Bedford County: Muddy Boots, Cows, and the Places Preservation Takes You

By Torren Gatson, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

About two weeks ago, I received an energetic e-mail from Leigh Ann Gardner, interpretive specialist for the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area. Her enthusiastic message was directed to any student who wanted to venture into Bedford County to hunt for a stone building believed to be possibly a slave dwelling. After reading the first three sentences of the e-mail and seeing the words “slave dwelling,” I immediately replied and informed Leigh Ann that I would love to join her on this quick trip.

Leigh Ann Gardner documents a stone building in Bedford County.

Leigh Ann Gardner documents a stone building in Bedford County.

Only once our journey began did I learn how the  Center for Historic Preservation (CHP) had first found out about this location. The owner of the property had contacted our director, Dr. Carroll Van West, noted that the structure was old, and asked if someone could come inspect it at some time. Our journey to Bedford County and the town of Shelbyville was interesting, to say the least. I was in awe of the tranquility of the countryside. Rolling hills dot acre after acre of rich Tennessee agricultural land with accompanying livestock.

When we arrived at the landowner’s property, we began our hunt for the structure. We both knew that we were close as the navigation system (GPS) simply told us to “turn off the main road” onto a winding, narrow, dirt road. Immediately encountering a large yellow sign labeled “Dead End,” we quickly stopped the car and then proceeded to maneuver down the road carefully. It was clear that only one vehicle could (barely) drive down the road at a time. There were several clues riddled throughout the landscape that alluded to what may have once been there. The remains of a layered stone wall in the streambed quickly grabbed our attention. At the very end of the road, there were four homes secluded within the hills; each dwelling had signs clearly stating that they were private property. We decided to turn around and check out the farm area we had seen next to the road as we entered the property.

On our second pass down the road, we could see through a few trees a medium-sized stone structure. From the road, it appeared to be in excellent condition. The log roof appeared to be caved in partially, yet the building was a complete stone structure. Next to it was a 1960s-style camping home and what appeared to be twenty head of cattle. We parked the car and approached the area, only to be stopped by a locked gate with another sign warning off hunters. Leigh Ann decided that we should call the landowner and ask if we could venture onto the property to take better pictures and inspect the structure. The landowner answered the phone and was delighted to know of our arrival. He then gave us permission to get closer to the structure.

At this point, the real fun began. Immediately after walking onto the property, we looked down and realized that we were stuck in at least two inches of a mud-and-manure mixture. We knew that to reach this structure would not be easy. We plotted out the best route and worked our way through the mud. Our boots sunk deeper and deeper with each step closer. Once we finally reached the house, we both stood on old wood that was on the surface of the mud.

We had to venture through the mud to inspect the stone building.

We had to venture through the mud to inspect the stone building.

Standing in front of the structure, two things were noticeable immediately. First, this completely stone structure from foundation to walls was evenly proportioned, with one door and only a carved-out window. Second, whatever purpose this structure served, it was an old building. Leigh Ann noted that she wouldn’t be surprised if the structure predated the Civil War.

Could this wall have been erected before the Civil War?

Could this wall have been erected before the Civil War?

If you have ever had the feeling that you are being watched, that feeling suddenly came over me. As I turned to my left, less than one hundred yards from the structure were cattle mindlessly staring at us. Wherever we moved, they followed us around the property and made sure that we knew that they were watching us and protecting their turf. After we had taken several photos and made sure that we had captured all of the necessary documentation of the site, we attempted to retrace our steps back to the entrance of the property. Once out, we knew that there was no way we could set foot in the state vehicle until we placed our boots in the adjacent stream. We carefully lowered our boots into the stream and did our best to clean them.

Cleaning up after field work.

Cleaning up after field work.

The next step in this process will be to review the documentation collected and add it to the CHP’s archive for possible future use. As is the CHP’s policy, Leigh Ann told the landowner that she would correspond with him and share any pertinent information gathered from the visit. This is how partnership and collaboration often begin between the CHP and the community.

