The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Calvary Cemetery

future freedom

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It’s Revolution and Youth Day, in the nation of Tunisia. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another day in Calvary, another dead New York City Irishman who changed the world.

During the period between the Civil and First World Wars, the well fed Upper Classes began to comment on the physical degeneracy of the Working Class. Back then, it was expected for an employee to labor 16 hours a day for six days a week. Sunday morning was for Church, but Sunday afternoons saw huge numbers filing into saloons and bars and getting hammered on Liquor. Government wise, it’s the reason why the so called “blue laws” were passed – banning the sale of alcohol on Sundays, but there’s always a way to find a drink (or Heroin, in the modern sense). The working class exhibited horrible levels of physical fitness back then – I guess something about having been a starving peasant who survived a transatlantic journey in steerage and now working sixteen hour shifts in some hellish fertilizer mill or sugar plant, being exposed to every conceivable industrial poison and darting amongst dangerous machines with zero safeguard… it wears you down. The tenement life, with its disease, crowding, poor quality food and water probably didn’t help either.

Across the industrial world, team sports and “physical culture” were created and encouraged, and modern day sports like Baseball and “track and field” promulgated to the unwashed. All roads lead to Calvary, of course, but the general idea was that by getting a bit of exercise – the road to the grave could be lengthened. The creation of the modern Olympic Games were a part of this physical culture movement. You couldn’t work in a factory if you could barely stand up, after all, so the famously sober Captains of Industry supported this burgeoning movement. After all – a well muscled employee can probably do the work of two and spare you a payroll expense.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Amateur Athletic Associations were formed, with the goal of toughening up the working class and getting them to lower the shot glass in the name of hurling a javelin, or sprinting a hundred yards, or tossing a ball around. Knowing that the fathers of America’s working class were already ruined, the organizers of this new physical culture movement decided to focus in on the sons. The fathers mainly became interested in “athletics” when they realized a new excuse to bet and gamble had appeared that wasn’t as “fixable” or rigged by the Upper Classes (like betting on the horses), but there you go.

In New York City, the Public Schools Athletic Committee was formed, and was headed by a fellow named James E. Sullivan.

Native to New York City, James E. Sullivan lived his entire life in what would be considered southern Harlem today, and his last address was found on 114th street. He was the assistant director of the American team sent to the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris, and Secretary for the American team at the 1904-1912 games in St. Louis, London, and Stockholm. Sullivan was everywhere in the 19th century United States that an athletics competition was underway, and served NYC’s “Metropolitan Association of the Amateur Athletic Union” in various functions on its board of directors for thirty four years. Sullivan’s professional life was in the publishing field, and he was the founder and publisher of “The Athletic News.”

James E. Sullivan wasn’t just successful in life, he was adored by all the right people. He was honored by and appointed to various National roles by Presidents McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, and Taft. The Kings of Greece and Sweden both decorated him, and honored him with feudal associations in Europe (specifically the Golden Cross of the Knights of the Saviour).

That’s his grave in LIC’s Calvary Cemetery above, and when his funeral cortège was moving from there (Roman Catholic Church of St. Aloyslus, at 132d Street and Seventh Avenue) to here at Calvary, the road was lined with 60,000 schoolboys mourning his passing – according to the NY Times.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

James E. Sullivan died on a surgeons table in Manhattan’s Mt. Sinai Hospital at 11 a.m., on the 16th of September in 1914. He was being treated for an intestinal condition. Sullivan had been ill since surviving a train wreck in 1911, over in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Inscribed with a white bronze plaque, the monument is dedicated to “James Edward Sullivan, born Nov. 18, 1862 and passed on Sept. 16, 1914. A second carving lists Margaret Eugenia Sullivan, born July 26, 1856 and died July 16, 1923.”

The plaque’s inscription reads “A tribute from the Metropolitan Association of the Amateur Athletic Union.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

– photo via Wikipedia, click it for their page on James E. Sullivan. 

You never know who, or what you’re going to find at Calvary Cemetery in LIC’s Blissville neighborhood. It’s a history book written in marble and bronze, found along the banks of the lamentable Newtown Creek in the borough of Queens.

