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A recent trip up to the Twin Lights in New Jersey’s Atlantic Highlands opened my eyes to a side of the Jersey Shore I never really thought about. For me, growing up in NJ meant playing on the beach as much as possible. My first memory of the ocean is clinging to someone’s hand while valiantly jumping waves to avoid being swallowed by the sea forever. Not once did it occur to me there were still sunken ships, remains and artifacts from luggage and cargo settled on the sea floor not more than a few miles away.

atlantic highlands twin lights

We went to the Twin Lights lighthouse to see the view on a blue sky day. There’s no cost of entry though they encourage donations. Our trip was going to be just a quick scenic stop. The view doesn’t disappoint, but its history is where the treasure’s at.

twin lightsWe climbed to the top of the North Tower and couldn’t help but picture mariners coming in on stormy starless nights. For hundreds of years the shore was just beyond reach to many sailors and passengers on doomed ships. Apparently shipwrecks were so common all the small seaside communities organized their own rescue teams. Once construction of the Erie Canal was complete, traffic to New York soared as did the frequency of shipwrecks.

twin lights

Twin Lights was constructed in 1828 and rebuilt in 1862. It faces the bay, the strip of beach that is Sandy Hook and the Atlantic Ocean just beyond. My picture doesn’t do it justice, but you can see why the location is ideal for a lighthouse. Plus it sits on Mt. Mitchill, the highest point on the Atlantic Seaboard (260 feet).

view out lighthouse window

view out lighthouse window

On the way up the tower you see just how thick and solid the brick walls are. Then you look up through the grate while climbing the narrow stairway to the top, wondering how many times a day the keeper made the same climb.The two lighthouses stand more than 300 feet apart. One light was fixed while the other rotated to help sailors differentiate from Sandy Hook’s light. Upon reaching the top you see the South Tower on one side. Squint and you’ll see the south tip of Manhattan on the other side – if you really want to.

twin lights

in 1898 a new lens  was installed in the South Tower that lit the night as far as 70 miles away. Now the lens sits in a smaller building on the site. This gigantic light was cutting edge for its time and led thousands of people safely to harbor. Today so much technology is microscopic. This light is at least twice my height.

There used to be this monstrous 135-foot tall pole with a flag in front of the Twin Lights called the Liberty Pole. For 15 years it was said to be the first piece of this country immigrants saw on their journey to Ellis Island. Both the Hungarian and Irish sides of my family came in through Ellis Island and I’ve always wanted to know what their first impressions were. Apparently nobody kept a blog back then.

See the cannon in front of the building on the left of this photo? That’s the Mystery Cannon. It was found buried on the site in 1841 and nobody knows for sure how it got there, though they have some theories. The website says it’s one of the most-photographed 18th Century cannons in the world. It’s too small to stick my face in, if you’re wondering.

Residents actually used this little pod to ferry as many survivors as they could fit from sinking ships to shore using a rope system. There’s a story there about a man who couldn’t squeeze in so he hitched a ride to land holding on tight to the top.

The Twin Lights is a quick, scenic drive north from the Asbury Park area or you can run/walk/dance the 7 mile path there over the bridge from Sandy Hook. If you’re interested in maritime history, nice views, lighthouses and hungry hawks check it out!