The History of New York State
Editor, Dr. James Sullivan
Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam
|was it as early as this, or
some years later, that the horse cars of the "huckleberry
road" pursued their devious and deliberate way to Fordham from the
old wooden Harlem toll-bridge?
But this brings us to Morrisania, named after the famous Morris family, which gave a Chief Justice to New York province, and a mayor to New York City, and to the whole country in the days when patriotism cost something, the many-sided Gouverneur Morris, statesman, orator, financier, diplomat, engineer, and finally a dignified and retired country gentleman. A delicious story is told of him by "Felix Oldboy" in connection with the founding of Mott Haven, now also become a part of the growing city. When the elder Jordan I. Mott has purchased the ground for his great foundry plant, as he received the deeds from the hands of the venerable Gouverneur Morris, he asked Morris whether he might call that portion of the "Patroonship" after himself, "Mott Haven." Morris was blunt in his older days as he was outspoken and fearless in his younger, and replied: "Yes, and for aught I care you may change the name of the Harlem River to the Jordan and dip into it as often as you want to." As Mott was not afflicted with the Syrian chieftain's leprosy he did not follow the latter part of this recommendation, nor change the name of the Harlem. But he dug a canal which has become a sad nuisance since, extending a good way up beyond One Hundred and Thirty-eighth Street. The same authority informs us that Morris even at his great age was vigorous at handlinga scythe or sickle, and gave his me no hard tussle to keep up with him at harvesting, in which bucolic occupation the retired statesman would regularly engage in spite of the remonstrations of aristocratic relatives. The noble old mansion of the Morrises stood near the water's edge, about where the Harlem and East Rivers joined their waters. The first house erected in what was the village of Morrisania proper, was that of a Mr. Cauldwell, in 1848, and a "Union" church was organized the next year.
Mott Haven was soon populated by Mr. Mott's prosperous operatives who built scores of cozy little homes in the vicinity of the "works," and to be sure that the name might stick to his manorial and industrial possessions, Mr. Mott put up a signboard that could be seen across the river with the legend "Mott Haven" inscribed thereon, and secured for it also government recognition as a post office station. it will make the denizens of Morrisania weep or smile accordingly to their predilections to be reminded of the fact that the place was intended to be a strictly temperance village; not only gin and whiskey and all that ilk to be banished there from, but also the milder intoxicants, beer and ale. The towering and multitudinous breweries of the district at the present time are a sad or an amusing commentary upon these laudable designs. Man proposes and some other power disposes; what the power in this case can have been, we leave to the decision of the reader. Port Morris at the extreme boundary line toward the sound or East river, then had its foundry, as today it has that and several hundred other imposing hives, to be seen far and wide along the shore of the broad waters whereon it abuts.
Little was it thought, in 1873, that the villages of College Point, and Flushing, and Astoria, all within view of Port Morris, with Riker's and Berrain, and North and South Brother islands, would all one day be embraced within the sweep of those city limits which had just brought this then remote territory in to New York. But farther than Port Morris lay the village of West Farms, and that , too, with all its memories of the past became a legitimate part of New York City and its history. Here the De Lanceys had their country seat; and hot were the controversies on election day in Westchester County between the Morrises and the De Lanceys, made irreconcilable antagonists and rivals by the arbitrary favors and disfavors of Governor Cosby, who put down one (Lewis Morris from the bench of the Chief Justice) and lifted up another (James De Lancey), without consulting anybody but his own will and his own pocket, as by this means he hoped to get away a few thousand pounds of back salary from stanch old Councillor Rip Van Dam, who had been acting Governor for over a year. Here at West Farms, too, a deed was done reflecting honor upon a name that needs the mention of all the honorable acts ever performed by its bearer to counterbalance the one dark deed that ruined him. Aaron burr led a daring assault on a blockhouse--built here by Oliver De Lancey, the brother of the Chief Justice and a rabid Tory; the very audacity and rapidity of the maneuver causing the garrison to surrender without a shot in its own defense.
