drawing of McKinley High School, Richard Cook

I was reminded about high school yearbooks in a conversation at our recent family Christmas get-together. A while back I started thinking about the possibility of getting yearbooks for my parents – or maybe even my grandparents – as another way to fill in information about their lives. I went looking on eBay (thank you Lisa Louise Cooke!) and discovered that my mother’s high school yearbook might be obtainable. Mom, Elizabeth Ann Denman, graduated from McKinley High School in Canton, Ohio in 1936. She attended her 50th reunion in 1986, even though she was physically pretty restricted, and had a wonderful time reconnecting with classmates.

I started looking on eBay, and found a copy being auctioned, but wasn’t successful at my bidding. I was so disappointed! I kept my eBay search going, and finally this fall another one came up. And I got it! (I felt like I had won the lottery.) Of course it arrived just as Real Life was heating up, so I haven’t had much time to really go through it. Until I got reminded, at Christmas, of how much information might be in there.

So I got it out and spent some time going through looking for all the activities she participated in. The resulting picture of her senior year in high school captures both my mother as a young woman and provides a glimpse into what high school life was like in the mid-1930s in Ohio. This was the midst of the Great Depression, which had a particularly large impact on Canton, and which my mother talked about on occasion. Her father was lucky enough to have a job with a Chicago meatpacking company which he kept through the Depression although his salary was cut in half. The family lost their house and moved back into a rental, but between Grandpa Lyle’s job and Grandma Cena’s ability to make do, they managed.

Mom went to Lehman Junior High for the first 2 years of high school and then everyone got sent to the big downtown high school, McKinley High School. This was a pretty large school – bigger than the ones she had been at in the past, having about 4000 students for the three class years, and over 900 in her senior year class.

L-R: Elizabeth, Virginia, Jayne, and Sylvia, June 1936

She was particular friends with three girls: Virginia Dorland, Sylvia Frantz, and Jayne Puncheon. They had many of the same interests and participated in many of the same school activities. And they were all very active. Mom had the following listed in her yearbook description: National Honor Society, Booster Club, Friendship Club, Leaders’ Club, Choral Club, Swimming Club, French Club (she was secretary), Girl’s Service League (she was vice-president), and Volleyball. I only listed the ones she was active in her senior year. The descriptions of the clubs comes directly from the 1936 McKinleyite. In addition to all of these, Mom continued to be active in Girl Scouting throughout her high school career and finished her Golden Eaglet award.

The Girl’s Booster Club

“…the Boosters participated in all of the outstanding school activities. The year was a successful one and the Boosters were kept busy contributing their share to the advancement of ideal school spirit….total membership of more than 700, which was nearly double that of former years.” Appointed as chairmen for activities were Sylvia Frantz, Virginia Dorland, and Elizabeth Denman. Among the activities were pencil-selling contests in support of the football and basketball teams. There was the annual big party in the music room, with the theme of Nursery Folk Frolic. At that party there were prizes for various costumes, a walk through the “Land of Make Believe” where everyone saw snapshots from a Booster girl’s day, a dance review and a playlet and a mock football game. The Boosters faithfully supported the basketball team, having a section reserved for members and pulling stunts on opposing teams.

Friendship Club

“To face life squarely, to find and give the best” is the motto of the club. Their aim is to help those less fortunate than themselves. There were a total of 350 members this year. They made a large donation to the Scholarship Foundation fund and to the community fund. Baskets for the needy were prepared at Thanksgiving and Christmas. With branches in surrounding schools, there was an inter-club council played a large part in this club’s activities this year. There were dances, parties, two conferences, a white elephant sale, a faculty tea, a mother-daughter banquet, and an open house. There were meetings every two weeks through the whole year. There were interest groups for dramatics, music, nature, knitting, arts and crafts, and first aid.

Girls' Leaders' Club

Girl’s Leaders’ Club

Leaders’ Club had a membership of 80 girls, who had to have an 85 in gym and passing grades in all other subjects in order to be eligible. There were tryouts in the second six weeks [I assume this was a grading period.] based on a letter each one submitted telling why she wanted to join the club. At the tryouts each had to give a speech on “Why I Want to be a Leader” and was graded on that speech plus her athletic ability. Those unanimously chosen by the old members of the club were given probationary status until after initiation, when they became full fledged Leaders. Membership in this club meant spending two extra periods a week assisting teachers and those in classes who needed help. There were also activities: a formal dance at Christmas; a picnic in the spring that included the students’ mothers; an informal dance in the spring; and a demonstration at the gym exhibition that was “the highlight” every year. They also helped put on two sports competition games: a basketball game and a volleyball game.

