LEWISTON – There was frost on the ground when some 200 re-enactors climbed from their tents to start their day Saturday during the bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812. The encampment transformed a grassy area near the amphitheater on the Artpark campus into a sea of pup tents.
Some of the men had slept on cots. Some had hunkered down wrapped in sleeping bags on beds of straw. A few of the men did not sleep at all.
With temperatures hovering in the 30s, Tom Sharpe and some of his comrades were determined to keep feeding the fire from the wood piled high throughout the encampment. After all, Sharpe started the campfire in correct 19th century style.
“I started the fire with flint and steel and handmade carbon cloth,” said Sharpe of Niagara Falls. “I piled it high with wood.
“We were up all night around the fire I made.”
At 2 p.m. Saturday, it was still burning.
Near the encampment, in Academy Park on Center Street, Sharpe and fellow re-enactor John Wilson waited for a shuttle. The six men were dressed as members of the recently established 1st Lewiston Militia. Wilson, a crematory operator at Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, said he became interested in historical re-enactments as a result of working at the cemetery, where many of the area’s historical figures are laid to rest.
This weekend in Lewiston, and across the border in Queenston, Ont., hundreds of re-enactors from across six countries assembled to mark the historic Battle of Queenston Heights. In addition to the bold displays of cannon and musket fire, there were demonstrations of 19th century games and toys, Virginia Reel folk dancing, knot tying and cricket.
Under one of the demonstration tents, Ann Marie Linnabery of Youngstown was showing children how to use a thaumatrope. The animated paper toy invented by Dr. John Ayrton Paris in London, England, had captured the attention of 5-year-old Sarah Buehlmann. At age 7, brother Lukas played nearby while their mother, Beth, looked on. The family, dressed in period clothing, were re-enactors from St. Catharines, Ont.
The weekend was coordinated by the Historical Association of Lewiston. Its events bombarded all senses.
Mingled with the sounds of the Virginia Reel and the blast of 6-pound cannons was the unmistakable smell of grilled sweet potatoes. They would be served with a 195-pound pig, roasted under the direction of pig farmer Rich Tilyou.
“It’s a heritage pig,” said Tilyou, who also works as a high school chemistry teacher in Newfane. “It would have been brought over here in the 1700s, but it did not do well in commercial farming so it disappeared.
Because of the resurgence of homesteading, Tilyou said, this heritage pig is back in demand. On Saturday evening, it served as the centerpiece of a feast, one of three each day prepared specifically for the re-enactors by volunteers from the historical association.
The midafternoon bombardment by the 6-pound cannons was a big draw for spectators and re-enactors.
William Heykoop, 47, of Niagara Falls, Ont., said the bigger cannon provide a bigger boom because of the three-quarter-pound of gunpowder it packs.
“It makes a good solid boom with a lot of smoke,” said Heykoop, a re-enactor from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. “That’s what people want to see.”
Other events on Saturday included a mock ransacking of businesses along Center Street, a mass enlistment ceremony for reservists of the Air Force, and a five-cannon bombardment of Canada – held within sight of the Brock’s Monument.
The commemoration continues today in Lewiston with re-enactor marching, drills and demonstrations from 9 a.m. to noon; period craft demonstrations from noon to 4 p.m.; and an 1812 fashion show at 2 p.m.