Although the trip took less than two hours, it was packed with informative insight into just how random, yet historically fulfilling, projects are that fall into the lap of the CHP. I have been at the CHP now for one official year. This trip afforded me the right to say that the CHP truly believes in the saying “boots on the ground”–or, in our case, “boots in the mud.”

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An “Oiseau Chantant” at Glenmore Mansion

By Noel Harris, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

The Center for Historic Preservation (CHP) recently asked me to look at the decorative art collection at Glenmore Mansion in Jefferson City, Tennessee. Built in 1868, the house served as the residence of multiple families and servants over the years. John Roper Branner employed highly skilled, formerly enslaved carpenters and masons to build the house. A vernacular, Second Empire-style house with Italianate elements, Glenmore evokes the spirit of the Newport, Rhode Island, “cottage” Chateau-Sur-Mer. Both structures include a multi-story, cupola-topped tower, shaded balconies, and mansard roofs. But, however similar to the Newport “white elephant,” Glenmore’s styling certainly speaks with a southern accent. Like many house museums in the United States, Glenmore is full of possibilities–and full of fantastic stuff from all different eras: raggedy stuff, gorgeous stuff, and curious stuff.

The house is gigantic. It has two main stories for living space, as well as a third floor that was never finished. The first two floors have almost sixteen-foot ceilings, and most of the large, square rooms open off a central hall. The house is so big that I was only able to document the furnishings on the first floor, including the hall, parlor, library, and dining room, on my first visit.

Glenmore Mansion, Jefferson City, Tennessee.

Glenmore Mansion, Jefferson City, Tennessee.

So many aspects of these rooms interested me, from the original wall coverings and the architectural elements to the book collection and the furnishings. However, one object inspired me to investigate further immediately. On a card table in the middle of the first- floor parlor, sat a little gilded cage with what appeared to be a stuffed bird sitting on a perch. Upon closer examination, I found a little yellow, feathered bird sitting on a perch decorated with artificial ivy. According to the museum’s docent materials, the object was a “Parisian” music box. I lifted the cage to see any markings on the bottom. I noticed that the bird was covered in a real feather coat that was coming undone and beginning to fall off. I looked into his tiny open beak, and, instead of a tongue, I saw a gear. Becoming very excited, I realized that if this was a music box, the bird was probably an automaton!

Singing bird at Glenmore Mansion.

Singing bird at Glenmore Mansion.

Automata are usually effigies of people, like harlequins, clowns, or dancers, but some are made to look like animals, such as birds and monkeys. Propelled by clockwork mechanisms, some play music, some dance, and some even write messages. They were usually unique and rare, produced for a particular patron. However, the Glenmore automaton seems to have been mass-produced sometime after the turn of the twentieth century by Charles Bontems, a “singing bird box” maker working in Paris, France. Bontems produced many different sorts of oiseaux chantants, set into jeweled boxes or placed in cages.

Calling card of Charles Bontems featuring the image of one of his caged oiseaux chantants. Courtesy of

Calling card of Charles Bontems, featuring an image of one of his caged “oiseaux chantants.” Courtesy of

Glenmore’s singing bird, when new, would have moved its head and tail, and then opened and closed its mouth in imitation of a chirping bird. Although the Glenmore bird isn’t able to sing currently, I found a video of a Bontems oiseau chantant that had been recently conserved. Rather than the tinkling of a standard music box, the bird’s clockworks force air into a bellows that is then forced through a small compression tube, like a slide whistle, that creates different notes. The sound is fantastic and quite natural.

Bontems's 1910 catalogue, featuring a caged bird similar to the one at Glenmore. Courtesy of

Bontems’s 1910 catalogue, featuring a caged bird similar to the one at Glenmore Mansion. Courtesy of

An inventory taken at the time the house was turned over to the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities confirms that the singing bird was a gift from a donor in the 1960s, rather than purchased by the Jarnigans, the family that had lived at the house since the late nineteenth century. However, the object was chosen for the collection because it reflects the luxury of leisure time and the financial capability to indulge in objects of beauty and delight. Through my continued research, I look forward to finding more curious objects at Glenmore Mansion.

See Also:
Leigh Ann Gardner, “From Cabins to Mansions: Rambling Through Tennessee’s Civil War Landscape, Southern Rambles (Sept. 2014).