After 1873, and in the process of making this rustic historic retreat a part of the city, sad havoc was made of roads and houses, great and small. The horse car, soon after the annexation, and the trolley now, have brought it into communication with Harlem Bridge, and the elevated road thunders post at no great distance. Ten years ago hills half cut away, houses left absurdly high and dry, that were once even with the road, or placed on piles with the very ground gone from under, gave evidence of the transition still incomplete. But even then, or even now, nooks may be found where pristine nature still revels in her unsullied beauty and human beings dwell in rustic retirement, all unconscious of the fact that they are part of a rumbling, rattling, thunderous mart of industry and commerce. Thus did New York take part of Westchester,; and will she let die these names that are dear to the antiquarian, and to the original villagers? The railroads have partly taken care that she will not. For Mott Haven and Melrose, and Fordham and Morrisania, and Kingsbridge, and Spuyten Duyvil and all, look kindly down upon us at every angle and it is not likely that these will soon depart from their time tables ortheir stations. The city having crossed the Harlem river was bound to keep bridges in its rear. It was not doing anything like crossing the Rubicon, but on the other hand was greatly interested in keeping up the means of crossing back and forth in the fullest measure. The oldest bridge by far, of course, is Kingsbridge, which superseded the ferry there in the days of the earliest Van Cortlandts.
For a long time this remained the only means of crossing to the mainland, and Washington, in 1756, as well as Lafayette, in 1824, on their way to Boston, had to make their journey round to this extremity of the island. Before the middle of the century, however, a toll bridge had been built across to Morrisania or Mott Haven from the end of Third Avenue. It was a wooden affair, none of the strongest or safest. It could not have been very old in 1846, yet even then people shivered a little in going across, and eye witnesses describe it as something of "a ruin, moss grown and shaky." Some years before the annexation this bridge was replaced by a fine iron drawbridge, turned by a steam engine, and presenting three great arches to the view as one came up or down the river, one on either side supporting the approach, and the larger central one revolving on a pier to allow the passage of ships. But this has had a shorter life than its wooden predecessor, for at the present ay, it is no more and for a year or two a splendid structure has been under way, allowing a greater distance between its bottom and tide water. For the same reason the Fourth Avenue railroad Bridge has been greatly raised. At Second Avenue a lofty bridge carried the trains of the elevated roads across the river. At Madison Avenue foot passengers and horse cars cross over by a bridge which has curved approaches, and leads directly from the avenue running south and north into One Hundred and Thirty-eighth Street, running east and west. Fro many years Macomb's Dam Bridge has become a familiar object. It was erected in 1861, high above the river, with wooden trestle-work, and wooden supports for the approaches. Often has its name led the innocent into dangerous semblance of profanity; but the designation arose simply enough. General Macomb undertook to throw a dam across the Harlem at this point; but the dweller's along the lower shores of the river could not endure this desecration, which made a mere mud creek of the stream along their doors. So they came up ina body and smashed the dam, but could not break the name away from the locality. In deference to delicate ears, however, the city fathers have tried, largely in vain, to christen the bridge with the name "Central." Struck with the fever for improvement the wooden structure was replaced only recently by a splendid high bridge of iron, graceful and strong, having a length of 1,920 feet and width of fifty feet. It was begun in 1892 and opened tot he public on May 1, 1895. Its cost was $2,000,000. It served to connect Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Avenues at their termini, with the annexed district; while from Amsterdam (Tenth) and St. Nicholas avenues comes down a tremendous viaduct the full width of one Hundred and Fifty-fifth Street, directly to the bridge, high over the tracks of the Eighth Avenue elevated Railway. A bridge conveys trains from the latter structure over the river, ruining there on the surface to various points in the annexed parts, and up to Yonkers and beyond Tarrytown.