Senior Choral Club

This is a large musical group that gave concerts and special programs “constantly through out the year.” They put on the Mikado for 2 nights. They did special concerts for civic organizations, vesper services, and a district teacher conference. Their final performance was at the commencement exercises.

Girl’s Swim Club

This club included endurance tests and competitions using different strokes and diving contests. There were about 28 members.

French Club

Eligibility for this club required a grade of 85 or better in French. Mom was elected secretary in her senior year. Activities included monthly meetings, a Christmas entertainment, a Mardi Gras celebration on February 26, and a picnic later in the year.

Girl’s Service League

The members of the league participate in many services. They are girls who had maintained a 90% or better through their three years of high school, selected while juniors. This year they aided students while changing classes in September. At Thanksgiving and Christmas they put together baskets with food and clothing for needy families. they visited a home for the aged. They ushered for a Parent Teacher convention. They were “Big Sisters” to all new juniors and sophomores. Social activities included an informal dance in December and a party in May for new members. Officers for the year included: Elizabeth Denman, vice-president and Sylvia Frantz, treasurer.

Elizabeth Denman, senior picture

When I read these descriptions I don’t see any direct reference to the effects of the Depression, but I do see a value placed on scholarship and on service to others. I also see characteristics of my mother that continued into her adult life and most of them for her entire life. She was concerned about the welfare of others. She was interested in being a leader, in the service of helping others or promoting things she believed in. She loved nature and the outdoors and using her body physically, playing a variety of sports and continuing physical activities like swimming as long as she could (before Real Life intervened).

Since I’ve posting the stories from Grandpa Lyle about early Wakeman days I’ve gotten more curious about his father, F.A. who was the focus of many of these stories. So, I’m going to combine a couple of ideas here to write about my great grandfather, F.A. Denman and his life.

When we first talking about doing a blog and what we would write about, Judy suggested she might write about all of the changes her mother had seen in her long life. I thought that was a good idea, and might be interesting in my family as well. Using a timeline to write about an ancestor has also been suggested as a theme, by the COG and others. So here is a capsule of F.A.’s life and some of the changes he would have experienced in his long lifetime.

F.A. August 1913


First a little background to set the stage: F.A. Denman was born December 12, 1866 in Florence Township, Erie, Ohio to John Denman and Mary Groatt Denman. He died January 22, 1960 in Wakeman, Huron, Ohio in the house that Grandpa Lyle described. He was 93 years old. F.A.’s childhood home was a house across the road from the Denman parents’ house (where he was born), surrounded by farmland belonging to the family. F.A.’s name was just F.A., not standing for anything else. It may have been that he was named after a favorite childhood playmate of his mother’s – that was always my mother’s story to explain the name. She said that his mother played with twins named M.A. and F.A. and so F.A. was named after his mother’s friend.

F.A.’s Denman grandparents and his Groatt grandmother all outlived his mother, Mary Groatt Denman, who died at age 35 when F.A. was not-yet 5 years old. F.A. had two older sisters and an older brother (4 to 9 years older than he was). His father John remarried two years after the death of his first wife, presumably needing help with the 4 children. The story is that John knew of a young woman who had lived in Wakeman but had moved to Michigan to teach. He took the 4 children up to Michigan to meet her and then married her.

Andrew Johnson was President when F.A. was born. The Civil War had ended the year before. The house he was born into did not have running water, electricity, or a telephone. It probably had gas lights, and an icebox. This is the Denman family home, built by F.A.’s grandfather, John Denman, about 1835.

Denman family house

There was a pump in the yard by the kitchen door, and an outhouse “out back”. The electric light bulb was developed when F.A. was about 13. He would have been about 12 years old when the first commercial telephone exchange in the U.S. was created. Neither of these were in common use in rural areas like Wakeman until after Grandpa Lyle was born.

My mother remembered that the house F.A. bought in Wakeman did have electricity when she was a young girl (the 1920’s) although most of the farmers in the area did not. There was no city water or indoor plumbing (although F.A. did install a toilet for his wife around 1924) even in those years. There was a telephone by this time for F.A.’s various business dealings.