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Prairie Mission School: Education and Civil Rights in a Rural Alabama County

By Kira Duke, Educational Specialist, Center for Historic Preservation

Back in the fall, I had the opportunity to travel to Wilcox County, Alabama, to do fieldwork with my colleague Katie Randall and CHP graduate assistant Amanda Barry. The purpose of the trip was to meet with community members who are working to preserve the Prairie Mission School and convert it into a museum. We wanted to find out how the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP) might aid them in their endeavors. The Wilcox County Presbyterian Board of National Missions Heritage Museum would tell the story of the six mission schools founded by the Presbyterian Board of National Missions between 1884 and 1903. These schools were the first opened for African Americans in Wilcox County. To give us a better sense of the county and the schools that would be included in the museum, museum board members Charles McCall and Bettie Rounsaville took us to see the school sites, some of which have surviving buildings.

Prairie Mission School.

Prairie Mission School.

During our trip, I was greatly impressed with the extensive campuses built at three of the schools that had secondary grades; two of these schools included student dorms. I was also struck by the oral histories of former students, who discussed the diversity of academic courses offered. Since our trip to Wilcox County, we have developed a heritage development plan that includes an interpretive plan for the museum. A large part of my contribution to the interpretive plan was to look at what role these schools played in the local civil rights movement.

Museum board members share with us details of the Annie Manie Literary and Industrial School campus. In the background, you can see one of the student dormitories, which is now being used as apartments.

Museum board members share with us details of the Annie Manie Literary and Industrial School campus. In the background, you can see one of the student dormitories, which is now being used as apartments.

To understand how these schools influenced the local movement, you must first understand how segregation and racial oppression affected the African American community in the county. Wilcox County’s economy prior to the Civil War was dominated by cotton and slavery. After the war, the economy transitioned from slavery to sharecropping but was still dominated by cotton up to the arrival of the boll weevil, which decimated cotton production. The population of the county has always been predominately African American, with an increase in black residents immediately after the war. Despite being the minority in the county, the white community continued to own virtually all of the land in the county after the war and operated a harsh system of racial oppression that prevented any type of advancement by African Americans.

The first of the Presbyterian schools opened in large part because of the vision and persuasive skills of Eliza Wallace, a principal at Knoxville College in Tennessee. During a visit in 1883 with Judge William Henderson, a former Union officer who had moved to the area after the war, Wallace persuaded Henderson to start a school on his property. This first school met in the Presbyterian church Henderson had built and was called Prairie Bluff Mission but would later be named Miller’s Ferry Literary and Industrial School (later Wilcox County Training School). The five other Presbyterian schools would open over the course of the next twenty years: Annie Manie Literary and Industrial School, Camden Academy, Prairie Institute (now known as Prairie Mission School), Canton Bend School, and Midway School.

Locals and missionaries alike saw education as a primary vehicle for improving conditions in the area and opening doors of opportunity to students. Dr. Kayte March Fearn, a student at Camden Academy beginning in 1929, recalled that her teachers told their students, “Our intent [is] to prepare you so that if there’s ever a time when we can be a part of that society, we’ll be ready” (Cynthia Fleming, In the Shadow of Selma (2004), p. 64).

By the 1960s, the Presbyterian schools had helped create a community ready to push for its right to vote. With occasional assistance from renowned civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bernard Lafayette, who were working in neighboring Dallas County and Selma, the African American community in Wilcox County waged its own campaign to gain voting rights. Many of the marchers and protesters were students at mission schools such as Camden Academy. Because of its location in the county seat of Camden, Camden Academy was one of the epicenters for the local movement. Meetings were held in the chapel on campus and outside civil rights volunteers were housed in the schools’ dormitories. The school was also the focus of white retaliation, which resulted in the school’s condemnation in December 1965 and subsequent takeover by the county. The white school board’s first action was to tear down the chapel and evict the chaplain, the Reverend Thomas Threadgill, who was a movement leader.

Camden Academy sign, which is all that remains from the original campus. The land is now the site of a public elementary school.

