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Huntington's Nathan Hale monument lit after decades in dark

Huntington Town historian Robert Hughes, here on Tuesday,

Huntington Town historian Robert Hughes, here on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, pushed to have the Nathan Hale monument on Main Street lit up once again after being dark for decades. Credit: Chuck Fadely

Huntington’s 1894 monument to Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale remained dark for at least 60 years — until now.

At the urging of town historian Robert Hughes, Huntington officials connected the 15-foot-tall granite memorial to electricity, installed LED lighting and the lights were flicked on as dusk fell on Dec. 22.

‘They’ve never worked in my lifetime,” Hughes said. “And I always wondered. Maybe it was a case of a missing light bulb.”

Hughes, who walks by the Main Street memorial daily, long lamented that a monument commemorating one of Huntington’s most beloved historical figures was flanked by dark bulbs.

“Restoring illumination to a monument erected more than 100 years ago will shine new light on his significance to the town and the town’s place in the American Revolution,” Huntington Supervisor Frank P. Petrone said in an email.

Hale was born June 6, 1755, in Coventry, Connecticut. He’s remembered as the spy Gen. George Washington dispatched on Sept. 12, 1776 to track movements of British forces on Long Island. He traveled north from Manhattan and caught an armed sloop from Connecticut, landing Sept. 17 somewhere on the shores of modern-day Huntington Bay.

Most historians agree the British likely captured Hale on Sept. 21, 1776, somewhere between Sands Point and Flushing. They executed the 21-year-old the next day.

The most commonly attributed version of his last words: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

Town officials unveiled the monument in 1894, in front of the old Memorial Library.

When New York State began reconstruction in 1954 to widen and regrade Main Street-Route 25A, the structure was moved west to its current location in front of the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Building.

It’s unclear just how long the lights have been out, but Hughes says it’s at least been since the move. The town’s Department of General Services used a generator to test whether the monument could connect to the electric lines. It had the wiring, but hadn’t been connected to a power source for decades.

All the while, generations of locals were taught that Hale was captured in Huntington. Hale is the namesake of Huntington’s hamlet of Halesite — where the better known Nathan Hale rock resides — and he has also had a VFW Post, a former elementary school and an apartment complex named after him, Petrone said.

“Some people, they still hope to cling to that Huntington story, because that’s the one we all grew up with,” Hughes said.

But journals and records by British soldiers, while lacking concrete details, appear to indicate otherwise, Hughes said.

At some point — town officials don’t know when — colonial-style light fixtures were replaced with globes and the wording on the monument was changed from a version claiming Hale was captured on the “shores of Huntington Bay,” to read that the capture occurred, “on the shores of Long Island.”

Hughes said that hasn’t diminished Huntingtonians’ love of Hale and the town’s claim to the historic role it played in his last days.

After all, Hughes noted, there’s no dispute that he landed here, even if little is known of Hale’s location and actions in the final four days before his capture.

“People in Huntington are very proud of the Nathan Hale connection,” Hughes said.

The history of Hale and his monument

  • June 6, 1755: Nathan Hale is born in Coventry, Connecticut
  • August 1776: Gen. George Washington needs a spy to track British movements on Long Island; Hale volunteers
  • Sept. 12, 1776: The 21-year-old departs on his mission.
  • Sept. 17, 1776: Hale crosses to Huntington on an armed sloop, landing on the shores of modern-day Huntington Bay.
  • Sept. 21, 1776: The British capture Hale. While it was long-disputed where Hale was caught, it’s now widely accepted that it occurred somewhere near Flushing — not in Huntington.
  • Sept. 22, 1776: Hale is executed. His last words have been quoted as: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
  • 1890s: Historians start to question claims Hale was captured in Huntington.
  • July 4, 1894: Nathan Hale Memorial is unveiled in Huntington, originally with two working fountains and a trough for horses.
  • 1920s: A photo shows the monument without its original water trough for the first time.
  • 1954: New York State starts reconstruction of Route 25A — Huntington’s Main Street — from Cold Spring Harbor to Fort Salonga. The work requires the monument to be moved farther back and west of its original location. The monument has remained unlit at least since that relocation.
  • Dec. 22, 2015: The two globes flanking the Nathan Hale Monument flip on at dusk, lit for the first time in at least six decades.

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