Lights on Civil War monument cause controversy

HIGHTSTOWN, NJ - November 16, 2011

The project is called Lights on the Square and it's become so controversial that all but one member of Hightstown's Historic Preservation Commission quit over it.

The plan is to hang strands of lighted garland from the top of the two-story Civil War monument in Hightstown's Stockton Street Historic District and string them to the ground, in the shape of a Christmas tree.

"Most of the houses get lit up so light up the park, too," says Hightstown resident Beth Traband.

"It's the holidays, I mean, why not? I think it makes the town look nice and it's not disrespectful," says Hightstown resident Mark Orellana.

Monument Square is currently illuminated at night with white and blue light, but this festive holiday lighting would go beyond that.

"I think it makes the whole statue look better at night. Gives you something to look at as you drive down Stockton," says Mark Traband, another Hightstown resident.

Others in the borough are horrified by the idea. They say hanging garland and lights is no different than draping a big heart around the monument for Valentine's Day. They call it disrespectful and undignified at a memorial for the dead.

"It's a memorial to the people that passed, lost their lives in the Civil War and now they're gonna make it a circus place? It's ridiculous," says Whitney Jones of Hightstown.

Dr. David Martin is the borough historian and a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. He says, "It is a respectable place to sit and ponder their memory and look at their names on the monuments. It's not meant to be a Christmas park. It's a commemorative park, not the Empire State Building."

The local Historic Preservation Commission unanimously voted down the decorating plan in September, but one member, Daniel Buriak, who was not there for the vote, disagreed. He took the idea to the borough council and they approved it. When council refused to reconsider, every member of the Commission resigned except Buriak.

"All of us said it's not okay to just go above us and skip the whole process," says Rick Pratt. He is the former chairman of the Commission.

Despite the controversy, the Lights on the Square Project is moving forward with a ceremony to turn them on, planned for November 25th.

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