Final preparations are under way for the 34th annual Sea Girt Lighthouse lawn party, to be held Saturday, August 2, from 6 to 8 p.m. Trustees are planning special features for the enjoyment of guests, including historic displays and a book-signing.
The theme of the gala is the community beacon, a celebration of the 118-year-old shore treasure as well as the recent publication of the book Sea Girt Lighthouse: The Community Beacon by trustee Bill Dunn, who will be signing copies.
Bill Mountford, president of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, said, “We invite our friends to join us to celebrate this beloved landmark that long ago guided mariners and now stands as the community beacon, alive with activity and its history preserved through the efforts of our many volunteers.” He is the great-grandson of the longest-serving Sea Girt keeper, William Lake (1917-31).
Back by popular demand, Carol Ann McLaughlin, who catered the very first lighthouse lawn party and most every party since, will prepare her classic hors d’oeuvres and some new enticing offerings, served to guests under the traditional white tents. Three open bars are planned.
“This has become the social event of the season,” noted Mr. Mountford. “Don’t miss out. I encourage all interested to get their tickets early.”
A limited number of tickets are still available, $60 per person. Checks should be made out to the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, Inc., and mailed to the organization, at P.O. Box 83, Sea Girt, NJ 08750, by July 25. Tickets will not be sold at the door. Rain date: August 3. For further information, call 732-974-0514.
All proceeds from the sale of party tickets and the book go to the Lighthouse Committee for continuing lighthouse operations. This is the group’s one fund-raiser of the year.
Co-chairs of the event are Mr. Mountford and trustee Lauren Behre. They and fellow trustees have been working on the party since last fall. Mrs. Behre observed: “The 34th annual lawn party could not happen without the help of all lighthouse trustees who incorporate their talents into putting this event together.”
There will be a receiving line in which Mr. Mountford and Mrs. Behre and others will welcome arriving guests and thank them for their continuing support. It’s an opportunity for guests to meet the newly installed president.
Mrs. Behre added that tables will be decorated with “multi-colored floral arrangements by a great group of artistic trustees.” There will be a 50-50 drawing in the second hour.
As a special treat, historic signal-code flags will be hung from the porch and the tower’s lantern room gallery, recalling the 1898 campaign by the U.S. Light-House Board to improve communications between light stations and ships. The flags are from the personal collection of Jude Meehan, vice-president and docent who will also share other appropriate historical artifacts from his collection of navigational and military items.
Stations, including Sea Girt, were issued International Code of Signals flag sets for use by the keepers to signal passing ships regarding local weather, ocean and ship traffic conditions and other important information.
A set of signal flags included a distinct flag for each letter in the alphabet, which could be arranged to spell out a word. Each flag also represented a complete message and could be hung by itself. There were also flags with numerals 0 to 9. At Sea Girt, the keeper would have run up the signal flags on the yardarm flagpole that was installed in 1898 in front of the lighthouse.
Rich Tradition Continues
The first lawn party, formally named the Signing of the Lease Party, was held in 1981, to celebrate the founding that spring of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee as an all-volunteer, non-profit preservation organization and the group’s taking charge of the landmark after signing a lease with the Borough of Sea Girt August 10 of that year.
The Borough, which bought the decommissioned lighthouse from the federal government in 1956, used it as the town library, recreation and community center. Two decades later the building was in need of extensive and costly repairs, prompting the Borough to consider selling the property. That was the impetus for concerned citizens to come together and organize to “save our lighthouse.”
Under the $1-a-year lease agreement, the Lighthouse Committee assumed financial responsibility for the restoration, maintenance and operation of the building. The committee is also committed to preserving the building’s rich history through Sunday tours, group tours, talks and slide presentations at the lighthouse and in the community, the lighthouse website, special programs such as October’s Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey and now the book.
The lighthouse has become a very popular meeting place for community groups and the setting for December holiday gathering as well as the summer lawn party. The lighthouse, which is in use some 180 days a year, attracts a few thousand people each year, truly making it the community beacon, not just for residents of Sea Girt but all shore communities, as well as lighthouse lovers everywhere.
The Community Beacon
A lighthouse of distinction and the first land-based station in the world equipped with a radio fog beacon transmitter, Sea Girt Lighthouse has for more than a century not only survived but thrived as it successfully met the challenges of changing missions, all of which is captured in Sea Girt Lighthouse: The Community Beacon.
The book, which is the definitive history of the lighthouse, tells the stories of the keepers and Coast Guardsmen who operated the lighthouse in peace and in war, and the preservationists who saved the building and have operated it for more than three decades for all to enjoy.
Mr. Dunn spent more than a year conducting research on the lighthouse and those who operated it. He began by exploring the lighthouse archives that include historic documents and artifacts gathered by founding trustees and others. He examined many hundreds of pages of official documents and correspondence left behind by the U.S. Lighthouse Service and the Coast Guard. His research took him to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where he read the journals of all the keepers and the Coast Guard war logs.
SGLCC member Dan Herzog, experienced in genealogical research from having done his own family tree, helped by delving into census and other genealogical records of Sea Girt’s keepers, uncovering important facts and leads. Several descendants of keepers and Coasties were identified and contacted for photos and details of their forebears while at Sea Girt Light.
The 208-page book is illustrated with 110 photos, of which 25 are in color, gathered from dozens of sources, including the National Archives, Library of Congress, U.S. Coast Guard, as well as private collections. Many are historic – some of which have not been previously published. A series of photos captures the changing appearance, color and technology of the lighthouse.
Local photographers contributed compelling contemporary photos. Two color cover photos are by trustee Robert S. Varcoe, who also contributed photos appearing inside the book, as did lighthouse member Henry Bossett and Mr. Dunn.
Copies of Sea Girt Lighthouse: The Community Beacon, which can be purchased during Sunday tours, will also be on sale at the lawn party for $21.99.