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Posts about Crime

Oct. 8, 1914: G.K. Chesterton assails American Prohibition

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: March 13, 2015 - 8:00 AM
As efforts to ban the sale and consumption of alcohol gained steam in the early 1900s, liquor interests banded together to tell their side of the story. One group, the South Dakota Retail Liquor Dealers Association, published a newspaper supplement, Both Sides, which appeared in the Minneapolis Journal in October 1914. The eight-page insert consisted of essays, light feature stories ripped from the wires and lots and lots of liquor ads. This piece by G.K. Chesterton, the celebrated British writer and lay theologian, originally appeared in the Illustrated London News.


The Famous English Essayist Ridicules the American Form of Prohibiting the Use of Liquors.

I am glad to see that the protests are beginning to rise against those crazy exaggerations of the philanthropists, who are always wanting us to sacrifice the natural to the unnatural and the certain to the possible. Our social reformers have a wonderful way of manufacturing fifty fresh vices in the pretence of suppressing one.

G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton

For instance, there is the maze of immorality that spreads whenever a state attempts the ridiculous experiment called 'total prohibition." I was told by a friend who had traveled in what the Americans called a 'dry state," that his innocent request for a glass of whisky in a hotel had been answered by radiant and animated directions as to where he would find "the hat room." His first feeling was that the hat room was the headquarters of the Mad Hatter, who evidently ran the hotel. His second was a dim speculation as to how whisky tasted when drunk out of a hat. At last it occurred to him that "hat room" was American for what we commonly call "cloak room," but even then he could not imagine what it had to do with whisky.

He soon found out; for everything was quite ready, and the custom was clearly in full swing. In the cloak room were stored a number of strapped trunks and suit cases labeled in the name of various fictitious American citizens and crammed with bottles of beer, wine or spirits. From these he was handsomely regaled; and the trunk was then strapped up again, so that if the police entered that temple of abstinence, the management could profess ignorance of the contents of luggage left in its charge. Now, suppose my friend had drunk four times as much whisky as he wanted and rolled dead drunk down the front steps of the hotel, could he have fallen lower than the lowness of that exquisite legal fiction?

An ad for B. Kuhl & Co. Wines and Liquors appeared on the front page of the Oct. 8 insert.

See what a number of new sins the "dry state" succeeds in creating in the course of failing to cure that of drunkenness. The man going to the hat room has all the drunkenness he wants with the following agreeable additions:

1. He has become a liar; calling things by false names and doing one thing while pretending to do another.

2. He has become a rebel and bad citizen, intriguing against the law of his country and the efficiency of its public service.

3. He has become a coward, shrinking through personal fear of consequences from acts of which he is not morally ashamed.

4. He has become a seducer and a bad example, bribing other men to soil their own simplicity and dignity.

5. He has become a most frightful fool, playing a part in an ignominious antic from which his mere physical self respect would hardly recover. 

6. He has, in all probability, come much nearer than he would in any other way to having a craving for alcohol. For anything sought with such horrible secrecy and pertinacity has a great tendency to become magnetic and irresistible in itself; a sort of fetish. And all that brought about in order to prevent a man getting a glass of whisky — which he gets after all. People who support such prohibitions can have no care for human morality at all.

Dec. 17, 1929: Miss Pillsbury scolds prowlers

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: January 14, 2015 - 5:41 PM
The Minneapolis Star of the late 1920s was full of sex, crime, fatal accidents and breathless reports on the lives of the rich and famous. The paper was fueled by a fat classifieds section, reams of legal notices and page after page of ads offering treatments for abdominal gas, bowel difficulties and piles.

This report on an unusual confrontation at the Charles S. Pillsbury home on Lake Minnetonka landed on Page One. It’s unclear whether the paper spelled Miss Pillsbury’s first name correctly. A Time magazine report on her wedding the following year spelled it “Katherine”; her husband’s New York Times obituary 61 years later spelled it “Katharine.” Perhaps one of her descendants can write to me and set the record straight.


