LEWISTON — By Saturday night, not much had happened in Academy Park in Lewiston.
Nothing, except for the consumption of large quantities of peach cobbler, peach shortcake and peach soda.
“There’s been no trouble so far,” Lewiston Police Chief Frank Previte said. “And that’s what we expected. Just a normal Peach Festival.”
But earlier in the week, festival organizers and local law enforcement had concerns when a flyer was circulated in the town advertising what appeared to be a Klu Klux Klan recruitment drive targeting the annual festival. The flyer, distributed in Lewiston neighborhoods on Tuesday, indicated that the white supremacist organization would have “representatives” who will “make their presence known” at the festival on Saturday afternoon.
However, representatives of the KKK were not observed by either festival organizers, local law enforcement or members of the news media anywhere on the festival grounds.
“I think people were under the understanding that there was going to be a rally here,” Previte said. “But nobody is allowed in the park this weekend except the Kiwanis and anyone they allow in the park. We didn’t ever believe there was a (white supremacist) organization behind this.”
The flyer was reminiscent of a World War II military recruiting poster that featured a picture of Uncle Sam pointing his finger with the words: I WANT YOU!” underneath. On this flyer, there was a picture of a hooded individual in traditional Klu Klux Klan dress and the words: “THE KKK WANTS YOU.”
“It’s frustrating,” said Marty Pauly, president of the Lewiston Kiwanis Club, which sponsors the Peach Festival. “It stinks. All the work we put in and then a night or two before (the festival) this falls on us.”
The flyer invited people to join KKK members in “historically white Lewiston, N.Y.,” telling them to “feel free to approach our members.” It also boldly proclaimed: “White communities. White schools. White PRIDE!”
“This blew up on social media,” Pauly said, noting that nine cheerleading squads withdrew from the festival’s highly prized Saturday cheerleading competition because of the flyer and related concerns.
A potential counter-protest, promoted on social media, also failed to materialize. Organizers said a small group of individuals asked to circulate “anti-KKK petitions” and were allowed to enter the park.
However, when they were observed in conservations with festival-goers, they were asked to leave.
“It ended peacefully,” Pauly said. “Eventually they left the park and that’s all that happened today.”
As crowds of festival-goers flocked through the park, Pauly said he was encouraged by the turnout in the face of the flyer controversy.
“Chief (Frank) Previte did a remarkable job of assuring people it would be safe here,” Pauly said. “The police presence was more high-profile than in the past.”
Many of those in the park were aware of the flyer but said the lure of fresh peaches trumped any concerns.
“(Peaches) is what brought me back here after 15 years,” said Town of Tonawanda resident Barbara Bontempo. “I almost had second thoughts (after learning about the flyer), but I heard (the flyer) was fake and they seemed to have a hand on it.”
Wendy Scott, of north Buffalo, said the flyer controversy didn’t deter her from attending her first-ever Peach Festival.
“I figured the police would be on alert,” Scott said. “I didn’t think there would be a disturbance.”