F.A. lived through the administrations of 18 Presidents (Calvin Coolidge twice; I was corrected by my youngest brother: the President who served twice but not contiguously was Grover Cleveland), born when Andrew Johnson was President and dying the year that John Kennedy was elected. A newspaper story said that hie vividly recalled the day James Garfield was elected, and how some of the overly-enthusiastic Garfield supporters got drunk and spent the celebration holding up a wall of the train depot across the street from the saloon.

F.A.’s father-in-law (Charles Minor) and 4 Denman uncles were Civil War veterans. His son served in World War I; his grandson and grand-son-in-law were in World War II. He lived through the Spanish-American War, both World Wars and the Korean War, never being the right age to serve in the military.

Many changes in how people moved around also happened during F.A.’s lifetime. From courting his to-be wife using horse and buggy, he saw the automobile and the airplane invented and become common transportation. F.A. was a relatively early adopter of the automobile as Grandpa Lyle proudly noted in several places in his stories about life in Wakeman. About 1914 F.A. sold the family horse and used the money to help pay for his first automobile. In 1905, F.A. took his wife and 2 children on a train trip west to visit with his 3 siblings. They went from Wakeman through Chicago to Kansas and Nebraska and as far west as Colorado on that trip. In about 1937 F.A. took another trip to vist his brother and sisters, traveling to California and back by train. This trip included an air flight over Hoover Dam and the reservoir it created. Sputnik was launched when he was 91, introducing the Space Age.

F.A. didn’t really retire from his various entrepreneurial activities until he was around to 80. He had several hobbies or long-term interests, including photography, local history, and family history (one place I inherited it from). He was the informal town historian for Wakeman; as early as 1917 he was part of the Wakeman Centennial group, helping promote a 2-day celebration in August 1917 of the town’s centennial. Although he never went further than the fourth grade in school, having to leave to help on the family farm, he was a writer, keeping various journalis for much of his life. He was always interested in how things worked.

His wife, Mamie, was 61 when she died in 1930. Their younger daughter had married the November before and I would guess that the young couple moved in with her parents at the time of their marriage or soon afterward. F.A. lived with his daughter and her family for the rest of his life, dying in the house in Wakeman that he had bought and improved so many years before.

This is the last of the early Wakeman stories told by Grandpa Lyle, for now.  Clearly one of the common threads in all of these stories has been F.A.’s entrepreneurial style.  He found a variety of ways, typical to a rural area to support his family over the years. This one is about the several things he did toward the end of his working life. This post is also the most heavily edited from Grandpa Lyle’s words. I have tried to keep his use of words and cadence while tightening up some of his digressions and pauses.

“One of the things that Father became interested in, or became involved in, was a vineyard. He had a certain amount of money left when he sold the mill and he purchased a small acreage, perhaps a matter of ten acres of ground from the Paul Hall family.  (I have been trying to figure out who Paul Hall was and where he fit in our Hall family, without success so far.) The Hall family was related to the Denmans through the Minors. Will Hall was a brother of my grandmother Minor and the rest of the family all called him Uncle Will, Uncle Will Hall. And to me he would be a great uncle. So Father purchased this ground — he loved to raise things and see things grow and he had his orchard on it, he still had his orchard. And he planted several acres of vineyard. Why, I don’t know. But something prompted him to start a vineyard of perhaps, let’s say there may have been six or eight acres. Or may have only been four. I cannot say. But anyway he bought that. That was following the sale of the mill and the fact that the mill burned after he had sold it is of no consequence to our family there.  (This is a story for another time.) So Father bought this area of ground and set out a grape vineyard which took several years before it came into production.”

“Part of this property was down on the flats along the Vermilion River and Father had sort of a camp ground. People would drive in there and stay overnight that wanted to. And there was clumps of bushes and he’d have a picnic table there. He’d have probably six or eight picnic tables there and he just called it Denman’s Picnic Ground. And up the hill there was an acreage, perhaps four, maybe three, maybe five acres that he planted into vineyard and raised grapes. And they came into harvest in just a few years and he would harvest the grapes and would take them to Dover, near Cleveland, to have them pressed into wine. And there wasn’t too much to tell about that except the the bit of humor from the fact that at one time some twenty years earlier he had been a very rabid prohibitionist. Wakeman was a dry community under local option and somewhere or other that had been discontinued in later years. And he had these grapes pressed into wine and with the help of his son-in-law, Fred Graves, they would take them to the wine press and he would have a few barrels of grape wine which he was able to sell retail from his residence in Wakeman. He had obtained the proper permit from the state that allowed him to do that. And occasionally people would come there and buy a gallon of wine which he would sell from his basement.”