Next in the series comes the move old aqueduct long known as High Bridge, erected at the first construction of the Croton Water System in 1842. And still above, at but a short distance, is seen the last and noblest structure of all, the wonderful Washington Bridge. Its lofty roadway, 150 feet above tide waster, leads from One Hundred and eighty-first Street and Amsterdam (Tenth) Avenue, straight across to Fordham heights. It is 2,400 feet long and 80 feet wide, and built of iron, steel and stone. The approach on the west side rests on four arches of granite faced with dressed stone, and that on the Fordham side on three similar arches. It was completed in 1889, but not formally opened to the public till the next year. #12
New York and the Arts--the metropolitan Museum of Art, which was to become one of the great show places of the metropolis, began modestly in the seventies in the Cruger Mansion on Fourteenth Street. the work of organization was effected by a committee of 116 prominent men, appointed at a public meeting on November 23, 1869, and in the course of the next year the Legislature granted incorporation. The nucleus of the collection was General di Cesnola's Cypriote group; and a number of paintings by old Flemish and Dutch Masters, that had been placed on exhibition at a home on Fifth Avenue, were added. As the collection grew the Cruger House was found inadequate and permission was obtained to erect the handsome gallery in Central Park. The building was opened to the public in 1880. One of the most prized adjuncts is the Cleopatra's needle nearby. In 1877 the Khedive of Egypt made to the city an offer of the obelisk, which in its ancient situation was placed near the Temple of On by Thothmes III. The news of the offer was received with enthusiasm, for there was something piquant about the thought that one of the oldest object of art in the world should be beaten by the wind and rain that swept through the newest of the great cities. The public followed the news of its departure and journey with great interest. A safe method of shipping it was devised and the expenses of the undertaking, amounting to $100,000, were borne by Mr. Vanderbilt. Its arrival almost synchronized with the opening of the Museum of natural History on the opposite side of the part from the site of the Metropolitan Museum, when President Hayes attended the official ceremony. There was a tendency to group literary and artistic collections of all kinds in the vicinity, and not far from the Museum of Art on fifth Avenue, between Seventieth and Seventy-first streets, the admirable Lenox Library was established by Mr. James Lenox, who had for years made the collection of literary and artistic treasures his hobby. A fine stone building was erected to house the rare manuscripts and books and paints, and the place was opened to the public in 1877. In course of time the Lenox and the Astor and the Tilden foundations were to be all housed together in a more central part of the city.
Statue of Liberty--About this time also there was a great accession to the art treasures of New York in the erection of the Statue of Liberty. Following the Franco-German War and the establishment of the French republic a design was conceived of giving some permanent expression of the community of interest and sympathy between the two great democracies. As a result a French-American Union was formed in France and 1,000,000 francs raised the 100,000 subscribers. After various tentative proposals the monument selected was a colossal figure representative of liberty enlightening the world, and the site chosen was an island in New York Harbor, where it would be visible day and night to those who came and went through the water-gates of the city. The sculptor chosen wasFrederic Auguste Bartholdi, who had been responsible for the statue of Lafayette in Union Square. When he arrived for the unveiling, in 1876, the sculptor picked out Bedlow's Island as the most suitable for the statue.
The next thing necessary was the building of a pedestal worthy of supporting the giant figure, and a committee, of which William M. Evarts was chairman, in a short time raised $300,000 for the purpose. The arm holding the torch was put on display at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, and afterwards placed in Madison Square. On July 4, 1880, the monumental work was formally made over in Paris to the American minister. It was temporarily set up in the French capital, and the presentation was graced by agreeable ceremonies. In 1883 the foundation of the pedestal was laid on Bedlow's Island, following the designs presented by the architect, Richard M. Hunt, and in 1886 the committee was in a position to announce that they were ready to place the statue on its base. In May, 1885, the plates of the figure were put on boards the French streamer, "Isere," and brought to New York. The French transport was greeted by a group of American war vessels, which escorted her up the bay with hundreds of other vessels in her wake. The ceremonies that preceded the placing in position and the unveiling of the imposing figure became a crescendo when the wonderful stature became visible itself. It surpassed everything of which the average New Yorker had dreamed in hearing of the preliminary work. The people saw with admiration the great torch burning in the uplifted hand more than 300 feet above the waters of the harbor. They regarded it as one of the wonders of the world added to the other wonders of their miraculous city and embodying the dearest aspirations that had inspired America's struggle to the summit of worldly power and prosperity. They reveled in the statistics with which the people regaled them. They listened with avidity when told that forty people could stand in the head of the glorious amazon, while the torch itself, glowing in the dizzy air, provided room for a dozen other people.
