If These Stones Could Talk

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For several years in the early 1970s, I taught American History in elementary school.  In February I addressed Black History.  There were African-American history filmstrips. I didn’t know a lot of what was presented and there were individuals I didn’t recognize.  Frederick Douglas, Marcus Garvey, Sojourner Truth, Booker T Washington.  My elementary, high school, and college history classes were far from integrated.

Later at Holy Ghost Prep and Holy Family University in History and social studies methods courses I began to abandon the Black History and Women’s History months.  My own reading had exposed me to the history of women, blacks, immigrants and the poor and convinced me that their histories should be woven into the daily texture of United States History courses.  I attempted to be inclusive.

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I just finished reading “If These Stones Could Talk: African-American presence in the Hopewell Valley, Sourland Mountain, and surrounding regions of New Jersey,” by Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills (Lambertville NJ: Wild River Books, 2018).  My kind of book.  Buck and Mills, middle age African-American women, are amateur historians and educators.

I was first drawn to “If These Stones Could Talk” because it was Local History.  Several years ago we began driving to Princeton through Pennington and Hopewell and now dog walk and farm market shop in the area.  I’ve encountered the name Sourland Mountain (actually have another book about the area).  I was also intrigued that it was an African- American story.

It’s not academic, professional but a personal history.  The authors tell their story.  How they began to research the history of African-Americans in the area and became committed to having the history of local, common Blacks included in school history curriculums.  Their book includes the slave origins of many black families in the area.  Families that have lived for generations in this section of central New Jersey.

Their research begins with their involvement with the Stoutsburg Cemetery in Hopewell.  Located on “the Avenue,” Columbia Avenue, the Black neighborhood, the authors discover war veterans, community leaders, and relatives buried there.  In the tradition of “new social” historians they weave the local stories with State and National history.  We read about slavery in the north, African-American service in wars from the revolution to Vietnam.

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This is not just a story of Black Americans.  It is the story of small towns.  So many of the individuals the authors profile are related, many to themselves. Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, all play a role.  Several chapters are recorded oral history interviews.  Most of average people; some more famous.  Interesting is Bill Allen who discovered the body of the Lindbergh baby.  Charles Lindbergh ignored him.  And Dooley Wilson (piano player in Casablanca, “play it again Sam”) briefly lived in Hopewell.  Roy Campanella (baseball) visited Elaine Buck’s family.

Religion and church are important to the community.  There are several churches featured from Pennington, Hopewell and Skillman.  AME churches inspire a chapter on Richard Allen and the foundation of Black churches in the Philadelphia region.  Buck and Mills also describe the faith, traditions, and centrality of the church in the community.

I particularly enjoyed several chapters devoted to local living and food ways.   The slaughter of pigs and chickens, gardening, canning, holiday menus, African-American cuisine.  Recipes included.

I’m anxious to explore the neighborhoods, cemeteries, and areas described.  There is a Stoutsburg Historical organization.  Maybe I can meet Buck or Mills.  I am not finished with “If These Stones Could Talk.”

 

 

 

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Benjamin Franklin

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I just finished reading “Young Benjamin Franklin; the birth of ingenuity,” by Nick Bunker (2018).  The book was a Christmas gift from Jerry and Susan Taylor.  Interestingly Bunker dedicated the book to Doylestown’s Henry Chapman Mercer, “an ingenious American.”

I’ve read other biographies of Franklin but I’m amazed at how a historian or biographer can mine new information; there are 42 pages of footnotes.  Franklin was born in 1706.  He died in 1790.  A long life.  “The Young . . .” only explores his first 41 years until 1747.  Decades before the American Revolution and Constitutional Convention.

The details of Franklin’s early teen years, apprenticed to his printer brother, James, in Boston, journey to Philadelphia are amazing.  There are his family relationships, father Josiah, mother Abiah Folger (she was from Nantucket), older brother James, and other siblings, he had 16.  The Franklin clan were craftsmen, mechanics, striving to be gentlemen.  Franklin inherited their ambition.

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There are many new stories but also the classic ones recorded in his autobiography.  Interesting details about his work for brother James’s on The New England Courant and his Silence Dogood letters. There was his comic first meeting with Deborah Read, who he would marry.  Then there is the false promise from Governor William Kieth and the trip to London.  Franklin, so young, was being exposed to a world bigger than Boston or Philadelphia.  He also learned more about printing and publishing.  And the most memorable story about Franklin’s plan/program to eliminate vices from his life. His jokes, hoaxes, Poor Richard’s all bring back memories.  I need to find a copy of the Autobiography to reread.