Two Lads Surprised as Girl Stops in From Skating Party
House Found Ransacked; One of Pair Reported On Probation
When Miss Katherine Pillsbury, daughter of Charles S. Pillsbury, vice president of the Pillsbury Flour Mills company, captured two youthful prowlers in the Pillsbury home at Ferndale, Lake Minnetonka, she gave the two a severe scolding and then expressed the hope they “wouldn’t have to go to jail.”
  Dear old Dad
But the two lads, who had hidden in the basement of the home when they heard Miss Pillsbury open the front door, had ransacked the house quite thoroughly and had gathered up several articles of jewelry. So A.D. Cruickshank, constable at Wayzata, refused to release them. Today they are held in the county jail.
Had Attended Party.
Miss Pillsbury, prominent in Junior league and other younger society circles, had attended a skating party at the lake home of Edwin H. Brown at Ferndale. After the skating, members of the party started back to Minneapolis. They stopped a moment at the Pillsbury home while Katherine went inside to secure some small articles to bring into the city. As she unlocked the door and stepped inside she heard a noise in the basement. The electric current had been turned off so Katherine went back outside and summoned O. Christian, caretaker, and members of the pary.
Christian, followed closely by Miss Pillsbury and the party guests, went to the head of the basement stairs.
“Come on up, we’ve got you,” he shouted.
A moment later there was a scuffle of feet and two prowlers, who had entered the house by prying open a window, came up the steps. Then Cruikshank was summoned.
Lectures Boys
“I’m certainly surprised,” Miss Pillsbury told the two youths, who looked up shamefacedly at the skating party guests. “You boys should be ashamed of yourselves, breaking into houses like this. Now you’re caught. This should be a lesson to you and I hope you’ll not have to go to prison.”
An examination of the house showed drawers in several rooms had been opened and ransacked, many articles being tossed at random onto the floor. A gold watch and chain and a cigar lighter belonging to Mr. Pillsbury were found in the pockets of one of the boys, who said they were 14 and 15 years old, respectively.
Cruikshank took the lads to Wayzata and today brought them to the county jail. One is said to be on probation.
  A well-groomed Miss Pillsbury astride a well-groomed horse.

April 8, 1904: Gunmen catch Frank Pracna by surprise in his saloon

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: January 9, 2015 - 11:59 AM
Sorry to hear that Pracna on Main, a saloon that swung open its doors for the first time more than 120 years ago, has suddenly gone dark. Here’s a snapshot of one scene in the bar’s colorful past, as reported in the Minneapolis Journal.  


Two Bold Robbers Hold up Frank Pracna in His Saloon.
During a lull in business last night, Frank Pracna, a saloonkeeper at 117 Main street SE, was suddenly awakened from a pleasant nap by two men, who pushed their revolvers in his face and commanded him to deliver his cash. Taken unawares, the saloon man was unable to resist and handed over the contents of his till — $60 in all. The men left before the astonished proprietor could secure their description.
Pracna's saloon is in a lonely district. When the robbers entered, there was no one but the proprietor in the place. He had a large revolver near, but so sudden was the entry that he was unable to use it.
The police think that the robbers are the same pair that have been holding up saloons and small grocery stores in various parts of the city. 
The Pracna building in 1974. (Hennepin County Library Minneapolis Collection)

The Pracna building in 1974. (Hennepin County Library Minneapolis Collection)

July 16, 1931: Angry white mob surrounds Minneapolis home

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: November 26, 2014 - 12:44 PM

In June 1931, Arthur and Edith Lee bought a two-bedroom bungalow at 4600 Columbus Av. in south Minneapolis. The Lees were black; the neighborhood white. Despite threats from the neighborhood association, they moved into the home in July, along with their 6-year-old daughter. A group of neighbors offered to buy the home back for $300 more than the Lees had paid. The family declined.
Lena Olive Smith

Lena Olive Smith

“Nobody asked me to move out when I was in France fighting in mud and water for this country,” Arthur Lee, a World War I veteran, told the Tribune. “I came out here to make this house my home. I have a right to establish a home.”

In mid-July, thousands assembled nightly at 46th and Columbus in protest, many hurling taunts and rocks at the home. Friends gathered in the Lee home to show their support. Police stood outside, urging the crowds to disperse as tensions rose. On Friday, July 17, an end to the “race row” appeared near. The Tribune reported “definite progress” in negotiations over the sale of the house, and said it appeared Lee would move soon, perhaps within a week. The protests waned, but neighbors continued to pressure the Lees to move. Years later, they finally sold the house and moved to another part of the city, but only after waiting long enough to prove they could not be forced out.