On the day of the unveiling 20,000 persons marched past a reviewing stand in Madison Square, where President Cleveland was the most prominent figure. The parade went down Broadway to the Battery, and later on the President was escorted over to the island. There were a number of distinguished Frenchmen present, among then the French premier, the Minister of Public Instruction, and some Senators and Deputies. Comte de Lesseps presented the statue to the American republic in the name of the French Republic, and William M. Evarts spoke for the American people and presented the pedestal. President Cleveland went through the ceremony of accepting both gifts in the name of the Nation. Then the sculptor, M. Bartholdi, removed the veil, and jubilation reverberated at the signal from the harbor and the city. During the weeks and the months that followed visitors crossed over in an unending streamto become more closely acquainted with Madame Liberty, whose grace and solidity so strongly captivated them. From that day to this there have been few objects in New York that have been looked upon with more curious and admiring eyes alike by visitors to the city from other parts of the Union and the immigrants which the aspiration typified by her has beckoned to our shores.
Centenary of Independence--As the year drew near that would complete a full century of American independence and Federal union the general disposition grew that there should be a recognition of what that century had meant to the Nation, not only worthy, but memorable. It was recalled that during the time that New York was the Federal capital it was still a town whose houses clustered within the toe of the island and to which even what is now Canal Street was out of bounds. In 1889 that small town had taken on the stature of one of the metropolitan cities of the earth. It was natural that a feeling of exultation should make itself felt among the people as they contrasted the city as it was with the city in which they lived and moved and had their being. There was probably no other city on earth where the line of development has been more direct and continuous, more stable and fruitful, and more filled with promise for the future. The approach of the centennial set new Yorkers, particularly those who belonged to the old Dutch and colonial stock, looking up the records and heirlooms that pertained to the history of the city. #13 they began to realize that they were themselves no longer a new but an old people, and that the city they lived in was filled with innumerable historical associations that should be preserved. Prints of the old New York that had lain hidden in the attic and the lumber room, as things useless and out of date, were now seen to have a value in proportion as the date they represented was dim and distant. People took out their old furniture and looked at it with a new interest. It was in such a chair that Washington or Hamilton or Jefferson had sat and they realized that a generation who knew not these might figures, to whom indeed they dwelt in God-like calm on high Olympus, would look with unending curiosity on the relics of an age that saw them with bodily eyes and which had seen the birththroes of the Nation. It was deemed meet, therefore, that in New York, as a theatre, should be staged a celebration of the great events that had then occurred which would be in keeping with its predominance among the cities of the Union and which would be an expression of the price and heartfelt gratitude of its citizens. Preparations for the festivities had already begun some years before, both the Chamber of Commerce and the New York Historical Society having on several occasions directed attention to the arrival of the centenary. Acommittee consisting of 200 prominent men, with Hamilton fish as chairman, began in 1887 to work out the program. The general committee divided itself into ten lesser committees, each of which took charge of a particular preliminary work. It was decided that the celebration would take place on the last two days of April, with the culmination on the first of May. Some idea of the program that would be followed was given our to the public and householders were requested to ornament their dwellings and places of business. The public cooperated heartily and when the auspicious days arrived the city was a glowing mass of color. Every year that passed with its celebration of one kind and another showed the people as growing more skillful in decorating the city. there were strips of bunting a foot or two wide, divided into three equal strips of red, white, and blue, the field strewn with stars, and drawing its motifs from the Stars and Stripes.
It was one of the main features of the program, elaborated by the various committees, to reproduce as well as the celebrants were able the series of events that culminated in the inauguration of Washington 100 years before. Thus it was arranged that President Harrison, representing the earliest president of the republic, should take train from Washington soon after midnight on April 29 and proceed to Elizabeth. Thence he and his party were to be driven in carriages along the old road to Elizabethport, where he was to be welcomed by the committee of Reception and taken on board the Untied States vessel, the "Despatch," and brought to New York. The "Despatch" was to be accompanied by two other vessels, the "Monmouth" and "Sirius," bearing on board such of the company as could not be accommodated on the President's vessel, and the trio of boats were to pass through two lines of war vessel anchored in the harbor, with Liberty Island as the starting point. The "Despatch" came to anchor in the East River near Wall Street, its journey across the bay reproducing in essentials the arrival of Washington who had followed the same route from Elizabeth in a barge rowed by pilots, as a similar barge rowed by twelve pilots carried President Harrison from the "Despatch' to the Wall Street slip. The President was welcomed by Governor Hill and Mayor Grant, as Washington had been received by Governor Clinton and Mayor Varick in 1789. A collation was served at the Lawyers' Club in the Equitable Life Insurance Building, after which the President was driven to the city hall. Here a crowd of girls stood with baskets of flowers which they emptied on the steps as the President passed into the building. At the door the Chief Executive listened to an address delivered by a member of the senior class of the Normal College in reminiscence of a similar address made to Washington on his memorable journey to the city as he passed through Trenton.