Camden Academy sign, which is all that remains from the original campus. The land is now the site of a public elementary school.

Students who had been involved in the effort to gain voting rights also spearheaded the push to address unequal educational facilities in the county and promote school desegregation. Desegregation, however, was slow in coming to Wilcox County. It would be almost twenty years after the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision before the schools of the county would be desegregated. Unfortunately, desegregation would bring the closing of each of the still-operating mission schools.

The story of the Presbyterian Board of National Missions schools in Wilcox County is a fascinating study in the desire of a community to gain education and how that education can change lives. The CHP is looking forward to working on additional projects with the Wilcox County Presbyterian Board of National Missions Heritage Museum and possibly developing a driving tour to highlight key sites related to African American history in the county.

See Also:

Alabama Historical Commission, Prairie Mission National Register Nomination (2001).


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Progress on the Rutherford County Cemetery Survey

By Michael Fletcher, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

A year ago, the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP) teamed up with the Rutherford County Office of Information Technology, the Rutherford County Archives, and Bradley Academy Museum and Cultural Center to begin a survey of all Rutherford County cemeteries. Since then, CHP alum Catherine Hawkins and I have traveled the county, locating and electronically mapping these pieces of our history. Much of our work builds on an earlier survey compiled by local historian Ernie Johns, with a large team of volunteers, beginning in the early 1970s. Still, through archival research and tips from the public, we have managed to locate and verify many cemeteries left off the original list.

Old Section of Jackson Ridge Cemetery, Jackson Ridge Road.

Old section of Jackson Ridge Cemetery, Jackson Ridge Road.

To date, we have visited almost 600 out of an estimated 800 cemeteries in Rutherford County. We hope to finish our field work by late spring or early summer. Eventually, our results will be available to the public with a searchable, informative Web site. Not only will this tool provide assistance to the county’s many genealogists and amateur historians, but it will also be useful to our county government in terms of growth and planning.

Catherine and I are often asked if we have any “favorite” cemeteries. This question might sound odd, but, more to the point, it is a difficult one to answer. Throughout our travels, we have been struck by the sheer variety of cemeteries, large and small. Rutherford County’s cemeteries represent an array of beliefs and funerary traditions.

Bradley Creek Cemetery, Bradley Creek Road.

Bradley Creek Cemetery, Bradley Creek Road.

Most people are familiar, of course, with the county’s larger cemeteries, such as Evergreen Cemetery in Murfreesboro and Roselawn Memorial Gardens on New Nashville Highway. The largest number of cemeteries, however, are small family plots, with fewer than 25 graves. Many are even smaller, with only one or two burials.

Trimble Slave Cemetery, adjacent to Trimble Cemetery on E. Trimble Road.

Trimble Slave Cemetery, adjacent to Trimble Cemetery on E. Trimble Road.

While most cemeteries in the county are rural, we have encountered graves in unlikely urban settings, including three unknown burials behind a house on Burton Street in Murfreesboro. In this case, the headstones had collapsed and had been slowly covered with earth. Similarly, some old cemeteries are located in modern subdivisions, a sure sign of the county’s growth that underscores this project’s importance for future planning.

If you have any information regarding cemeteries or graves in your area, please contact us at the Rutherford County Archives, 615-867-4609.

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Life During Wartime: Tennessee’s Civil War GIS Expands to Reveal African American History

By Dr. Susan W. Knowles, Digital Humanities Research Fellow, Center for Historic Preservation

I recently heard a National Public Radio story on the Syrian refugee crisis. It is shocking to realize that as much as fifty percent of the population has been displaced by three years of war. The reporter interviewed those in border area camps and described their overall feelings of hopelessness. Many had left home with little more than the clothes on their backs. Young men think that they have no future. Heads of households worry about how to take care of their families. Mothers try to comfort their children, cooking in primitive conditions with unfamiliar ingredients.

These perspectives on day-to-day life in the refugee camps pulled my mind’s eye to war-torn Tennessee during the Civil War—and especially to the plight of the many thousands who were displaced by the fighting. Those who had the means to do so left the state temporarily or sent their children to schools away from the war zone. Many who remained suffered severe privations. Life for African Americans proved especially difficult. Free-born, newly freed, or still enslaved, they faced severe challenges—not just from the perils of nearby combat but also from a society in transition.