“But in the meantime he was buying eggs from different people and would take them to Cleveland. He had certain customers there, among others Hotel Cleveland which was the newest and biggest hotel there. Father would take those eggs and they would be candled, hand candled, and h would guarantee the absolute freshness of every egg that he sold. And they paid him a premium to get Father’s special white candled eggs which they used for their three-minute boiled eggs. They bought cheaper eggs for the general use, for baking and for serving, frying and scrambling and what have you. But for any customer that ordered a three-minute boiled egg, you would get one of these eggs that Father had and he would take a certain number of cases to Cleveland once a week and he had developed a small business that way. And then he had other eggs and things for sale. And there was a market, a farmers’ market, in Cleveland that he would make his deliveries. There was a grocery store there, the Brayman brothers owned a store, and the Braymans had lived in Wakeman at one time and Father supplied them with eggs every week.”

(My mother remembered that when he raised strawberries, he used to take the strawberries into Cleveland.) “Well, we didn’t, he didn’t raise many strawberries. It was, he, whenever he had produce of any kind that he raised, he would take into Cleveland. And one year, among other things, he had a quantity of white Easter lilies and he raised, oh, how many hundred I don’t know. But those were bundled up and were taken in to a florist in Cleveland. And he did quite a lot of work like that. He was gradually getting older and that was one of the reasons that he sold the mill. The mill had become, he had been fifteen years younger and when he was fifteen years older the mill property had become a burden, trying to operate it along with his orchard business and all of these — he seemed to like to get into everything at the same time and didn’t concentrate.”

“Father seemed to like to dabble in many things. One of the other things following the sale of the mill — at one time he decided that hatching eggs, baby chicks, would be a good idea and he had the space in the barn at Wakeman. And he obtained from someplace, or bought, an incubator that would hatch or would carry three thousand eggs at a time. And for more than one season — I can’t remember how long he did it. I know he did it for at least two different years, in the spring of the year. People who would want baby chicks — he would contract to furnish them at so much apiece. If they brought their own eggs and had wanted a certain breed of chickens, they would bring the eggs for those. Or if they would tell him what they wanted, he would get them.

“Father raised chickens. We had quite — always did have a lot of chickens around.

F.A.'s chickens 1922

F.A.'s chickens 1922

This picture was taken in 1922 of F.A.’s chickens.  I have it on good authority that these are a large flock of young birds and include a few Plymouth Barred Rocks, Leghorns, and Rhode Island Reds. If we didn’t have them, he would get the eggs from someplace that did have, whether they might be Plymouth Rock or White Leghorns, or White Rocks. There were a number of different — I remember there was a Silver Laced Wyandott that was a popular bird. It was a heavy bird. It was a good laying bird and also was a good bird for a family — roasting. It was not a fryer type like the Leghorns they used for the fryer types. He operated that for several years until it was destroyed later by a fire that destroyed the barn.”

My Denman family line first migrated from Ditchling, Sussex, England to New York state up the Hudson River around Kingston and Rondout Creek in about 1795. They settled in the Neversink area in Sullivan County. It was from there that some of the family moved on westward to northern Ohio.  A booklet put together by the Town Clerk of Neversink, celebrating the Bi-Centennial of the Town of Neversink (Ackerley, Loretta.  1998.  Township of Neversink 1798-1998.) described the early days of the William and Ann Denman family as follows.  They lived in a rough log lean-to on a remote hill, the building described in a letter as having no plaster but only leaves stuffed in the cracks.  The hill is now known as Denman Mountain.  Through much hard work, the Denmans survived and prospered.  A proper house was built and the Denmans raised 10 children to adulthood.  Their daughter Elizabeth who was born in England not long before the family left for the new country, died soon after they arrived.  My ancestor, John, was ther oldest living son, born in England in 1791.  Before 1819 John was in northern Ohio having purchase land and begun clearing and farming.  Here is Grandpa Lyle’s telling:

