Julius E. Francis came to Buffalo in 1835 from Connecticut and ran a successful drug store business for nearly 35 years, mostly at 268 Main Street. The photo above is of his store at 16 South Division St. Beginning in 1865, with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Francis became absorbed in preserving and promoting the martyred President’s memory. He collected much Civil War and Lincoln memorabilia, but determined that there must be a national observance of Lincoln’s birthday, February 12. A bachelor, he declared that this cause was “my wife and my life.” At his own expense, Francis held the first of seven annual observances of Lincoln’s birthday. Each year until his death in 1881, he rented a hall, arranged the speakers, poets, music, essayists, and invited the public to attend free of charge and honor Abraham Lincoln.
His two attempts to persuade Congress to establish a national Lincoln’s Birthday holiday failed and he died in 1881, having founded the Buffalo Lincoln’s Birthday Association which continued the work. In his will, he made the Association heirs to his house and lot at 145 East Eagle Street, and six $1,000 bonds. In 1901, the Association contracted with New York sculptor, Charles H. Niehaus, to create a statue of Lincoln that would grace the new Buffalo Historical Society in September, 1902. Their Francis legacy had grown to $10,000 ($221,556 in 2005 dollars), of which they spent $6,000 for the 1,200 pound bronze statue. At least one copy of this statue exists, in a park in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The chair is a copy of Lincoln’s “chair of state,” stored at the Smithsonian.
The original location of the statue was in a portion of the new Buffalo History Museum building named, “The Lincoln Room.” That room also contained the Francis Lincoln memorabilia collection. In the early 1930’s, the statue was moved outdoors in front of the South Portico of The Buffalo History Museum, where is remains today.
Lincoln’s Birthday was never designated as a national holiday (unlike George Washington’s), but was approved as a legal holiday in a number of states. Today, most people assume incorrectly that President’s Day nationally honors both Washington and Lincoln.
2006 is the 132nd year during which observances have been made in Buffalo for Lincoln’s birthday. The ceremonies are carried on in Julius Francis’ memory, also, for having the passion and the vision to celebrate one of the greatest American Presidents.
Article written by Susan Eck and featured in “Western New York Heritage Magazine”