by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Blood-curdling screams pierced the night air. Flames rose to the sky on Center Street. Musket fire and horns signaled the start and end of a battle the likes no one had ever witnessed.
Any onlooker Saturday night unfamiliar with the Flames Through Lewiston event might have thought the village was in serious jeopardy.
But it wasn’t. Instead, the rich history of the Dec. 19, 1813 burning came to life before about 150 curious and, ultimately, thankful viewers, despite the chill in the air and the sprinkles of rain drops falling from the heavens.
“It was very informative,” Lewiston resident Gary Tebo said. “And the music played added a lot to it. Without it, it probably would have been less interesting.”
Tebo, there with his wife, Nancy, said he watched last year as reenactors created a vivid picture of life in the war era.
He said the world they experienced, as their world came to a screeching halt thanks to invading British soldiers who burned Lewiston to the ground and, eventually, did the same to the City of Buffalo days later, was a little different than even the reenactors could portray.
“We’re dressed for this (the weather),” he said. “They weren’t. They weren’t prepared. They had to leave their houses immediately.”
Several moments in the show brought reactions from the crowd, including gasps as Mohawk tribesmen, siding with the English during the war, “slaughtered” residents trying to flee the British attackers. But the gasps were short lived as the audience quickly started to cheer as the Tuscarora Nation quickly came to the aid of the villagers and escorted them to safety, just like the events 199 years ago.
The cheers and even “thank you’s” from the onlookers caught the attention of at least one of the natives in attendance Saturday.
“We’ve been doing this for a couple years now,” Tuscarora representative Neil Patterson Sr. said.
The most important part of the event is the historical significance of the burning of Lewiston, a trade hub one time larger in population than Buffalo. But it’s also about the shared experiences with the Tuscarora, whose history is intertwined.
Darwin N. John, a Seneca who portrayed a Tuscarora native in the reenactment, said the event shows just how connected the two really are.
“It’s part of our heritage,” he said. “This is just a little bit of the history of the area.”
So is this the last of the Flames event? Historical Association of Lewiston President Bruce Sutherland thinks it’s time to end the night reenactments. But there is one last Flames celebration to come. Next year, as the village recognizes 200 years since real flames destroyed the lives of hundreds of residents, a new monument will be dedicated and a day-time reenactment will involve more than Center Street.
“I think remembering the bicentennial is good,” Sutherland said. “And if someone wants to organize something like this after that, that’s fine. But we’re going to put our efforts into other things, including trying to do something with the Frontier House.
“And Lee Simonson, the event creator, will probably think of something else. We have a lot of creative people on our board. We can probably think of some other aspects of our village’s history to explore.”