“In the trips from New York to Ohio the first year two members of the Denman family (John and his brother William) carried what they could carry on their shoulders and then the next trip or the trip after that they had an ox team. But on one trip, one of the men brought back a quantity of apple seeds. The story has varied from a quart to a peck. You can use your own judgment on how many they had. Those apple seeds were planted and that was the start of an apple industry in northern Ohio.  This is the Denman family’s own Johnny Appleseed. At one time, the apples produced in northern Ohio in those in the state, northern York state as they called it then, the northern part of New York, was the apple producing area for the United States. A few years later it began to spread and it, by the present time, as you are aware, apples are produced in central Ohio, in Virginia and many other states, and then particularly in the northwest, Oregon, Washington. The apple industry is entirely changed. But at the time I am telling you about the early orchards were around northern Ohio.”

FA Denman childhood home

FA Denman childhood home

“Father had two orchards. One of about ten or eleven acres, right near the homestead where he was born and where I was born.  And the other orchard was a short distance south of that of about five acres. And they were mostly Baldwin apples, Russet apples, a certain number of what they called Rhode Island Greenings, and a certain number of Ben Davis which are, which were in my opinion practically worthless there — they had no flavor whatever. But they had a number of other flavors. They had Rambos and they had Gravensteins which were, is spelled G-r-a-v-e-n-s-t-e-i-n but the family always called them Garvusteens. And there were other various.”

Gravenstein apple

Gravenstein apple

“That orchard has all been destroyed as of the present time. But it was very active and father would spray it and harvest it. And some years he would have a light crop and they, I think the big, the heaviest crop he ever had was along in the early 19–, let’s say somewhere in 1910 to 1915, along in there. He had a matter of around 4,000 bushels of apples. The price, of course, was not high. But it was a nice, nice crop of apples.”

“Now another, the thing, one of the things that will be of interest to you folks.  (Grandpa Lyle knew that all of his grandchildren would be listening to these interviews, so he liked to put in tidbits he thought we would like.) In going to the market you will find on the shelves of most markets the J.M. Smucker jellies, jams and various types of preserves by the J.M. Smucker corporation of Orrville.  Mr. J.M. Smucker, the founder of that, was a friend of my father’s and each year he would come to Wakeman on the train. He’d go into Cleveland from Orrville and then come to Wakeman on the train. Father would meet the train in the morning and would drive Mr. Smucker around from orchard to orchard in northern Ohio. At that time they, their chief product was Smucker’s apple butter. And that was known all over the country and that was the start of the Smucker organization that we have today that produces everything in the way of fruit preserves and jellies. And Father would drive Mr. Smucker around from orchard to orchard and he would arrange to buy the product from the various orchards. Sometimes one day would take the trip and occasionally he would have to stay overnight at the Denman home. But I thought it might be a matter of interest to you to know that my father was a business acquaintance of J.M. Smucker and J.M. Smucker had lived at our home and stayed overnight there on certain occasions.”  The website for the Smucker Company has a nice history section that talks about the beginnings of the Company, shows a timeline, and gives a very brief history of the Smucker name.

“The orchards in northern Ohio are now practically depleted. It’s industrialized and built up with people who work in the different cities there. Central Ohio still has some nice orchards I am told, and down to the central part of Ohio I am told there are many nice orchards yet. But orchards are available, apples are available now from so many different places that the crop, that the center of the — there is no particular center that I know of.  New York state still produces apples and central Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky and different states. Particularly, though, in Washington and Oregon, the northwest has immense orchards in that area. I believe that would cover the history of the orcharding and the early settlement of the Denman family in northern Ohio.”

To set the stage as I start this fourth in the Wakeman series (also described in the first one): this is a description of life in the early 1900s in a small north-central Ohio village.  My mother interviewed and taped my Grandpa Lyle (her father) talking about his early life and recollections.  These interviews took place in February 1985 and February 1986.  Grandpa Lyle was 88 and 89 years old.  I had the tapes transcribed (thank you, Kathy!) and have excerpted stories but left the language pretty much as Grandpa Lyle spoke.  If you want to go back to the first one, it is found here.  The succeeding ones have been posted about once a month after that one.  There was also one earlier post about Grandpa being a foodie before it became popular that was also taken from these interviews.

