Lee Simonson calls it Lewiston's most important day. Yet, not everyone knows just what happened on Dec. 19, 1813.
To commemorate the burning of the village by British forces, the Historical Association of Lewiston is presenting the inaugural "Flames through Lewiston" on Saturday, Dec. 18.
"This is all about gearing up for the War of 1812 bicentennial," said Simonson, a HAL member, author and former Niagara County legislator. "Lewiston was on the front lines during the war. The first major battle of the War of 1812 happened right here when the U.S. invaded Canada."
Following the death of Maj. Gen. Isaac Brock and the burning of Fort George at U.S. hands, the British invaded New York (at the Stella Niagara flats) on Dec. 19. Half of the British forces captured Fort Niagara, while the other half torched Lewiston.
"Unfortunately, it was more than just a burning," Simonson said. "They killed many civilians."
In an unexpected turn, Tuscarora Indians stepped in and staved off the troops, enabling many Lewistonians to escape. Outnumbered 30-1, the Tuscaroras, "(fooled) the British into thinking they were more than they were," Simonson said.
"They saved quite a few lives that day," he noted.
Next weekend's "Flames through Lewiston" event, "from an educational point of view ... is a tremendous opportunity for us to explain to people what (this) is all about, what happened 197 years ago, and how this impacted our regional history," Simonson said.
"Flames through Lewiston" begins at 7 p.m. on Center Street -- between Fifth and Fourth streets. As part of the presentation, 40 volunteer re-enactors will flee from captors as 10 large fires are set off one at time.
"They're going to run down Center Street," Simonson said. "Screaming. Crying. There's going to be all sorts of consternation. They're going to be running for their lives.
"That will let people know what really happened here -- and that people really were running for their lives when Lewiston was attacked."
The fires will continue to burn until 8 p.m., as dramatic chase music plays in the background.
"I hope people are going to look at this thing and say, ‘Wow. I never knew that. I didn't know that Lewiston was attacked. I didn't know that Lewiston was burned down to the ground. I didn't know that there were people running for their lives,' " Simonson said. "We just want people walking away having an understanding of our history."
He suggests onlookers arrive promptly and situate themselves on the Center Street sidewalks or grab a window table at one of the village's eateries.
"Flames through Lewiston" is sponsored by Wendt's Propane and HAL. For more information, call 754-4214.
Note: Center Street will be closed from 6 until 9 p.m. for "Flames through Lewiston." No parking will be allowed on Center Street (between Fifth and Fourth streets) from 3 until 9 p.m.