Posts Tagged With: JWB

John Wilkes Booth in the Woods: Part 4

Part 4 of my series, John Wilkes Booth in the Woods, is now edited and uploaded!


In an effort to keep all the videos together and in one easily accessible place, I’ve created a new page here on BoothieBarn for the series.

You can access the John Wilkes Booth in the Woods page a few different ways:

1. I’ve added a link to the page on the menu bar at the very top of the site:

JWB Woods top Menu

2.  You can find a link to it listed on the side of the site under the “Pages” header:

JWB Woods Pages

3. Easiest of all, clicking the following picture will take you right to the page.  I’ll be sure to include this image in future posts about the series:

John Wilkes Booth in the Woods

As more videos are completed I’ll add them to the John Wilkes Booth in the Woods page and write a quick post to let you all know a new video is up. Thank you for your continued support and patience.

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John Wilkes Booth in the Woods: Parts 1 – 3

For about four and a half days between April 16 – April 21, 1865, John Wilkes Booth and his accomplice, David E. Herold, hid from federal troops in the southern Maryland woods.  Near the 149th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, I undertook a project to reenact, as accurately as possible, this often forgotten part of the assassin’s escape route. My hope was to gain a better understanding of Booth’s conditions and the impact those days in the woods had on his state of mind.  The follow videos are parts of a series I’m calling “John Wilkes Booth in the Woods” which documents my endeavor.

I’m very pleased to present the first three parts of the “John Wilkes Booth in the Woods” project for your viewing pleasure:

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:


As editing of the footage continues, new parts will be uploaded and released here on BoothieBarn.  Stay tuned for much, much more!

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JWB at The Rocks

On August 8th, 1854, 16 year-old John Wilkes Booth wrote the following to his friend William O’Laughlen (the older brother of his future conspirator Michael O’Laughlen):

“I paid another visit to the Rocks of Deer Creek the other day. it looks just the same and sunday I whent to that large camp meeting with the hope of seeing you there. but I was dissipointed. I saw John Emlet there or that fellow that works in your shop. The Indian’s where up here the other day with their great Bear.”

The “Rocks of Deer Creek” that Booth describes is a natural outcropping of rocks above Deer Creek in Harford County, MD.  It is about 11 miles distant from the Booth family home of Tudor Hall.  “The Rocks” as it was called by most, was a popular attraction for the locals during the time that the Booth children were growing up.  The area served as a common gathering spot for Christian camp meetings and even reenactments of medieval jousting tournaments, the official sport of Maryland.  The Booths traveled to the Rocks frequently for entertainment and to take part in the social activities planned there.  John Wilkes Booth wrote another letter to Billy O’Laughlen on June 18th, 1855 describing an upcoming event at the Rocks:

“Then comes the grand affair. A pick nick party to be held on the rocks of Deer crick. Thirty-seven couples to attend”

His sister, Asia Booth, also wrote to her friend, Jean Anderson, about this upcoming trip by John to the Rocks:

“John is going on a picnic to the rocks tomorrow. Oh, those great rocks.”

The Rocks are great indeed.  Today the area is an official Maryland park called, appropriately, Rocks State Park.  It was previously named Deer Creek State Park.  The park is home to the second highest waterfall in Maryland, the Deer Creek is a prime place to fish and go tubing, and many take advantage of the hiking trails.  The biggest attraction, however, is the precarious 190 feet rock outcropping called the King and Queen Seat.

King and Queen Seat 1

Here is a picture of me standing at the edge of the outcropping of the King and Queen seat.

Dave on King and Queen Seat

The spot is quite beautiful but not for those who are afraid of heights.

King and Queen Seat Pano

In addition to its magnificent beauty, the King and Queen Seat also serves as a giant memorial to generations of visitors.  The rocks are literally covered with carvings.  These carvings consist of the names and dates of souls who have long since passed, many of them dating to around the Civil War era.  Though many of them are hard to see today, worn down with the passage of time, some are still incredibly clear…

Carvings on the King and Queen Seat

…or, with the spraying of some water, others suddenly leap to life:

Carvings near the King and Queen Seat

It was these carvings that brought me back to the Rocks of Deer Creek after having visited the park the last year.  Between that first visit and today, I had learned that one of the names supposedly carved on the Rocks was that of John Wilkes Booth.

As demonstrated by the letters, we know, at the very least, that John Wilkes Booth visited the Rocks on multiple occasions.  So, regardless of the outcome of my search, I was pleased to know that I was walking on the same ground and viewing the same awe inspiring vista that teenage John Wilkes Booth once witnessed.  The idea that John Wilkes Booth’s name is one of the many carved on the King and Queen Seat comes from author Stanley Kimmel who wrote, The Mad Booths of Maryland. In the comments part of the book Kimmel wrote the following:

“While exploring these rocks, the present writer came upon the names of W. H. Schuck, a boyhood playmate of John Wilkes Booth, and of J. Booth carved on a large boulder.  It was a place to which the Booth children often rode on horseback during their vacations, and the Tournaments were surely witnessed by John Wilkes, who was at home much more than Edwin.”

The idea of searching the massive King and Queen Seat and the surrounding boulders for the “J. Booth” found by Kimmel was a daunting one. To ease my search somewhat, I was blessed to have the scholarship of Richard Sloan.  Richard is an original Boothie who, for many years in the 1970’s and 80’s published his own Lincoln assassination newsletter, The Lincoln Log.  In 1977 Richard published an article about another brave soul who searched for Kimmel’s “J. Booth” and was successful:

1977 05 - 183

As helpful as this piece was (especially the picture of the carving), it did not give a detailed location of the carving at the site.  In the days before GPS however, how exact could you really get?  I played with the idea of revisiting the Rocks last summer to search for this carving but felt that, without a bit more to go on, the likelihood of discovering the carving was quite remote.  I put it on the back burner pending some more investigation.  Then, in August, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Michael Kauffman, author of American Brutus.  I brought up the carving to him and my desire to look for it.  Though it had been many years since he had visited the Rocks, he gave me his best recollections of it and even drew me a rough map on the back of a restaurant placemat.  He wished me luck in my search but also expressed one caveat which will follow later.