For the past year, our partners at the Tennessee State Library & Archives and MTSU’s Geospatial Research Center have been creating an electronic map showing events and places where African American Tennesseans began to claim freedom and citizenship. (As the Center for Historic Preservation’s digital humanities research fellow, I worked with the team throughout the project.) Produced with matching funds from the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, this interactive map went live on February 13th. Now, the African American story takes its place alongside the overall wartime military history of the state in Tennessee’s online Civil War GIS (Geographic Information System). The project title, Landscape of Liberation: The African American Geography of Civil War Tennessee, is meant to evoke an image of time and place.

The Camp of the Contrabands on the Banks of the Mississippi, Fort Pickering, Memphis, Tenn—from a sketch by Henri Lovie, published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Nov. 22, 1862 (Courtesy of Shades of Gray and Blue (

“The Camp of the Contrabands on the Banks of the Mississippi, Fort Pickering, Memphis, Tenn.,” from a sketch by Henri Lovie, published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Nov. 22, 1862 (Courtesy of Shades of Gray and Blue (

At first labeled “contraband of war” by the Federal forces, formerly enslaved Tennesseans began moving into the public sphere as freedmen and women as the war progressed. Many were forced to flee their former homes as properties were destroyed or changed hands; others chose to leave and take their chances with Union authorities. Some remained, and tried to keep farms operating for community sustenance. Often with only a few possessions, those who chose to relocate encountered empty roads, neglected farm fields, and garrisoned towns.

Life was fraught with uncertainty in a state with such divided loyalties as Tennessee. The vote on secession had been almost evenly split. Because the capital and key sections of the state were officially under Federal jurisdiction by mid-1862, the Emancipation Proclamation issued on January 1, 1863, did not apply to Tennessee. There was no firm guarantee of civil rights for African Americans by public officials or in courts of law.

Map created by Patricia VornDick for the Crossville Military History Museum, showing counties that voted to join the Confederate States of America in beige, and those voting to remain loyal to the United States of America in gray. The white lines are modern county boundaries.

Map created by Patricia VornDick for the Crossville Military History Museum, showing counties that voted to join the Confederate States of America in beige, and those voting to remain loyal to the United States of America in gray. The white lines are modern county boundaries.

For African Americans, every encounter with an unknown person was potentially threatening. Many traveled known transportation corridors and sheltered near Federal encampments. Some men and women found employment with the Union military. By late 1863, thousands of men had enlisted in regiments that eventually came to be known as United States Colored Troops. More than 20,000 African American soldiers from Tennessee ultimately fought for the Union, the third largest total from any state. Scholars now agree that the strength, courage, and labor provided by USCT regiments ultimately turned the tide of war.

Landscape of Liberation is clickable by place on the map itself and searchable by county and locality. Either way, a synopsis of “what happened here” pops up and links to a primary source. For example, a hand-drawn map by W.O. Ferree of Fort Pickering, from the collection of the Tennessee State Museum, is labeled with specific locations, including a tent encampment of the “1st Battalion Colored Troops” at the south end. From military records, we know that Fort Pickering, located in Memphis on the banks of the Mississippi River, became the primary mustering site in Tennessee for “colored troops…as heavy artillery” beginning in the spring of 1863.

The Landscape of Liberation GIS application shows the self-emancipation of African Americans spatially and the extent to which they armed and fought for the Union. Overlapping clusters of activity in certain areas will prompt questions about whether similar events were occurring in smaller population pockets across the state. As those stories emerge through community outreach and additional research, the map will continue to expand, writing a new chapter of this transformative time in Tennessee’s history.

See Also:

“New Online Application Maps African-American History During the Civil War in Tennessee,” Library and Archives News: The Tennessee State Library and Archives Blog (Feb. 24, 2015).

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Changes Come to Tennessee’s Courthouse Squares

By Antoinette G. van Zelm, Programs Manager, Center for Historic Preservation

This image shows Union army tents on the lawn to the left of the Rutherford County Courthouse in about 1864.

