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145 years later, Abraham Lincoln's birthday still marked in Buffalo

Abraham Lincoln did not live to observe his 65th birthday on Feb. 12, 1874. He had been assassinated nine years earlier, on April 14, 1865.

But, on that day in 1874, the nation's first public celebration of the 16th President's birthday was held in St. James Hall in Buffalo, organized and funded by drugstore owner — and Lincoln aficionado — Julius E. Francis.

The 145th anniversary of the first Buffalo celebration, held near the 210th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, drew more than 50 people and some 30 Civil War era re-enactors to the Buffalo History Museum for a ceremony presented by the Buffalo Civil War Round Table and the Buffalo History Museum.

A Union Volunteers Fife and Drum duo provided stirring period music and the crowd heard a few words from Buffalo Civil War Round Table President Carl Modica, who noted that the sheet cake "was not authentic." The audience laughed.

Modica lauded Lincoln for bringing the country together after the bitter Civil War.

"In the end, he set the tone about how he wanted the nation to be after such a traumatic event," he said.

Those instructions were the final words of Lincoln's second inaugural address, delivered by Lincoln himself — in the person of David Kreutz: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan..."

Then the group moved out to the portico, where a volley of gunshots from the re-enactors, near a bronze statue of Lincoln, sent birds scattering from the trees.

A wreath laying and taps followed.

The long-lived Buffalo ceremony was started by Francis, who first petitioned Congress in 1873 to make Lincoln's birthday a national holiday. When that attempt failed, he began the Buffalo commemoration.

After his death in 1881, several hundred artifacts from his collection were given to the Buffalo Historical Society, and his estate paid for the statue, which was unveiled in 1902.

Modica said the Civil War Round Table has about 80 members, including many who are not re-enactors. The group meets five times annually to hear speakers on many Civil War-era topics. "It could be medical, it could be religious. It's not, 'The soldiers advanced 100 yards and retreated 50,'" he said.

At age 16, Michael Baehre of Clarence was the youngest re-enactor on hand Sunday, but soldiers far younger fought in the Civil War, he said.

The story is that some as young as 13 scrawled the number 18 on a scrap of paper and slipped it into their shoe, so they could truthfully swear they were "over 18," he said.

Baehre has spent four years as a member of the 155th New York Volunteer Regiment. "The Civil War is just so intriguing to me," he said.

Barbara Lawrence, of South Buffalo, portrayed a woman who represented herself as a man to be allowed to fight with the First New York Light Artillery. "Women were disguised as men, and they had to keep their gender hidden, because it was illegal for women to be soldiers," said Lawrence, whose ancestors served in every war from the Revolutionary War to World War II, in which her mother served in the Women's Army Corps. "And if they were successful, we would never know."

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