy ships. The lighthouse was a Coast Guard watchtower and command center for beach patrols. In addition to the Navy flags, Mr. Meehan promises Coast Guard gear will also be on display to continue the nautical theme. Those who attended last year’s party will remember the display of a mobile Coast Guard command center from Mr. Meehan’s collection that was parked on Beacon Boulevard beside the lighthouse.
After World War II, Sea Girt Lighthouse was decommissioned. In 1956, Sea Girt Borough bought the lighthouse and property from the federal government for $11,000. For two decades, the lighthouse was the children’s library, recreation center and community center. By the late 1970s, the building required major and expensive repairs, prompting the Borough to consider selling the property.
That prompted concerned citizens to come together, forming the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee to “save our Lighthouse.” In the summer of 1981, the Committee signed a lease with the Borough to rent the building for $1 a year and assume responsibility to restore, maintain and operate the building and preserve its history. The first Signing of the Lease Party that year was a celebration of the volunteers’ success, a thank-you to supporters, an opportunity to cherish what they had saved and a reminder that the effort never ends. And the tradition continues.
“I encourage everyone to get their tickets early to avoid disappointment. The supply is limited. Don’t miss out. We want to see you there,” says Mrs. Zientek. Tickets will not be sold at the door.
To purchase tickets by mail, checks should be sent to Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, Inc., P.O. Box 83, Sea Girt, NJ 08750. For further information, call the Lighthouse, 732-974-0514.