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Tuscarora Heroes Monument to be unveiled at 'Flames Through Lewiston'

by jmaloni
Sat, Dec 14th 2013 07:00 am

by the Historical Association of Lewiston

More than 150 volunteer re-enactors of all ages and from both sides of the border will recreate the War of 1812 British attack on Lewiston during Thursday's "Flames Through Lewiston" event, which will feature the unveiling of the much-awaited Tuscarora Heroes Monument.

Activities commemorating the Dec. 19, 1813, burning of Lewiston will take place beginning at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 19, 2013 - exactly 200 years to the date.

The monument is a tableau of three large bronze sculptures depicting men from the Tuscarora Nation saving a local woman and child shown running for their lives. It is the largest War of 1812 bicentennial monument project in the U.S.

The re-enactment and unveiling ceremony take place at the corner of Center Street and Portage Road. "Flames Through Lewiston" features local citizens running down Center Street, invading British redcoats and natives, defending American militia, and, of course, the Tuscarora heroes, all portraying what really happened during the British invasion.

"The Tuscarora Nation has never been thanked for their heroic efforts in saving American lives during the 1813 British invasion, and the monument will stand as a testament of thanksgiving to the Tuscarora Nation," said Lee Simonson, the Historical Association of Lewiston's volunteer director for the project. "This is about a forgotten moment, in a forgotten war, that will never be forgotten again."

Direct descendants of the Tuscarora heroes will be wearing cornhusk pins on their coats. Those attending the unveiling event are encouraged to thank the descendants for the Tuscarora Nation's friendship and guardianship for more than 200 years.

Public Welcome to be Part of History

The free event is open to the public. Spectators are reminded to dress warmly, because the program will go on regardless of weather conditions.

The actual "Flames Through Lewiston" re-enactment should only last 12 minutes. Once the action starts, things will move very quickly. Five large fires will be burning down the middle of Center Street thanks to the contribution of Wendt's Propane. The monument is slated to be unveiled 11 minutes into the re-enactment.

Spectators are asked to stay behind the street curbs. The best vantage point will be from the Subway sidewalk and parking lot at Portage Road and Center Street. There will be areas open to the public on Portage Road, next to the sponsor's tent, and near Hibbard's parking lot, too. The prime parking spots will be on local side streets.

The monument area will be opened to the public immediately after the unveiling. Artist Susan Geissler will be there to greet visitors, along with Tuscarora leaders, First Nations re-enactors, and local officials.

Those who are unable to make it to the event can listen to the program in real time on the phone. At 6:30 p.m. listeners can call 1-206-402-0821 and put in passcode 775-5327#. While listening on the phone, the unveiling also will be broadcast live on the Internet at http://historiclewiston.org/tuscaroraheroeswebcam.html.

Tuscarora Heroes

In the early morning of Dec. 19, 1813, the citizens of Lewiston awoke to unimaginable horrors. The small frontier village, situated on the Niagara River on the border between the U.S. and Canada, suddenly found itself on the front line of a vicious international war.

Hours earlier, in the middle of the night, British-Canadian troops invaded the U.S. and captured Fort Niagara without firing a shot. Following that, they were about to unleash an assault on Lewiston that could only be compared with today's "shock and awe" campaigns.

The unrestrained British-Canadians, along with their allies from the First Nations, including the Mohawks, ran down River Road toward Lewiston, armed with torches, guns and tomahawks, intent on retribution and turning Lewiston into a pile of ashes.

But what happened that cold winter morning turned out to be much worse. Poorly defended Lewiston citizens were on their own. They could only run for their lives through the snow and mud in hopes of escaping the atrocities. Civilians were murdered in the rampage, and tormented parents found themselves helpless in trying to save their children.

At the moment when Lewiston citizens had lost hope and thought they would become victims of a bloody and merciless massacre, local Tuscarora men ran down from their village atop the escarpment and offered the first resistance the enemy had seen. Their ingenious and diversionary tactics gave the impression that "their numbers were legion." Fearing a trap, the enemy stopped in its tracks.

Despite being outnumbered 30 to 1, the Tuscaroras were able to buy the escaping residents enough time to get out of harm's way, savings dozens of American lives.

Monument Site Steeped in Symbolism

The larger-than-life bronze sculptures were created and produced by Lewiston's Geissler, recognized as one of the top sculptors in the U.S. The monument is located at a prominent intersection in the village, where visitors will see it as they enter the main business district.

The monument site is filled with symbolism. The actual sculptures are standing on a platform shaped like a turtle - a sacred symbol of the Iroquois, who believe Earth was created on a turtle's back. On this turtle's back are 13 large scales representing 13 full moons during the year, surrounded by 28 smaller scales representing the 28 days of the lunar monthly cycle. The turtle's head is pointed to the American flag, representing the alliance between the U.S. and the Tuscarora Nation.

Six northern white pine trees represent the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Iroquois flag will be permanently flown next to the American flag used during the War of 1812 (with 15 stars and 15 stripes). Below the flags are 15 clusters of grass.

Site contractor Rocco DelGrosso of Krislyn Company was responsible for constructing the monument plaza.

Security cameras, doubling as webcams, broadcast live images from site 24/7 and enable visitors to call friends back home to view them in real time.

Time Capsule for Quadricentennial

A time capsule entombed in the monument Oct. 16 contains items and letters submitted by Tuscarora Indian School students, along with materials and letters from the Historical Association of Lewiston. The capsule is set to be opened in 200 years - on the quadricentennial of the Tuscarora Heroes action - in 2213.

No Local Tax Dollars Used

No local tax dollars were used for the project. Volunteers from the Historical Association of Lewiston spent four years planning, organizing and fundraising to make this project a reality. No funds were solicited or accepted from Native American sources. This monument is considered a gift to the Tuscaroras.

Additional financial sponsors include the Town of Lewiston (Greenway funds), Niagara County (Greenway funds), the Village of Lewiston, KeyBank Foundation, The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, and the Daughters of 1812. The national president of the Daughters of 1812, Virginia Apyar of Maryland, will attend the event.

Commemorative Keepsakes Available

Hundreds of Tuscarora heroes commemorative coins have been sold in support of the monument project. The 2-inch coin was minted for the HAL and is considered a "good luck" piece representing the good fortune the Tuscarora Nation brought to the citizens of Lewiston in an hour of need.

A limited number of U.S. postage stamps have also been printed as souvenir keepsakes to highlight the monument unveiling. Forty first-day postal covers will be postmarked in Lewiston Dec. 19.

HAL has published and sold 1,500 copies of the book "Tuscarora Heroes," which details the brave Tuscarora actions during the 1813 British invasion of Lewiston. The book contains original excerpts from many hard-to-find sources, who chronicle "one of the most amazing and unknown" stories in American history.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 people are expected to attend the re-enactment and dedication ceremony.

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