This year will mark the 17th time that the Gaston Lodge of the Knights of Pythias has sponsored the Wapato Showdown at Brown Park.
Nothing special about a 17th anniversary you say? Au contraire! Consider, if you will, that this also happens to be the centennial of both the Knights of Pythias Hall and the city of Gaston itself, at least by one measure (you can read about the confusion here).
The Gaston Lodge of the Knights of Pythias actually goes back more than 100 years, to November 12, 1908, when 25 local men swore allegiance to a fraternal organization created in 1864, at the height of the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln was so moved by the group’s efforts to unify mankind that he helped the Pythians become the first fraternal organization ever officially chartered by an act of Congress.
The Gaston lodge came along too late to heal the wounds of the Civil War, but it has been involved in nearly every charitable or civic-improvement effort in Gaston’s history. Proceeds from the Wapato Showdown go toward a number of such efforts.
Perhaps none of that matters to the hundreds of classic-car owners who proudly display their rides each year on the ballfields of Brown Park. This year’s event, set for Saturday, August 23, promises some extra treats, including a display of classic travel trailers and a salute to Gaston’s Centennial. The draw of the Showdown is its egalitarian nature, with everything American antiques to relatively recent foreign cars, all on equal footing to win one of the trophy sponsors’ prizes.
Harold “Gabe” Gabriel gets much of the credit for creating the Showdown back in 1997. A Pythian for much of his life and a car fanatic for even longer, he led the event until his death from a heart attack in 2000. His death was made even more tragic for the Pythians because several of the members also were long-time volunteer firefighters and emergency medical responders, some of whom tried valiantly to save their friend’s life when the call for help came in.
Gabe’s time with the Showdown was brief, but his dream just keeps growing every year. Average number of entries has nearly doubled from the original 200 in 1997, and sponsors continue to line up to support the efforts of the Gaston Lodge of the Knights of Pythias.