Tomorrow, something completely different – at this, your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 18, 2017 at 11:00 am

ultimate blackness

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It’s Al Capone, Betty White, and Andy Kaufman’s birthday.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in LIC’s Blissville neighborhood, you’ll find the principal burying grounds of the Roman Catholic Church in 19th and early 20th century NYC, called First Calvary Cemetery. It’s called “First” Calvary, as there are three other properties found to the east in Woodside that the church refers to as “Second,” “Third,” and “Fourth.” First, or Old, Calvary has been in use since 1848. Calvary Cemetery is on a hill overlooking the Newtown Creek and is surrounded by the industrial zones of Long Island City and West Maspeth.

The majority of burials in First Calvary occurred between its founding and the Second World War, which means that the monuments found within its fence lines have endured the effects of the endemic atmospheric pollution typical of industrial America prior to the passing of the 1972 Federal Clean Air Act. Acid rain wasn’t a term used prior to that legislation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Granite seems to be the best choice for a monument able to weather the atmospherics hereabouts.

Marble rots away, obscuring the legend, iconography, and screed carven into the memorial stones. If you were to run your fingers across the surface of the stone pictured above, a sandy grit would transfer from it to your skin. To be fair, though, there used to be an acid factory right across the street from Calvary Cemetery.

That factory was opened in 1866, and was first known as “General Chemical,” then as “Nichols Chemical,” and then as “Phelps Dodge.” Phelps Dodge, of course, is one of the named “potentially responsible parties” or “PRP’s” in the ongoing Federal Superfund situation on Newtown Creek being investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Phelps Dodge vacated its property long ago. Back in 1901, when the corporate entity was still called the Nichols Chemical Company, community complaints and a law suit by the cemetery forced them to build what was – at the time – the largest chimney in the United States to release their acidic waste gases high above the ground. It was supported by wooden piles driven into the landfilled Newtown Creek marshlands their factory was built on. These piles supported a 25 foot deep concrete foundation, which in turn provided a stable enough base for a 22,000 ton, 367 feet tall chimney.

Roughly translating that to modern day “building stories,” this was a 36-37 story tall chimney.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For comparison, the sapphire megalith of Long Island City is 53 stories in height, but three of those stories are below the ground. The Nichols/Phelps complex employed close to 1,500 people back in 1901. The acid factory was merely part of their production line, and the high grade sulfuric acid they were known for as a mere co-product for their true profit center.

The main focus of their business was the refining of copper. The company was producing some 517,000 tons of the stuff, annually, back in 1901 when that chimney went up. Most of the landfill that the company had used to build out the marshy shoreline of Newtown Creek, and upon which they built their factories, was material harvested from the refining processes – specifically slag from their redoubts and furnaces. The original shoreline of Newtown Creek was anywhere from 500-1,000 feet back from the modern shoreline, more or less where the Long Island Railroad’s Lower Montauk Branch tracks are found today.


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sterile abysses

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It’s National Religious Freedom Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is a fan of the U.K.’s long running science fiction serial “Doctor Who.” A villain recently added to the rogues gallery of the time traveling television hero is a race of aliens called the Weeping Angels. These Weeping Angels appear to be statues, if you’re looking at them. Blink, or turn your head, and the Angel statue comes to life and “gets ya.”

I’m often reminded of these fictional extraterrestrials while wandering through Calvary Cemetery in LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I mention the Weeping Angels, as it can often be quite a creepy experience solitarily waltzing through Calvary Cemetery. I’ll find myself fixated on a certain bit of statuary, focusing in on its details, as with the Neville monument pictured above. In my mind’s eye, the proverbial “other shoe” is about to drop at any second when the statue will turn its head and stare back at me.

If they ever find me stone cold dead somewhere in Calvary, it will likely be the case that a statue reached out to me from its perch and a blood vessel in my head burst from the purest form of terror.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s probably the life sized statues that are the creepiest ones. Covered in nitre and lichens, there’s a lot of true art on display in this – the principal burial ground of the Roman Catholic Church during the heroic age of 19th century New York City. Mortuary sculpture doesn’t get its due, unless it’s literally older than Croesus, in which case it’ll be found at the Metropolitan Museum or the Louvre.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A truly striking bit of carving is found nearby the Greenpoint Avenue gates of the cemetery. The granite Quirke Naughton monument is stunning, and has survived the century it has stood here in fine fettle. The angel adorning it is more than seven feet tall, and the cruciform has to be at least ten to fifteen feet in height. Were this one of Doctor Who’s Weeping Angels – which might sweep a humble narrator up into its otherworldly embrace – only that inhuman thing which cannot possibly exist but nevertheless inhabits the sapphire megalith of Long Island City, and which contemptuously stares down upon the world of men with its three lobed burning eye, would know what became of me.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 16, 2017 at 11:00 am