Bunker writes a bit about Franklin’s marriage and children.  Deborah was his bookkeeper.  He mentions a few of his extramarital affairs and struggles with the dark side, women, alcohol, sloth.

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It was interesting to read about the many characters in Franklin’s life.  There were printers, employers, rivals, Bradford and Keimer. There were failures who borrowed money and dragged him down.  But mainly Franklin rose to the position of “Gentleman” printer/ tradesman through friendships and partnerships with the better class.  Men, leaders,  like James Logan (Penn’s Secretary), Andrew Hamilton (lawyer) and William Allen (politician). These contacts aided Franklin’s success, his government printing contracts and position as postmaster.

 

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Franklin was always a man of ideas.  The existence of God and role of religion was a perennial question.  At times he wrote and thought like an Athiest.  But he attended church, had a pew at Christ’s Church, respect for other’s religious beliefs, but a dedicated reader of the books that questioned and debated religious questions.  He had a brief fling with the Great Awakening preacher, George Whitefield.  In the final analysis the Diest label probably fit.

Political ideology and eventually political parties, Whig and Tory conflicts in London became part of the colonial experience.  The Whigs opposed an absolute monarchy, maybe a bit liberal in thinking.  Franklin was a Whig.  Remember during the American Revolution, Tories supported England.

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There is no question that Franklin was a hard worker.  The image of him wheel barrow full of paper, an early morning, was probably accurate.  But he wasn’t in it just for money.  He wanted to do good for the community.  I always enjoyed and applauded his civic activism, fire company, Library Company, insurance, the Junto, and American Philosophical Society.  Membership in the Library Company is available today for a initial purchase and annual fee; I’m thinking about joining.

 

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Bunker is particularly interested in “the birth of ingenuity.”  Once he was financially secure, with several print shop partners, a house on Market, investments; Franklin was ready to retire.  Increasingly he becomes friends and associated with scientists in England and a few in the colonies.  John Bertram is one.  The practical physist Franklin invented or improved on the wood stove.  And there are other inventions not mentioned by Bunker.  But it’s electricity that grabs Franklin’s attention.  What is it?  How do you harness it?

In 1747, Franklin is 41 years old.  His life changes and will be devoted to science, politics and civic engagement.  Amazing. This is what is so fascinating about Franklin for me. He lived many lives.  It is almost 30 years before the Revolution, Paris, the Constitutional Convention.

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My Franklin experience was enriched with a National Endowment for the Humanities program.

“The “Landmarks of American History” grant will bring more than 80 teachers to Philadelphia during the summer of 2011 for “A Rising People: Benjamin Franklin and the Americans,” June 25-July 1 and July 10-15. Teachers will study with scholars of early America, visit sites that Franklin knew, examine documents written by Franklin, and experience a host of historic opportunities in the weeks surrounding Independence Day.

‘We’re absolutely delighted that the NEH funding will allow this program to continue,” said Dr. George Boudreau, associate professor of history and humanities at Penn State Harrisburg and the program’s director. “Understanding Benjamin Franklin is essential to understanding the history of the United States.’”

I participated in 2009.  My lesson plan can be reviewed at:

https://www.lasalle.edu/teachingfranklin/files/2015/11/Neighbbors_and_Friends_Profy.pdf

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It was a great week.  Most memorable was George Boudreau reaming me out for missing an evening activity.  I had a graduate class to teach at LaSalle. Another memorable event was the police visit after a student verbally threatened Boudreau.  It was never clear why.

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I took the train daily to 30th street station.  We met at the McNeil Center for Early American History across the street from the University of Pennsylvania.  Mornings were devoted to lectures by different Franklin scholars.  In the afternoons and some evenings there were field trips. We went to Independence Historical Park, the Franklin complex on Market street, visited the Library Company of Philadelphia and the American Philosophical Society.  There was an evening concert of colonial music in a Society Hill church and a luncheon or dinner in City Tavern.  Most memorable was the final day walk from Franklin’s house to Christ Church cemetery.  George was a bit emotional as he described the number of people who came and paraded on the day of Franklin’s funeral.  Drop a penny on his grave.

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Franklin was an amazing person.  I want to not just reread the Autobiography but search out my books for others related to Franklin. It would also be fun to re-explore Philadelphia sites associated with him.  A spring project.

