Niagara Gazette — This is the last chance curious onlookers could have to experience a reenactment of a time when the village of Lewiston was burned to the ground.
And in its third year and likely, final night performance, Flames Through Lewiston, which lights up at 6:15 p.m. today on Center Street between Fourth and Fifth streets, Lewiston, is expected to be bigger, better and much more organized than previous renditions.
"It looks like it's coming together," event organizer Lee Simonson said. "And the weather looks really promising. Hopefully, we're not going to have to plow through two feet of snow."
This year's Flames offering marks the 199th anniversary of the destruction of the then-booming Niagara County village. During the War of 1812, British soldiers and Mohawk tribesmen came through the town and burned its structures to the ground, killing hundreds and forcing others to flee in the cold December night.
But the anniversary isn't entirely negative, as the story tells of Tuscarora tribesmen arriving to assist the American militia in defending Lewiston, providing time for countless Lewistonians to escape the musket fire and tomahawks of the aggressors.
"We've got a lot of civilian reenactors running for their lives," Simonson said. "We have British soldiers with muskets having a shootout with American militia. That'll happen down the length of the street. The British soldiers will be attacking, injuring and killing civilians, then the Tuscarora natives save the day and give civilians extra time to flee, just like they in 1812."
The entire history of the event will be narrated from the steps of the Frontier House over speakers at both ends of the block to accommodate the crowds. And those who do gather for the reenactment will be asked to step further back from the roadway to allow more space on the street.
John Stewart, a Niagara Falls resident who reenacts out of Old Fort Niagara, said he's doubling the size of his contingent at the event and needs the extra space to effectively move the larger numbers.
"The extra space on the street will allow us to accommodate more of our soldiers," Stewart said. "Plus, it keeps people from wandering too close or to places they shouldn't be. But we'll have more room to deploy the extra soldiers we have this year, which is going to be convenient."
Stewart, who both organized American participation at last year's Flames event and the massive reenactment to commemorate the Battle of Queenston Heights anniversary in October, said the show this year will benefit from having a year to prepare. Last year was a learning experience for everyone involved and allowed organizers like him the ability to make improvements to the show and better choreograph what spectators might see.
"Last year, we were just kind of winging it and hoping for the best," he said. "And we got the best. But it highlighted a couple things we could have done different. This year, there's been a lot of planning and forethought going into this. We fixed a lot of different things, it's really looking to be quite spectacular."
Memories and an appreciation for history aren't the only things which come out of these events. Through the Battle of Queenston Heights and Flames Through Lewiston last year, Stewart and his companions have been able to form the Eighth and Ninth Military Department – War of 1812 organization with all of the recent excitement.
The group oversees the events each member unit participates in and plans out the entire year's worth of reenactments, which Stewart says comes in handy because the war it specializes in is at the forefront of thoughts due to its bicentennial the next two years.
"This is a huge thing that blossomed, born from the Queenston Heights reenacting," he said. "We're hoping this outfit can grow. We're always looking for new members, with so many events coming up and us smack dab in the middle of it. Maybe it's a hobby people would like to explore."