sheerly perpindicular

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It’s Friday the 13th…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Tapophile? Ghoul? Trespasser? I’ve been called all of these things because of my devotion to studying the history of First Calvary Cemetery in the Blissville neighborhood of Long Island City. Calvary Cemetery, for the uninitiates amongst you, was founded by the Roman Catholic Church in 1848 to comply with New York City’s “Rural Cemetery Act” which proscribed the continuing interment of cadavers in Manhattan due to fears of contagious disease. Prior to this, it was common for churches to have graveyards, and far more common was the usage of the dirt floor basements of tenements as ad hoc burial spots for the poor. The law commanded all the major religious denominations to acquire and maintain cemeteries in “rural areas” to house their congregants – which at the time – was a description that included the south eastern corner of Blissville near its border with the Berlin section of Maspeth. The cemetery was consecrated by Archbishop “Dagger” John Hughes in 1848, and there are literally millions buried in this – the original property – and in the nearby Second, Third, and Fourth Calvary Cemeteries. The law also requires the disinterment of buried bodies, which was a ghastly process that occurred in the dead of night, and vast numbers of human remains were removed from their Manhattan graves and barged across the river for reinterment in the new rural cemeteries. There are so many cemeteries in the surrounding neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens that the term “cemetery belt” is commonly used to describe the vast acreages of graves. All of these are not Roman Catholic ones, of course. There’s a cemetery for everyone.

For Catholics, however, all roads lead to Calvary.

Calvary Cemetery was founded, and continues to be maintained, by the Roman Catholic Church – specifically by the Trustees of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, and it is a very special place. The Trustees consider the cemetery to be an extension of the altar at the Cathedral. To one such as myself, Calvary is a history book, left sitting wide open and found along the Queens shoreline of the noisome Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Your best bet is to wander in here, roam around a bit and see what you can see. If you come here looking for something specific, it’s going to be quite frustrating. Let the place talk to you, and it’ll show you exactly what you need to see – just like Queens itself. Don’t force it. Look up, down, all around. Notice things. If you take a hard look at these things, you might be offered a lost or occluded slice of the history of New York City.

That’s the grave of the Malone family – Father Sylvester Malone, his brother Edward and his sister in law Annie. Slice.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Father Malone… wow… it’s actually amazing to me that he’s not still spoken of in North Brooklyn. Beloved in life, Sylvester Malone was born in Ireland’s County Meath. Malone was recruited to the priesthood by Reverend Andrew Byrne in 1838, and came to America with him. In NYC, Malone fell into the circle of priests surrounding Archbishop John Hughes, and was ordained at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1844. Malone was shortly assigned to Old St. Mary’s church in Williamsburg. Malone worked a Parish circuit that included the East River side of Newtown (including Astoria’s Hallets Cove) and the former Boswijck – or Bushwick – Colony, including Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Bushwick. Malone formed a friendship with architect Patrick Keely (who also designed St. Anthony’s in Greenpoint and more than 200 other new gothic churches in the northeastern United States) and the two oversaw the construction of Sts. Peter and Paul church in Williamsburg, which Malone was permanently assigned to in 1852.

The inscription on his memorial reads: 

Sylvester Malone. Pastor of St. Peter and Paul’s Church for fifty five years. Regent of the University of the State of New York. Live in Charity with all of your fellow citizens. A curse on prejudice and ignorance. Bane of the human family. As long as you have existence, there can be but little peace and charity.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Malone was known for his open acceptance of people of other faiths, regularly attending the Jewish community’s Purim Ball, visiting the Masonic Hall, was an outspoken abolitionist, and encouraged his flock to perceive other faiths and cultures as neighbors rather than adversaries. Famously, he was one of the first Catholic priests to embrace the African Americans in his community, presenting honors to the Civil War’s Black Veterans Association. He happily interacted with Protestant denominations as well. While researching this post, some of the earliest usages of the term “tolerance” jumped out at me. You don’t hear much about the modern political concept of “tolerance” in the 19th century, and almost never from the pen of an Irish born Catholic priest based in industrial Brooklyn.