 

 

 

 

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Rush

 

My granddaughter, Vivienne, was reading “Fever 1793” by Laurie Halse Anderson.  It’s the story of the worst yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia history.  About 5,000 people died; that was 10% of the population.  Years ago I read J. H. Powell’s “Bring Out Your Dead: the great plague of yellow fever in Philadelphia in 1793” (1949).  It was a gripping story.  Many of the better off fled the City.  African Americans led by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones cared for the sick and buried the dead. It was mistakenly believed they were immune.   The cause, infected mosquitoes,  was unknown.  As were medical cures.  Several doctors offered their best theories.  One of the most active was Benjamin Rush who advocated purges and blood letting.  Some thought Rush’s blood letting was excessive and may have actually led to deaths.  I mentioned Allen, Jones and Rush to Viv.

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I didn’t know much about Rush.  He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and there’s  a State Park and a high school named after him in Northeast Philadelphia.  In addition there is a Benjamin Rush elementary school in Bensalem.  I visited the park once expecting to find a Rush house but there wasn’t any.  I was curious to know more.

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Stephen Fried to the rescue.  I ordered his 2018 book, “Rush: revolution, madness & the visionary doctor who became a founding father.”  Fried felt that founding father Rush had been somewhat ignored considering the attention given to Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton and Franklin.  He used many  papers in several libraries, particularly letters that had never been catalogued or read academically.  What emerges is a well written, entertaining story of an interesting character.

As a young man Benjamin decided on medicine and was sponsored at the University of Edinburgh medical school.  On his return to Philadelphia he was appointed a professor of chemistry at the College of Philadelphia, later the University of Pennsylvania.  Rush also became associated with Pennsylvania Hospital.  Like Franklin he was extremely active in the social, political, and medical life of Philadelphia. He was born in a house on Red Lion Road in the Northeast.  But  he lived in several homes downtown (one on the corner of Third and Walnut).  He also had a house outside the city located today in Greenwood cemetery.

At the Pennsylvania Hospital, Rush became an advocate for the mentally ill who were frequently chained in a basement level.  He lobbied for a separate building with private cells, more humane treatment.  Throughout his life he attempted to understand the reasons for madness and develop and promote treatments.

He was particularly against the use of strong spirits, not wine and beer, but hard liquor which he believed led to madness and other disorders.  This interest was reinforced when his son John became mentally ill and was hospitalized (John killed a close friend in a duel).  Rush writes about a variety of medical topics including mental illness. He designs a restraining chair.

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Rush was active politically during the Revolution which he actively supported.  He wrote and encouraged Patrick Henry to publish “Common Sense.”   Fried explores Rush’s relationship with his contemporaries.  He is very friendly with Franklin.  Although he had a slave for some time he became active with Franklin in the Abolition Society and would champion the rights of blacks, writing about abolition.  He also took an interest in education which he felt was essential to a true democracy.

Despite his teaching at the medical school and his many students who respected him, he does not get along with several leading doctors — John Morgan and Edward Shippen Jr.  During the war, Rush is critical of Washington, and their relationship never recovers.  He is however good friends of both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.  He corresponds extensively with them.  Although he disagrees politically with the Federalists, Hamilton and Adams, he likes to engage in discussion.

Abigail and John Adams and the Rush family become personal friends.  Rush is married to a young Julia Stockton, the daughter of Richard Stockton, Princeton, NJ, and signer of the Declaration.  The Stocktons lived on the outskirts of town at Morven.  Julia would sometimes retreat there when Rush was too engaged.  Morven is a museum today.  They had many children, several died young.

Although Rush signed the Declaration of Independence, he wasn’t there for its ratification but was appointed a PA representative later.  Although his role in the 1793 yellow fever epidemic was memorable, he contributed much more to life in Philadelphia and the new United States.

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Benjamin Rush is buried in Christ Church cemetery near Benjamin Franklin.  He attended several churches, was very pious, but like Franklin may have been a Dieist at heart.  He liked discussing religion with Jefferson, who edited his own version of the Bible.

 

I almost feel I will need to reread “Rush” to retain a bit of the detail.  It would also be fun to visit the sites associated with Rush.  I’ll call it on the trail of Benjamin Rush.

 

 

 

 

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The Fearless Benjamin Lay

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For years I taught a high school local history course, Philadelphia and Bucks County.  My Teaching Social Studies course at Holy Family College was sprinkled with local history material. For several years I wrote a local history column for the Yardley News.  My personal library has hundreds of books related to Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Bucks County history.  And when I travel I like to read local books.  Although I am trying to limit the number of books I buy, it’s still hard to resist new local books.