The “Miss L.O. Smith” mentioned near the end of the Tribune’s dramatic account below is Lena Olive Smith, then president of the Minneapolis branch of NAACP. Smith, the first black woman licensed to practice law in Minnesota, advised the Lees through much of the conflict. Before earning her law degree, she had practiced dermatology, studied embalming, owned a hair salon and sold real estate. Ann Juergens, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law, wrote about this fascinating civil rights pioneer for the school’s law review in 2001.

[Reposted in November 2014 to note the passing of Pearl Lindstrom, who owned the home for more that 50 years and embraced its recognition as a historic site. Scroll to the end to read a brief interview with her in 2006, the year this was originally posted.]
Edith and Arthur Lee (photo courtesy of the Lee family)

Edith and Arthur Lee (photo courtesy of the Lee family)

Crowd of 3,000 Renews
Attack on Negroes’ Home

Stones Again Hurled at House on Columbus Avenue.
Neighbors Walk Out of Meeting When Peace Is Urged.
While city leaders tried desperately to effect a peaceful settlement of the affair, the rising tide of protest against occupancy of a home at 4600 Columbus avenue by a Negro family Wednesday night resulted in another, more violent demonstration outside the home.
More than 3,000 persons assembled outside the home, occupied by A.A. Lee and his family, to hurl defiance at the police and openly threaten Lee and his friends.
Every available police gunsquad was rushed to the scene to keep the crowd under control.
Stones Are Thrown.
From the windows of his darkened home, Lee and his friends looked out, as from a barricaded fortress, on a sullen, angry semi-circle of humanity. They heard themselves threatened continually, from all directions. They heard stones strike against the house and heard windows crash as some of the stones took effect. Now and then a firecracker exploded on the lawn.
A mass meeting of white home owners of that vicinity, held early in the evening at the Eugene Field school, was apparently unsuccessful. Half of the more than 100 persons who assembled at the school walked out indignantly as speakers were urging patience in the matter.
Police Guard Home.
“Let’s go over to Forty-sixth and Columbus and settle the matter right now,” shouted some as they left the meeting.
By the time the meeting was over the Lee home was once more surrounded by angry home owners, spectators from all parts of the city and a squad of 25 policemen.
During the early part of the evening the police were successful in keeping the crowd moving. Groups were broken up quickly and effectively. By 10:30 p.m., however, the crowd had grown so large that the police were forced to retreat toward the Lee home where they formed a protecting cordon. Standing 10 feet apart, they waited.
Patrolman Attacked.
Inch by inch the crowd moved closer to the Lee home, muttering threats, and loud in their denunciation of the police. More police reserves were sent for. A squad of motorcycle men mounted their machines. They drove straight at the crowd, turning sharply as they reached the front lines.
This only served to rouse the throng. One motorcycle policeman was pulled from his machine and a squad of patrolmen went charging to his rescue. Word was handed around that someone had struck a woman spectator. There was an ominous roar of disapproval.
Mrs. A. B. Blomberg, 4925 Columbus avenue, was injured in the leg when struck by the machine of a motorcycle patrolman near the scene of the demonstration at the Lee home. She was taken to her home after lacerations were treated by a doctor.
At 11 p.m. a hurry call was sent to police headquarters and every available gunsquad car was sent to the scene.
The crowd also was incensed by a practical joke that brought a fire department hose cart and a hook and ladder truck clanging up to the Lee home. The firemen were greeted with a loud chorus of boos by the crowd which took it for granted that the fire department had been called as an emergency measure.
The firemen, plainly confused by their reception, immediately turned their trucks around and left.
By that time the crowd extended along Forty-sixth street from Park to Chicago avenues and for a block along Columbus avenue. Refusing to obey the policemen’s orders to stay out of the street they advanced almost to the sidewalks in front of the Lee home, standing almost face to face with the line of policemen. The shrill piping voices of small children were heard over the lower, more deliberate tones of adults.
Fire Hose Asked.
Traffic was blocked completely on Columbus avenue and on Forty-sixth street. Cars were parked for several miles along adjoining streets.
From time to time during the evening groups of Negroes appeared and entered the Lee home. It was estimated that more than 20 friends of the Lee family were assembled in the house at the time the demonstration was at its height.
Toward midnight Captain William Walsh at police headquarters received a call from a man who said he was at the Lee home.
“Send out the fire department and turn a hose on the crowd,” the man suggested.
Captain Walsh replied that he had no authority to do that.
By 11:30 p.m. the crowd was in a dangerous mood, ready for any excuse to jeer at the police. When a detective, seeing a youth about to hurl a stone, arrested him, there was a movement toward the detective which was frustrated by the prompt arrival of motorcycle policemen. The youth was hustled into a gunsquad car and taken to a precinct station.
The appearance of several Negroes in the crowd also caused a commotion. Police immediately rushed the Negroes to police cars and hurried them away, fearing a racial riot independent of the difficulty regarding the Lee home.
Urban President Speaks.
Mayor Anderson