This image shows Union army tents on the lawn to the right of the Rutherford County Courthouse in about 1864.

The Civil War and Reconstruction transformed many of Tennessee’s courthouse squares–at least temporarily. From occupying Union soldiers to newly freed African Americans, the very people who conducted business, held political meetings, and gathered to share news changed dramatically in towns across the state.

During the antebellum period, the courthouse square had solidified its position as the center of commerce, politics, and progress in Tennessee’s county seats. When the Civil War broke out, young men were recruited, feted, and sent off from these same squares. As the Union army made inroads into Middle and West Tennessee in 1862, Federal officers quickly discovered the significant practical and symbolic value of the courthouse and its square.

The house, located across from the Rutherford County Courthouse, where Alice Ready lived during the first few years of the Civil War.

Alice Ready lived here, just off the public square, in Murfreesboro during the first few years of the Civil War.

Courthouse squares became the sites of power struggles between Union occupiers and Confederate supporters, including many women. In Murfreesboro in the spring of 1862, for example, Alice Ready had one of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s cavalrymen bring her the Rutherford County Courthouse flagstaff so that approaching Union troops would not be able to raise the Stars and Stripes over the building when they arrived in town. When the occupying forces later got wind that Alice had the flagstaff, she had it cut up, and then she tossed the pieces into “a fire hot enough to burn a whole Yankee.” Later that summer, Confederate supporter Kate Carney visited local citizens imprisoned at the courthouse and bluntly told the Union guards what she thought of them. Murfreesboro’s square became a full-fledged battleground just a few days later, when Confederate Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest attacked the courthouse and freed its prisoners on July 13, 1862.

Marker on Sumner County, TN, Courthouse Square

This marker on the Sumner County Courthouse square indicates that African American men volunteered for the Union army on the square in 1863.

Emancipation also played out in Tennessee’s courthouse squares during and after the war. While African Americans had always been visible in town, often as slaves who were working for their owners, after emancipation they came to courthouse squares with new agendas. Men enlisted in the United States Colored Troops. As early as 1864, African Americans of all ages and both sexes gathered for political rallies and Emancipation Day celebrations. During Reconstruction, businesses opened that catered specifically to newly freed people–quite a contrast to the slave markets that had previously been located on Tennessee’s public squares.

This advertisement for a Freedmen's Store ran in the Jan. 1, 1868, edition of the Freedom's Watchman newspaper in Murfreesboro.

This ad ran in the Jan. 1, 1868, edition of the Freedom’s Watchman newspaper in Murfreesboro.

In this “world turned upside down,” Tennessee’s courthouse squares were contested terrain during Reconstruction. Political speeches and marches by formerly enslaved citizens took place under the threat of violent retaliation by white residents, many of whom were unwilling to accept African Americans as civic actors and were opposed to the Republican Party that most black Tennesseans supported. In 1867-68, the courthouse squares in Franklin, Murfreesboro, and Rogersville filled with the sounds of gunfire as political tensions erupted in racially charged “riots.”

About 11:00 A.M. the drums were beating and the banners were brought out. The speaker came out and proceeded to the Court House and the procession followed.”–A.N.C. Williams of Franklin, describing the July 6, 1867, political rally and belated July Fourth celebration led by the Colored Union League, of which he was a member.

During the post-Reconstruction years, Tennessee’s courthouse squares underwent physical changes as Victorian buildings replaced antebellum structures. Commemorative monuments and markers, many of which hearkened back to the Civil War, appeared at the turn of the century–and these will be the subject of my next blog post.

See Also:

Diary of Kate S. Carney, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina.

Diary of C. Alice Ready, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina.

James B. Jones, Jr., “The ‘Battle’ of Franklin: A Reconstruction Narrative,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly LXIV (Summer 2005): 110-119.

Occupied Murfreesboro: Historic Photographs from the Civil War Era (MTSU Center for Historic Preservation, 2004).

Lisa C. Tolbert, Constructing Townscapes: Space and Society in Antebellum Tennessee (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1999).

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