EA0CB15E-2B17-42FB-B425-920F954086E3I recently ordered “The Fearless Benjamin Lay: the Quaker dwarf who became the first revolutionary abolitionist,” by Marcus Rediker.  I sometimes told a story about Lay in my classes.  Rediker opens his book with the same story.  Lay enjoyed shock theatrics with his protests. In 1738 he attended Burlington, NJ Friends meeting.  He stood up and began to condemn slavery, particularly railing against Quakers who kept slaves or profited from the slave trade.  He invoked God and the Bible.  Drawing a sword, he plunged it into a Bible that he held aloft.  Blood spurted from the Bible wound.  Lay had carved out the Bible and inserted a bladder filled with red pokeberry juice.  Rediker provided more details, Lay, a pacifist, wore a military uniform.  He proclaimed that the Almighty God respected all people “rich and poor, men and women, white people and black alike.”  The meeting broke into chaos and several Quakers lifted the calm Benjamin and carried him from the meeting.  He had made his point; he did not object.

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Benjamin Lay would continue his guerilla war on slavery, particularly a war on Quakers who practiced, condoned or supported it.  Benjamin was born in England where he had become a Quaker but his strong anti- slavery stance distanced him from other members of his hometown and London meetings.  When he asked for papers testifying to his character to take with him to America, he was refused.  He left for the colonies anyway, eventually settling in Philadelphia and later Abington.

His theatrics continued and he was thrown out of both Philadelphia and Abington Meetings.  Benjamin lived a simple life.  Over the years he was a shepherd, sailor, glove maker and book seller.  He had little formal education but he read extensively, of special interest were the writings of early Quakers. His radical abolitionist position was formed after witnessing the horrors of slavery in Barbados.   Rediker labels him an antinomian, a belief that the law, the formal church, does not determine morality, the spirit in each individual did. Benjamin published a book, “All Slave-keepers That Keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates,”  however, it was somewhat disorganized, almost a commonplace book of slavery.  Another Benjamin, Franklin, published it.

Benjamin suffered ridicule throughout his life due to his short, deformed body.  He became a vegetarian, animal rights advocate, he made his own clothes from flax which he grew.  He married but his wife died early. He never stopped his crusade to end slavery in the Quaker community and his unrelenting approach antagonized (intentionally) the wealthy Quaker elite.    His final home was in a cave in Abington.   When he died there in 1759, he was buried in the Abington Friends School cemetery in Jenkintown.  Rediker spoke of Lay and his legacy in April 2018 when Abington Friends unveiled a grave marker for Benjamin and Sarah Lay. I’d like to visit the cemetery and cave some day.

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Lay probably inspired later abolitionists. Rediker mentions Anthony Benezet and John Woolman.  I like to imagine Benjamin Lay, radical activist, today, defending the rights of not only the descendents of slaves but all people of color. He’d defend Muslims, Jews, and other persecuted minority religions.   He’d be vigorously defending the rights of immigrants and pleading compassion for rufugees.  He’d champion the rights of women, the handicapped, and those in the gay-lesbian community.   He’d demand fair equal treatment for the poor, middle and working class.  He’d speak out against tax cuts and special privileges of the usually white, wealthy, typically male, elite in American society, be they Democrat, Republican, conservative or liberal.  He’d condemn corporate greed, the destruction of the environment, and the exploitation of animals.  He’d support quality health care and education for all.

Reality check: one person, one Benjamin Lay can’t be expected to do all that, certainly not alone.  Each of us need to be inspired by the Benjamin Lays in our society.  I think they exist.  We need to look for them; recognize them.  The plain people, even dwarfs, sometimes outspoken, maybe theatrical but those who model revolutionary activism.

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The Flying Machine

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In the early 1970s, Diane and I rented a house in New Hope with John and Barbara Paglione.  It was on a two block spur off route 202 on the edge of the borough — Old York Road.  We became friends with Rodney and Ragna Hamilton who lived across the street.  Sometimes they were our intro into New Hope society.

I remember Ragna introducing us to John Loeper, an educator, school administrator, and writer.  Among recent digging in my children’s book collection, I found and reread Loeper’s “The Flying Machine: a stagecoach journey in 1774.”   (It was published in 1976 in time for the bicentennial.).

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“The Flying Machine” is the story of the Swift-Sure Stagecoach line that traveled between Philadelphia and Elizabethtown, NJ.   In NJ, passengers could take a ferry to or from New York City.  The “Flying Machine” route was “the Old York Road.”