Mayor Anderson

At the meeting of the Eugene Field school, H.W. Rubins, president of the Urban league, representing Mayor Anderson, pleaded with the assembled home owners to be patient in the affair and to respect as much as possible the principle of property rights.
“This is a time for sanity and patience, not hasty action,” he told the assembly. “This government has been founded on certain principles of human and property rights. We must respect those rights.”
Rubins had addressed the home owners for a scant 10 minutes when a decided unrest began to evidence itself. Several rose and left the room. Then there was a massed departure which interrupted Rubins. Muttering angrily, those who left their seats hurried from the school to join the crowd outside the Lee home.
Let Committees Work.
To those who remained Rubins continued his address. He pointed out that he was present as an impartial, unbiased observer, in the interest of a satisfactory settlement of the problem. He asked that the committees which have been appointed be given a fair chance to work out a solution to the problem.
Albin J. Lindgren, 4621 Park avenue, chairman of a committee of home owners which has been meeting with a committee appointed by Mayor Anderson and Lee’s attorney, presided over the meeting and also urged that residents of the district be patient.
“Let’s give the committees a chance,” Lindgren suggested, “to see if we can’t reach a satisfactory settlement. I suggest that everyone stay away from the corener of Forty-sixth and Columbus tonight.”
Lee Won’t Move.
Lee himself, in a statement issued through his attorney, H.E. Maag, made it known Wednesday that he has no intention of moving as long as his neighbors continue their demonstrations. He said he is willing to meet with a committee of residents and his attorney and settle the matter in a peaceful manner. Then, he said, after the attention of the city had been diverted from the house he would move quietly to some other part of the city.
Efforts to settle the controversy over Lee’s purchase of the home were made Wednesday by interested groups on Mayor Anderson’s office. A definite decision was not arrived at.
The Minneapolis Urban league, an organization devoted to the advancement of amicable relations between whites and Negroes, also held a meeting in an effort to mediate the trouble and influence the parties concerned into a settlement.
The National Association For the Advancement of Colored People Wednesday charged the police department with laxity in dispersing what it termed an “unlawful gathering” at the Lee home.
Miss L.O. Smith, president of the Minneapolis branch of the organization, called on Chief of Police William Meehan and charged that the police department had been wilfully negligent in its duty in permitting the crowd to form. She said that if the demonstrations continue she will appeal to Governor Olson for aid.
Mayor Anderson, after conferring with representatives of the Negroes and white property owners in the district, asked the latter to “be patient.” He asked that some sort of truce be effected pending settlement of the affair.
April 2006 update: 4600 Columbus Av. is now owned by Pearl Lindstrom, 84. She is white. I stopped by to photograph the house and spotted her holding the front storm door open, peering out at the intersection where I stood, camera in hand. I climbed the steps to the house and introduced myself. She said she had learned about the 1931 protests only a few years ago when another man stopped by to take pictures.

Lindstrom and her first husband bought the house from a white family for about $12,800 in 1958. Were there any black families in the neighborhood when she moved in? “None whatsoever,” she said. How about now? “Probably about four,” she said. How about race relations? “There’s no problem,” she said, with a surprised tone that suggested that such a thing would be an impossibility in 2006.

June 6, 1877: The real Deadwood had odor all its own

Posted by: Ben Welter Updated: October 30, 2014 - 8:17 AM
Filthy. Crowded. Chaotic. The Deadwood of 1876-77 was in some ways even more unpleasant than the violent Gold Rush town depicted in HBO’s exemplary series. The Canton Advocate, published 400 miles to the east, published this eyewitness account of the stench and hopelessness that awaited fortune seekers headed to the Black Hills.