During the afternoon the President stood in the governor's room to permit himself to come in contact with the people, and on this occasion he is said to have shaken hands with something like 5,000 persons. Therewas a ball later at the Metropolitan Opera House. On the second day, April 30, the city was wakened up by the powerful cannonading, for this was the principal day of the festivities, and the centennial anniversary of the day of the inauguration. The street were soon filled by joyous crowds, but the deeper significance was testified to by religious exercises in St. Paul's Church, that were a reproduction of the services that occurred when Washington had attended church during the inauguration ceremonies. Later on there were ceremonies at the Sub-Treasury building, standing as it did on the site of the Federal hall, the President and those with him grouping themselves on a large platform that covered the flight of stairs and around the statute of Washington. President Harrison sat in the chair Washington had himself occupied in the Senate Chamber, and the Bible on which he had taken the oath of office was placed nearby. Prayers were uttered and poems were read, including one by John g. Whittier, and an eloquent speech was delivered by Chauncey M. Depew. President Harrison then spoke, and after the president's words had been warmly cheered, Archbishop Corrigan pronounced the benediction. The proceedings in Wall Street were followed by a parade of the military, the President and the other officials adjourning to a stand in Madison Square from which to review the troops.
The march was up Broadway, and the first division was composed of the West Point and Naval Cadets, and the United States Infantry, cavalry and artillery. The second division consisted of the militia of the several States, twenty-three of them being represented in alphabetical order and headed by the Governor of each State and staff. The third division was made up of posts of the Grand Army of the republic, with something like 10,000 men in line. At night there were displays of fireworks in the public places, and a number of open air concerts. In Madison Square there was a concert in which 2,000 voices sang selections from Wagner and other composers. The climax was reached with the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Oratorio of the Messiah , which was rendered by the massed choir and a band of nearly a hundred pieces. In the evening there was ad inner at the metropolitan Opera House, at which both President Harrison and ex-President Cleveland attended, and at which 800 guests sat down. So passed the second day. the third day was likewise ushered in at early morn with salvos of artillery, and perhaps this was the most popular day of all for the chief features was a civic parade in which 75,00 people participated. #14 This parade was also reviewed by the President from the stand in Madison Square, the marchers preceding this time down Broadway from fifty-seventh Street. The first division was made up of the children from the public schools and students from City college, Columbia University, and the University of New York. The floats excited the popular interest for they were quiteelaborate and represented well known events and personages in American history, as well as the different trades, professions and organizations. On the third day the President and his party returned to Washington. Part of the decoration that were put up to celebrate the occasion were some triumphal arches on Fifth Avenue, one of them being on the site of the fine marble arch on Washington Square. #15
these representations of a favorite species of architecture among the Romans greatly impressed all who viewed the, and it was resolved that the foot of Fifth Avenue should be invested with a more permanent memorial. Thus the Washington Arch was decided upon and the cornerstone was paid on Decoration Day, 1890, by the Grand Master of Masons of the State of New York, John W. Vrooman. The arch itself was completed in 1892, and the sculptures in 1895, when it was formally received by the city authorities. The arch when competed gave general satisfaction. It would not compare with the marvelous Arc de Triomphe on the Champs Elysees, which almost touches the summit of what is possible in work of that kind. But it was noble and imposing. It rose to a height of seventy feet and the upper portion was decorated with bas-reliefs of intricate design. Two inscriptions are sculptured upon it, one giving the occasion and purpose of the memorial, the other from the mouth of Washington on one of those occasions when the strong emotion that ruled him broke out into words of single-minded eloquence: "Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair. The vent is in the hands of God." so one of the most noted celebrations in the history of the city came to an end, providing the people with another milestone to indicate the progress they had made and endowing them with a sense of renewed pride and courage from the proofs provided that government of the people, by the people, for the people, had been vindicated in their work and in their name.