The elevator business, they called it a grain elevator. It’s where the grain was unloaded and stored. Father also, in connection with that, operated a coal yard where he carried — we had Masseline coal which was a less expensive coal. But that was good for cook stoves. And then they had Jackson coal and there was some smokeless coal, I’ve forgotten the name of it, but we carried several different — coal of several different qualities for heating purposes and then we carried — he got to carrying coke which is a product of the blast furnaces at the steel plants. Coke was valuable as a heating unit, as a heating material. We didn’t sell as much coke as we did of the coal but — oh, yeah, there was anthracite coal or hard coal which people would use in their heating stoves in their living rooms. So we had several varieties of coal that had to be stored. They’d ship it in in carloads and it would be unloaded into bins.

Father had a series of bins built along — incidentally, we had a railroad spur that was, 50% of it was on our, on the Humphrey property that Father had bought and Father really owned half of a railroad switch. The switch would probably hold five or six cars. And that switch went back to a livestock yard that was operated by other people. But they would use that switch to load livestock on certain days of the week. He also handled lake sand for people wanting to make cement, build something, he had a bin that was, he’d order from Sandusky. I remember very well, the Kelly Island, what was it, Kelly Island Lime and Sand Company. They would ship carloads of sand to Wakeman and we would shovel it into the bin. That was sold, so much a hundred pounds, to people who wanted to construct sidewalks or anything that they needed concrete for. He carried a stock of cement. He also carried carloads of oyster shell from Maryland. Oyster shell was in great demand, or it was in steady demand, for poultry, chickens, raising chickens. Everybody raised a few chickens and they all had to have a certain amount of oyster shell or the eggs would be, were so soft shelled that they could not be marketed. And everybody raising chickens would have to buy the oyster shell. That is probably an items that is no longer — I’m sure the companies now that had the large poultry producing areas have their own way of handling that, but in those days, everybody bought a 50 pound bag of oyster shell.

Some years, perhaps ten year or more after he started the mill, I was in about the 7th or 8th grade I believe when Father decided that they needed a flour mill in Wakeman. [This would make it about 1909 or so.] And a friend of his who had formerly owned a flour mill at Clarksfield, south of Wakeman, knew of a mill that had been abandoned down in central Ohio. And he told Father about it. Father went down and looked at it; had this man go along with him who was a regular — he’d been in the milling business for years. They looked it over. They decided that if it could be bought right and taken apart and moved up to the Wakeman there, that that might be a good thing. And when they went down there and looked it over Father decided to buy it. The belting, the family — the man had died who owned it and nobody wanted it, so the family gave him the belting. The mill was standing idle there. And it was just a few hundred dollars. Father said that the belting, that the mill was known as a roller mill and had a battery of rollers with the grain that the wheat would go through and I think there were six rollers in position in a parallel, or in a straight line. I know that Father wrote home that the belting alone in that mill was worth more than he paid for all the machinery and everything else. This man went with him and helped, guided him on the purchase of it. Father bought the mill outright. He took two men from Wakeman and they went, they went down and had it — all the machinery, the belting, everything pertaining that could be moved, which was taken out and loaded into a boxcar. They managed to get it into one boxcar and shipped the entire car to Wakeman. It was quite an undertaking but then Father had this one man who had been a millwright and he was an advanced age but he could still do a reasonable amount of work. He agreed to come and install the mill and put it in operation. It took — in the first place, the building had to be built to house the mill — a three-story addition to the end of our grain elevator. And he had to buy a new power plant. He got two 30-horse power gas engines which were made in Wisconsin for a company in Cleveland. I am unable to recall the name of the company but the gas was produced, was known as Producer Gas. There was a gas producer which would have anthracite small, or what was known as pea sized anthracite coal would be put into that and it was fired and that would be the gas from the heat from that, or the gas from that, went through a converter — it was what was called a cleaner. And then that was the fuel that the engines would use. It was a very elaborate set up there and a lot of headaches connected with it. But it got finally into working condition. My father operated the flour mill for a number of years before he sold the entire outfit there.

Unfortunately I do not have any pictures of this mill either. For someone so rich in family pictures I seem to lack the specific ones I need to illustrate my posts. However, I have found a great website that shows and explains how a roller mill works, so if you want to see for yourself go to this website.

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