By JAY REY
Published December 6, 2023
Editor's note: This story is part of "UB Then," an occasional feature highlighting people, events and other interesting elements of UB history pulled from the University Archives.
There’s an amusing little story buried in the University Archives about one of UB’s most prominent historical figures and his tie to Abraham Lincoln.
UB’s link to Lincoln goes back to Edward Michael — a Buffalo lawyer, landowner and longtime member of the UB Council who was integral in getting the South Campus built on Main Street.
It was February 1861, the story goes, and Michael was still just a boy. Lincoln was en route to his first inauguration when he stopped in Buffalo and stayed at the hotel on Main Street near Eagle Street owned by Michael’s parents. Lincoln was accompanied by his wife, Mary, and two of his sons, William, 11, and Tad, 7 — perfect playmates for the young Michael.
“The two boys and I were playing leapfrog in a room of the hotel when President Lincoln came in and joined in the game,” Michael told The Buffalo Evening News in 1950. “He was a very friendly man. He caught hold of my arms and squeezed them in his.”
Michael would grow up to carve out his own success in Buffalo. He was a lawyer by trade, but made a name for himself as a real estate tycoon whose holdings included grain elevators, department stores and office buildings.
He also had a love for the university and served on the UB Council for nearly a half century. In fact, Michael, maybe more than anyone, is credited for the existence of the South Campus as we know it today.
When university leaders considered procuring land on Elmwood Avenue to build a comprehensive UB campus, it was Michael who convinced them to acquire the Erie County Almshouse property on Main Street, according to historical accounts. The planning of the campus would become his “baby.”
“He did more than planning, however,” former UB Chancellor T.R. McConnell once said of Michael. “He worked closely with the architects and contractors, checked the progress of each construction project and vigilantly watched every detail from installation of the steel frames to the painting of the walls.
“Physically, this university is more his creation than that of any other individual,” McConnell said. “It will stand as an everlasting monument to the depth of his devotion and the height of his vision.”
But for all of his accomplishments, it was his story of Lincoln that stuck.
When Michael died in 1951 at the ripe old age of 101, the headline of his obituary read: Edward Michael is dead at 101; Played with Lincoln as a boy.