Special Correspondence from the Black Hills.

May 16th, 1877  
EDITOR CANTON ADVOCATE: I received your paper of May 2nd, a few days since, and was reminded thereby of a promise to write you a letter, after reaching this place. I will refrain from saying anything about our trip out here, which was so tedious and disagreeable that it is hard for me to refer to without using language that would be very unbecoming. We arrived at Rapid City, Sabbath morning April 22d. Rapid City is the first sign of civilization you see, after leaving Pierre. It is situated on the south bank of Rapid Creek, at the base of the foot hills, and is, I should say, a burg of 150 inhabitants. The buildings are all log cabins, one story high, covered with earth, and with a few exceptions, earth floors. It has a beautiful location with good mountain scenery south and west; and they claim its geographical location to be the center of Pennington county. Monday morning we renewed our pilgrimage; must see the elephant – that illustrious yearling – Deadwood. Between Rapid City and Deadwood we passed through Crook City. It is situated in the mouth of Whitewood Gulch, 36 miles west of Rapid, and by the road, 12 miles north of Deadwood; it is a town of about 400 inhabitants, has a pleasant location, at least you would think so after seeing Deadwood; any place I ever saw is a paradise when compared with it.
Outside Deadwood's Bighorn Store in 1876.

Outside Deadwood's Bighorn Store in 1876.

Well, on the 27th day of April, A.D. 1877, we first beheld the object of our search; your first sight of Deadwood, from the centennial road, is from a point almost directly above it, and within a stone’s throw of the central part of the town. Deadwood is situated in Whitewood Gulch, just below the mouth of Deadwood Creek. Its one street runs up and down the gulch, making the same number of twists and turns the gulch does, and narrows and widens with the gulch, so that at some places it is wide enough to be almost respectable while at others it is so narrow that it will barely admit a team and wagon. But its uneven, crooked street and unpleasant exterior are not its most objectionable features. The street seems to be a general depository for all kinds of filth; and within the limits of the town, are the decaying carcasses of dead horses, mules, oxen, &c., which emits their nauseous vapors, tainting the air, in some localities, so that it requires a strong stomach to maintain its equilibrium. Cholera and smallpox, it seems, must be the consequence. There has been several cases of the latter and I was told yesterday there was several smallpox patients in town at the present time. The actual population of Deadwood will not exceed 2,000, but at present there is not less than 10,000 in and around the town; every hotel and boarding house is full to overflowing and every room and cabin is crowded so there is hardly room for one more. A person coming to Deadwood is very fortunate to get a cover to sleep under, a bed is out of the question.
 Go in any direction you choose within five or six miles of Deadwood you can see a constant stream of people passing to and fro in every direction, many of them with packs on their backs that would make a pack mule shudder. They have with them, on their backs, a pack containing their bed, board and wardrobe, to which is generally added a pick, shovel, gold pan, rifle and revolver. There is in and around Deadwood, at a low estimate, 8,000 men looking for work, and hundreds of them are dead broke and would gladly work for their board, but the work is not here to be done, nor will not be this summer. The mines, as far as yet discovered, in the entire hill, will not employ to exceed 1,200 men and there are between 20,000 and 30,000 people in the Hills at the present time and hundreds coming in every day. Deadwood, as well as all of the other towns of the Hills, is supported by the pilgrims that are constantly flowing in; and as soon as immigration ceases, Deadwood, in a measure, will cease with it; buildings that now rent in Deadwood for $250 per month, I predict, before next December, can be had by simply occupying them. Deadwood, in my judgement, has reached the apex of its existence; every thing now is at a white heat. I would only like to be a property owner to dispose of the property. There is nothing in or about Deadwood to keep it up; of course agriculture is out of the question in its vicinity, and there is not mineral enough found as yet in its vicinity to pay a month’s rent at its present rental. There is absolutely nothing but some placer claims along Whitewood, half of which do not pay the expense of working, and are not being worked; even if they were rich they would not be of any permanent value to Deadwood, for one season would work them all out. Deadwood Creek and its affluents are the only creeks in the Hills that are paying anything worth mentioning, except probably Negro Gulch in the western part of the Hills, at the head of Deadwood Creek. There are some quartz claims [also called lode claims] being worked and there are several stamp mills in the vicinity of Gayville, on Deadwood Creek, and they say they are taking good pay out of the stone they crush. I am informed by the best authority and old miners that there has not been a defined quartz lead found in the Hills; they are nearly all cement rock and placer deposits; how extensive this is and how rich is yet to be determined.
If there is to be a town of any permanency in this part of the Hills, it will be Gayville. Gayville is situated on Deadwood Creek about 3 miles from Deadwood; it is a town of about 500 inhabitants and is surrounded by the richest ground in the Hills, both placer and quartz; it also has a decided advantage over Deadwood as far as location for building a town is concerned.
It would surprise you to see the importance assumed by many who stayed here last winter – many compelled to; they remind me of Bret Harte’s “First Man,” and many of them, I should judge, are characters of the same stamp; with what an air of patronizing superiority they cast their visual organs down upon a poor “tender foot,” with a look of mingled pity and contempt, which says, “you have only been here a few weeks; I have been here for months.” An old “forty-niner” of California does not feel half the pride in telling “I went to California in 49,” &c., as some of these fellows do in telling “I came to the Hills last spring when a man had to take his life in his hand and wrestled the country out of the hands of the bloody Sioux; and helped develop it.” … I do not say that every man that stayed in the Hills last winter is of that stamp, not by any means, but there are a large per cent of those shallow pated devils who imagine themselves immortal heroes to whom the names of all the illustrious of American history will only serve as a standing place from which to get glimpses of them, so far above that the eye can scarcely reach them. Poor fellows, I pity them.
Around the foot hills and extending along the creeks, leaving the hills four miles there is some splendid fertile valleys and for agricultural purposes, I should say, are hard to excel, but they are cursed by the same great enemy that has caused so much suffering through the northwest – the grasshopper. I understand they are hatching out in myriads around the foot hills.
Deadwood in 1876: "Its one street runs up and down the gulch, making the same number of twists and turns the gulch does, and narrows and widens with the gulch, so that at some places it is wide enough to be almost respectable while at others it is so narrow that it will barely admit a team and wagon."