Malone was also a regent of the State University of New York, and remained at Sts. Peter and Paul Church until his death in 1899. Unfortunately, the original building housing his church was demolished in 1957, so I can’t show you that. A modern church building sits on the old site, but the influential gothic design of the original is lost to modernity except for a few blurry old photos.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were three Malone Brothers, with Sylvester being the senior. Brother Patrick was the middle son and a Civil Engineer by trade, and Edward was the youngest. Edward fought in the Civil War, was a physician and surgeon of some renown, and died at the age of 52. Patrick and Edward actually died within a few months of each other in 1890. There was a sister too, but I can’t tell you anything about her, and I’m not sure if she ever left Europe or not.

Dr. Edward Malone was born Aug. 5, 1832, and died June 16, 1890. His wife, Annie Loyola Malone, died July 13, 1916.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You never know what, or who, you’re going to find in LIC’s Calvary Cemetery.


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possible reinforcements

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Block by block in LIC, from grave to rail.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In a post last week – I mentioned that shortly after visiting the Kosciuszko Bridge construction site, the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself had managed to burn off the atmospheric gray miasma which had occluded it. As I moved inexorably northwards back to Astoria, via First Calvary Cemetery, the sky – and light – seemed to get better and better.

Pictured above is the skyline of the Modern Corridor of LIC, rising beyond the tombstones set into what those who lived during the colonial era would have called Laurel Hill. Note the change in elevation. The flood plain of the East River and the Newtown Creek is what they’re built on. Back here in Blissville, the ground begins to rise as you head eastwards towards the start of the terminal moraine of Long Island in Maspeth, and the bluff which gives Ridgewood its name.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the main gate of Calvary Cemetery above, stout ironwork which is decorated with the fasces of the Romans. Obviously, leaving Calvary is a privilege, as most who enter it stay there forever. In the distance, beyond the Queens Midtown Expressway section of the world’s longest parking lot – called the Long Island Expressway (in hushed whispers) – is the Degnon Terminal. The former industrial park adjoins LIC’s tributary of Newtown Creek, called Dutch Kills.

The street closest to the gates is Greenpoint Avenue. To the left, or south – is the infinity of Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The LIE arrived in Long Island City as the same time as the Midtown Tunnel, and a year after the Kosciuszko Bridge opened. It cut LIC in half, but when you’re in the “House of Moses,” that’s a typical and oft repeated story. An argument I often end up in is with those who have grown up in Western Queens who tell me that they don’t live in LIC. They’ll claim Sunnyside or Astoria are distinct, separate, and that LIC is “over there.”

If you live in a zip code that starts with “111” you live in Long Island City. That’s the code associated with the municipality’s former holding by the United States Post Office. Using the example of the “Miracle on 34th street” movie, if th USPS says it – it’s true. I win.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This used to be Hoffman Avenue, in a time during which virtually no one currently alive would remember. It’s in Sunnyside, which is the name assigned to the neighborhood surrounding Queens Blvd. shortly after the IRT Flushing Line was built and opened. The so called “Philadelphia plan” rechristened the north/south “named” streets of “Long Island City” heights, later Sunnyside, with numbers instead of names like “Bliss” or “Lowery” or “Laurel Hill Blvd.”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An east/west avenue, Skillman is named for an old farming family and provides the century old southern border for the Sunnyside Yards. There used to be a “Pest House” nearby, during colonial and early 19th century times, where sick and dying residents would be quarantined away from the rest of the population to avoid the spread of epidemics. Skillman Avenue is built on a bluff, or ridge, that used to look down on the pestilential swamps that sat between it and through which Jackson (modern day Northern Blvd.) Avenue was built.

All of that changed with City consolidation in 1898, and the later construction of the gargantuan Sunnyside Yards by the Pennsylvania Railroad company at the start of the 20th century. Robert Moses renamed the stretch of Jackson Avenue that goes from 31st street to Flushing as Northern Blvd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Famously, I can describe where you’ll find every single hole in the fencing surrounding the 180 plus acre Sunnyside Yards complex is located, and the one which provided vantage in the shot above is one of my favorites. It overlooks the Long Island Railroad Main Line, which has been carrying commuters from east to west, and back again, since 1870.


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angled planes

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Not rodents, the groundling burrowers are instead mammalian and obligate nasal breathers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The groundling burrowers have a nearly 360 degree field of vision, with their only blind spot directly in front of them at the tip of their nose. They are crepuscular (meaning they’re most active around dawn and again at dusk), and are digigrades (meaning that they walk around on their toes – five on the front feet and four on their stern). The sound of their screams are blood chilling, they have two sets of those chisel like front teeth, and just about every predator you can think of is after them. When one of their number spots danger, the groundlings are known to thump their powerful hind legs on the ground to alert the others.