Loeper writes for middle school students.  I bought several of his books and at the time thought I could write books like this.  Of course, I didn’t.

But the reread was fun.  Local history; memories.  A young boy, David, takes the Swift-Sure stage coach to NY to visit family.  The coach connects the Barley Sheaf Tavern on Second  street with Elizabethtown, NJ.  From there a ferry took passengers to NYC.  The trip took two days.  I particularly like the local references.  “Down the streets of old Philadelphia they went, past Christ Church, Walnut Street, the High Street (today it’s Market).

There was a mid-day stop a Crossroads Inn, another at Bogart’s Tavern in Buckingham.  They passed through Lahaska and the Great Spring, called Aquetong, to Well’s Ferry (now, New Hope).  “John Watson (the driver) halted the Flying Machine before the Logan Inn. ”  William Penn’s secretary was James Logan.  A ferry ride across the Delaware river brought the traveler’s to Coryell’s  Ferry on the New Jersey side (now Lambertville).  For me these are all familiar locations.

Similarly in New Jersey the stage coach passed through Mount Airy, Ringoes, Pleasant Corners, Centerville (overnight stop), Bound Brook, and eventually the Indian Queen Tavern in Elizabethtown.  These NJ names are new for me.  In the story, David takes the ferry to NYC, “his journey on the York Road was over.”  My journey living on Old York Road lasted four years.

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I remembered and located a related book  “Along the Old York Road” (1965) by James and Margaret Cawley in my local history collection.  The couple has written several NJ local history books published by Rutgers University Press.  James Cawley recalls many personal experiences living close to the road.  The Cawley’s story leans heavy on colonial history and the use of the road by General Washington during the American Revolution.

They describe many field trips they take in the area.  One passes our New Hope house. “This part of the road retains some of the original stone and plaster buildings and, at the point were Sugan Road crosss our road, a left turn takes the traveler to and across Aquetong Creek, on the banks may be seen the ruins of an early mill, now being restored.  The mill was built by Richard Heath in 1702, and is believed to be the oldest one in Bucks County.”  When we lived there, the Jim Hamilton family lived in the Heath mill.

There are several Bucks County sites mentioned by the Cawley’s that I would like to visit.  Inghamdale and Rolling Green are houses outside of New Hope.  I could take a closer look at the Friends Meeting in Lahaska and General Greene Inn (Bogart’s Tavern) in Buckingham.  I need to check out Hartsville, the Log College, and Hatboro,  scene of the Battle of Crooked Billet.  In New Jersey there are many new sites to explore.

For me Old York Road carries so many personal memories.

 

 

 

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Children’s books and local history

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I can’t resist buying local history books.  If they are for children, all the better.  A few years back I discovered  “Skippack School” by Marguerite de Angeli.  The author- illustrator of several dozen books lived and died in the Philadelphia area.  “Skippack School” is Eli’s story.  As a young German Memonnite, he moves with his family to a farm outside of German Town, Philadelphia on the Skippack Creek.  Family and neighbors help construct the family’s log house.  Within months, crops, cows, chickens, pigs; they have a working farm.  And Eli has responsibilities.

There is a lot of detail about Colonial life in “Skippack School” — spider cooking pots like we recently used in Deerfield’s Open Hearth cooking class; split cedar shingles similar to those I made in Montpelier two years ago; processing flax into linen for clothing cloth.  There are references to local foods – cornbread, wild turkey, sauerkraut, and soft pretzels. Settled in, Eli begins to construct a bench with elaborate carvings for his mother.  But it’s also time for school.

Eli goes it’s to, well it’s the book’s title, Skippack School.  It is run by the Mennonite Christopher Dock.  In the 1970s, when I began teaching at Holy Ghost Prep, we played basketball against Christopher Dock, it had emerged into a local Prep school.  Eli was surprised that Master Christopher applied the rod much less than his German teachers.  At the same time he was more interested in creating things and being outdoors than classroom learning.  This could lead to trouble.

“Skippack School” references the Leni Lenape, local Indians treated fairly by William Penn.  Eli will take a trip to German Town with its market, shops, Meetinghouse, the Green Tree Inn, Rittenhouse Paper Mill and the office of Christopher Sauer’s printing press — all local history.  His spirit will get him in trouble but it will also save him as he grows into a responsible young man.

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The Skippack School

My grandson, Eli, put this in the “to sell” pile of children’s books.  I’m not sure he’s read it.  Grandpop may put it into the reread pile before selling.  And it might be interesting to visit the Christopher Dock School and other sites in German Town.

 

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