Deadwood in 1876: "Its one street runs up and down the gulch, making the same number of twists and turns the gulch does, and narrows and widens with the gulch, so that at some places it is wide enough to be almost respectable while at others it is so narrow that it will barely admit a team and wagon."

I would not advise any one to come out here unless they fetch money enough with them to take them back again, for in all probabilities they would go back inside of a week. If you come out for the purpose of getting work, you had better stay at home, as there are hundreds here already, waiting for every job; I could hire a thousand hands to-morrow for ten dollars per month and their “chuck,” and they would do their own cooking and furnish their own beds and shelter. Board in Deadwood ranges from $10 to $28 per week [$215 to $600 in 2014]; flour was retailing yesterday for $28 per hundred [about $6 a pound in 2014], it is probably $30 to-day; hay is $200 per ton in Deadwood; corn meal, unbolted, is worth $14 per cwt.; potatoes, 15 cents per pound; butter, 50 cents per pound; eggs, 50 cents per dozen [more than $10 in 2014]; beef, 30 cents per pound; pork, from 25 to 30 cents per pound; sugar, 3 pounds for $1.00; beans, 15 cents per pound; horses are worth from $5 to $150.
Geo. and Frank Keller [reported in the Advocate to have left Canton in February] are opening up a ranch about 2 miles north of Deadwood; they have two or three acres cleared and plowed and planted. I believe they will do well. The rest of the boys from Canton, I am told, are on Rapid Creek engaging in mining and are feeling hopeful; what success they are meeting am unable to say; have not seen any of them yet.
One peculiar feature of the Hills are the daily showers. It has rained every day since I have been in the Hills, and I am told by persons who were here last summer that … very few days [pass] without more or less rain.
Well, I guess I have encroached upon your time enough for this time and will bring my scribbling to a close.
I remain yours truly,
RELATED: Also on the front page of the Advocate that day, under “ODDS AND ENDS,” was this one-sentence report:
—Deadwood is witnessing a slight stampede up the Creek, where it is reported rich diggings have been struck.


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