Niagara Gazette

December 19, 2013

Flames through Lewiston takes hold of village

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON - Two hundred years in the making gave Lewiston 12 minutes of musket fire, dramatic music and the blood-curdling screams of actors "fleeing" for their lives.

When the smoke cleared, the bicentennial recognition of the burning of Lewiston was complete and the Tuscarora Heroes monument, the brainchild of Lee Simonson and creation of artist Susan Geissler, opened for public viewing at its home at the intersection of Center Street and Portage Road.

Geissler said she was moved to tears by the entire program Simonson planned and approximately 50 actors made reality.

"The reenactment and the music, the whole thing was moving," she said. "All the screaming and the horn and they dropped the curtain, it all made me cry. I wanted to run out there and help the Tuscaroras."

About 1,000 people braved the chill in the air and joined Geissler, Simonson and plenty of dignitaries from around the country, including a pair of descendants of the famous Lewiston Cooke and Collins families. Jeanne Cooke Collins and her daughter, Katie Collins, flew to town from Aurora, Colo. to see the dedication of the monument.

Jeanne, who first stepped foot in Lewiston three years ago despite her family's lineage, said she took a look at the statue after the protective covering was removed and was caught up in her emotions.

"It makes me very, very thankful," she said. "I just can't imagine what these people went through all those years ago, with the town burning, all the sacrifice, bravery and dreadful fear that invaded their lives at that moment."

Other out-of-town visitors for the show included Virginia Napier, president of the Daughters of the War of 1812 organization out of Maryland.

This was a special year for the Flames Through Lewiston event. For the third year, an actual reenactment took over Center Street, though this one was more condensed. Militia men sporting the American flag and Redcoats carrying the British colors fired shots at each other while civilians, wearing only their sleep clothes, ran screaming in an attempt to get to safety.

Mohawk tribesmen showed up to continue the slaughter of the civilians, scalping and clubbing those unfortunate to not be fast enough. But the town's heroes of the day, the Tuscarora people living in a village a few miles away, temporary drove the much more terrifying British forces back enough to allow more people to flee.

The tension built up leading to a scene where a mother, carrying a baby, reached for the outstretched arm of her Tuscaroran hero. As they grasped hands, the monument cover was pulled off and the scene was forever immortalized in bronze.

Chief Leo Henry, the present leader of the Tuscarora people, took an active role in the performance for a second consecutive year. He said the history of the event that he's read and heard makes him wonder what it was like in 1813.

"Our village was burned by the British shortly after," he said. "Our people went and lived with the Oneida for a while, but we came back.

"Whenever I portray this character, it touches my heart deep."

While Henry lent a bit of authenticity to the event, Claudia Carnes provided her own even if she didn't think she'd ever do it.

Carnes, for the third year, took on the role of one of those fleeing civilians. She was "killed" by a Mohawk as she ran down Center Street. But as the Tuscarora moved in, she said she felt a hand touching her.

"I opened my eyes and he was leaning over me asking me to get up," she said of the unplanned moment. "That really happened. There were people who pretended to be dead in the street to avoid being killed."



Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.