The burrowers watch the skies. Death circles above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The groundlings burrow into the loam. Their tunnel entrances are well hidden, from above. The tunnels themselves are called burrows. If and when a complex of these subterranean tunnels – or burrows – is found, it’s referred to as a “warren.” More than half of the population of their entire race is found in North America. The males are called “bucks” and the females “does.” Should you find a place where a warren exists, you have likely found what’s known as either a nest, or a “herd,” but what is referred to most commonly as a “colony.”

The burrowers watch the horizons, for death can come at them from all sides.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They don’t burrow deeply, the groundlings. If at all possible, they’ll move into deep burrows dug by other animals, true rodents such as groundhogs or rats. In an ideal world, perfection would be a series of already excavated voids in the earth, which these lagomorphs could theoretically connect via individual burrows and create a multi acre warren. This would form a hidden groundling metropolis of prodigious size.

Safety is found below, where death means solace.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First Calvary Cemetery in LIC’s Blissville section, in NYC’s borough of Queens. Founded by Archbishop Dagger John Hughes in 1848 as the primary burial ground for the Roman Catholic Church of NYC. The final mailing address for millions of humans, it is observably infested with obligate nasal breathers – these groundling burrowers. Were it only possible to witness a cross section of the mound Calvary is built into, called Laurel Hill, and the warren it contains…

Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?

Upcoming Events and Tours

Sunday, August 14th, 11:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Wednesday, August 24, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. –
Port Newark Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

and madness

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Calvary Cemetery in Blissville, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Happened across this extraordinary monument over in Calvary Cemetery the other day. Depicting a weeping angel holding a bouquet of flowers, the top name on the stone is “Anna Genovese.” A bit of research was conducted on the name and year (1932), which unfortunately coincides with the second marriage of gangland leader Vito Genovese to a woman named Anna. Vito and Anna are actually in St. John Cemetery here in Queens, so this monument wasn’t erected in memory of Mrs. G.

It is a pretty Angel statue, however, and far enough away from the Newtown Creek side of Calvary to have largely escaped the acidic effluents of the Phelps Dodge refinery. The south eastern side of the cemetery exhibits stones which have the appearance of melting ice cream due to this effect. Granite is largely unaffected, of course, but Marble and Limestone alike exhibit pitting and decayed surfaces.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One realizes that angels represent the beatific and divine to people, but the whole concept gives me the willies. Over the years, one has indulged in studying the belief systems and bestiaries of the major religions, and a particular study has been made of the lore surrounding the so called “sons of fire” commonly called “Angels” and “Demons.” The Angels are, after all, the demons of God. Like Demons, Angels have naught but contempt for the “sons of clay” known as Men.

As a note, according to the last Spider Man movie, the section of Calvary Cemetery pictured above is where you’ll find the grave of Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This odd arrangement of branches had nothing to do with Angels, I’m sure. Likely it’s a grounds keeper who recently watched the Blair Witch Project movie.

My take on Angels actually angers the religious folk out there. When asserting that the greatest and most loyal of the Angels is actually Lucifer – the original version of the “fall” story wasn’t the medieval Aquinas telling of a rebel prince denying his feudal master – instead it involved a divine command, offered to the assembled host of Angels in Eden, to “love” the Adamic pair and their offspring as if they were the creator deity itself. The Angel Lucifer questioned how he and his brothers could love any as much as they loved God itself, and it was the act of reason and doubt which damned both he and the fallen.

Some early versions of the tale see Lucifer as actually volunteering to play the role of adversary, as his God deserved a better enemy than the primeval “opposite” entity called Satan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Angels are meant to be asexual, incidentally, but usually referred to with male pronouns. Not Hermaphoditic at all, the race of Angels are instead meant to display qualities common to both human sexes, but are thought to be entirely “smooth” downstairs. Of course, the idea of a winged humanoid is likely an oversimplification for describing an extra dimensional race capable of evading the Newtonian laws of thermodynamics. In occult circles, the theory that all the human mind is capable of, as far as interpreting and visualizing the totality of the “sons of fire,” is the form of a winged medieval knight. Same thing with the God entity, which is so totally alien that all we are capable of seeing is a “burning bush.” It’s literally beyond human cognition, the supranatural.

I know, pretty deep stuff for a Tuesday. Tomorrow – something more concrete, steely, and material.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 4, 11:00 a.m. -1:30 p.m. –
DUPBO: Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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