New York in the Eighties--The eighties had marked a fruitful period in the history of the city. Events of an important character had been frequent in those years--the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge, the extension of the elevated lines, the unveiling of the Liberty statue, the great blizzard, the commemoration of the Centennial of Washington's inauguration--these were typical of the development that was going steadily forward in the city. there were events also of another character, which moved the public. William H. Vanderbilt, the oldest son of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who laid the foundation of the family's great fortune, died in 1885, being at the time the richest man in the world, and leaving a fortune estimated at $200,000,0000, or twice what his father had left him. The great blizzard of 1888 claimed a victim in Roscoe Conkling, the eminent lawyer, who had been Senator form New York. He had made his way through the drifts of snow in the morning and gotto his office,. In the evening when he wanted to return home the cabmen accosted by him bargained for $50 for a fare, rather than pay which the ex-Senator preferred to try the journey on foot. But the weather was too much for him. As a result of the hardships of that day in the street he died a few days later.
The blizzard of 1888 long remained a favorite topic among New Yorkers. It visited the city on Monday, March 12, after nearly twenty-four hours of rain, so that the streets were like rivers. On this New York a heavy blanket of snow descended and covered the city with slush Then came a severe spell of frost, which turned the great expanse of slush into a huge cake of ice, swept by fierce gales and blanketed again with a heavy descent of snow. On the morning of the twelfth when the citizens looked out of their windows or attempted to pass through the streets they saw enormous drifts confronting them in every direction. The street cars were all confined to their barns and, though an attempt was made to move the elevated trains it was found useless. Snow plows were requisitioned, but they proved a sorry remedy, for though the mountains of snow might be removed, the gale still blew and the snow still fell and the depth of frozen snow underneath had taken on the persistence and density almost of concrete. The serious extent of the calamity dawned on the people as the day progressed. The market, the grocer and the butcher were divided from them by an arctic wilderness, and families without proper supplies were forced to go hungry. There was a good deal of distress and all the resources of the city were called upon to get things back to normal. The shifts to which people were reduced provided food for much laughter later on, but at the time the trouble was real and almost calamitous, and showed what the freak of the weather could do at times to a city that proudly believed it had learned to command the forces of nature.
In 1880 the population was found to have well over-topped the million mark--the actual figures were 1,206,500. The revelation brought home to the people of the United States that the metropolis of the country was forging to the first rank among the great cities of the world. The figure had a talismanic force. The population began to look on their home town as a city of destiny. The old slogans were recalled in which men of former times gave expression to their pride in the fact that they were citizens of no mean city. "She is a Mart of Nations. The crowning city, whose merchants are princes, who traffickers are the honorable of the earth." Words such as these had a mellow and meaning sound to the New Yorker who looked about him and saw the city growing everywhere, who recalled the vast fortunes piling up in the various department of trade and industry, who saw the great ocean liners swinging at the piers, and who sensed the dim populations of older lands who were looking to the city as a Mecca and the continent behind it as a Promised Land. The centennial celebration of Washington's inauguration ledthoughtful men to contrast the city as it was then with the city as it was in the year of that memorable event.
The New York of 1789 was a small and plain city, wrote one of the eye witnesses of the celebration in 1889. #16
Not until 1830 does the United States Census show an excess in the number of the inhabitants over that of Philadelphia. The city buildings of a hundred years ago are now surpassed by those of many a country town. The ravishingly beautiful and highly accomplished women, of whom it is the fashion to speak in a style of gushing sentimentality, were no more beautiful and not half as accomplished as their great-granddaughters. The magnificent entertainments of that day would now be laughed to scorn. A merchants prince of 1789, if now recalled to life, would find himself surrounded by men possessing individually more wealth than could have been gathered from all the city merchants combined a hundred years ago. The learning of the distinguished professors of that time is now surpassed by that of many a humble and unknown student. Nor did its inhabitants for many years after 1789 appreciate the magnitude which the city was inevitably to possess. New York, in 1789, was not even, like the poet, the mirror "of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present." Nevertheless, in every line in the much neglected history of the city shows advance and increased prosperity. There has always been progress and never retrogression. We, too, are "in the morning of the times" and as we look, perhaps with amusement, upon the supposed greatness of our predecessors, we may not too rashly sing:
Such is Drowsietown--but nay!
The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927
Transcribed by Holice B. Young
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