For eight months I waited for a good opportunity to make the 2 and 1/2 hour drive up to Harford County.  When I saw that author and fellow Boothie Jim Garrett was going to speak today at Tudor Hall, I decided that the trip would be justified even if I failed.

Armed with the scrawled map from Michael Kauffman, the above page from the Lincoln Log, a dish brush, and a spray bottle of water I drove to Rocks State Park and hiked up to the King and Queen Seat.  Well, wouldn’t you know it, Michael Kauffman’s memory was wonderfully accurate and his map, as basic as it was, led me to the the right boulder straight away.  I sprayed the water on the boulder and quickly saw the name “W. H. Schuck”  just as Kimmel described.  Below it was another “Schuck”.  I sprayed around the whole boulder, and used the brush to clear up the rock a bit and remove some of the moss.  Then, a familiar looking engraving appeared right near the edge of the boulder:

Booth carving at Deer Creek

I knew that I had found Kimmel’s “J. Booth”.  It was on the same boulder as W. H. Schuck and the features of the rock matched the picture from the Lincoln Log.  Success!…sort of.  Shortly after scrubbing the area clean a bit more, I discovered that Kauffman’s caveat proved to be true. Before drawing me the map eight months before, Michael Kauffman had told me directly that he did not believe that the carving said “J. Booth”.  Kimmel and others had seen what they wanted to see.  After examining the carving carefully, I sadly have to agree.  There is no way the carving is of “J. Booth”.  The last letter in the name is unarguably an “E” not an “H” and the supposed “B” in Booth is most likely an “H” as the bottom is open instead of closed.  I used a stick the trace the carving and this helped to show the carving a bit more clearly:

J Hoote

My best guess is that this name is “J. HOOTE” not “J. BOOTH”.

Though a tad disappointed, I did not leave the Rocks feeling dejected.  This whole endeavor is a perfect example of how the process of researching can be even more rewarding than the product.  The product of the research was determining for myself that the carving identified by Kimmel was NOT done by John Wilkes Booth – barely a speck of minutiae in the grand scheme of history.  The process, however, was incredibly rewarding.  I visited the Rocks a year ago, told my colleagues at the Lincoln Discussion Symposium about it, heard about the story of Booth’s name, investigated the prior research, interviewed a person who had seen it, and successfully found the rock, among thousands, containing the same carving.   Just because the product was not what I was hoping for does not negate the enjoyment I felt in investigating it.

If you’re ever in the area, I recommend you all visit Rocks State Park.  Not only can you enjoy the beautiful vista of the King and Queen Seat but you can also hike around with the knowledge that you are walking on the same land that the Booth children once enjoyed.

And, if you’re curious, there’s a boulder practically on the left of the path before you get to the seat.  Clean it off, spray it with some water, and investigate Stanley Kimmel’s “J. Booth” for yourself.

Carving with Seat in distance

With the edge of the King and Queen Seat in the distance, my spray bottle of water, brush and piece of paper in the foreground mark the boulder containing Stanley Kimmel’s alleged “J.Booth”.

The Mad Booths of Maryland by Stanley Kimmel
“Right or Wrong, God Judge Me”: The Writings of John Wilkes Booth edited by John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper
The Lincoln Log by Richard Sloan (5/1977)
Lincoln Discussion Symposium
Tour of Booth Family Historic Sites in Harford County
Michael Kauffman

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Teaser: John Wilkes Booth in the Woods

Rain and thunderstorms have cut my planned four and a half day reenactment of John Wilkes Booth’s time in the pine thicket to only three days and two nights.  Though I was not able to recreate the duration of Booth’s concealment, I believe that I got a great sense of Booth’s conditions and the mindset that overcame him during this time.  I’m currently going through the over 300 video clips that I shot during my excursion and I will be editing them together to create a documentary of the experience.

While a finished video is a ways off, I did want to share with you some still photos that I have of the camp out.  In addition to my video camera, I brought along a trail camera to take still shots.  Usually tied to trees and used by hunters to track their game, the trail camera I had took one picture per minute when activated by motion.  Sadly, there is no way to see the pictures as they are being taken so I just had to tie the camera to the tree and hope that the angle would capture me when activated.

Therefore, as a teaser to my pine thicket video, here are some of the pictures captured by the trail camera during my time in the woods.  Just ignore the time and date stamps at the bottom as I neglected to set this up before turning on the camera:

Thinking about my first hours in the woods as the sun sets.

Thinking about my first hours in the woods as the sun sets.

Armed to the teeth as I go to bed for the first night.

Armed to the teeth as I go to bed for the first night.

Good morning sunshine

Good morning sunshine

Passing the time writing in my Booth diary

Passing the time writing in my Booth diary

Always on the look out for federal troops

Always on the look out for federal troops

Enjoying the bread my Thomas Jones brought me to eat

Enjoying the bread my Thomas Jones brought me to eat

I was about to bed down for the second night and found a toad on my blanket.  Here I'm coaxing him away with my crutch.

I was about to bed down for the second night and found a toad on my blanket. Here I’m coaxing him away with my crutch.

About to go to sleep for the second night.

About to go to sleep for the second night.



My favorite shot of them all.  This shows me right after trying my first drink of bourbon whiskey.  I am not a fan.

My favorite picture of them all. This shows me right after trying my first drink of bourbon whiskey. I am not a fan.

I hope you enjoy the pictures.  There’s much more to come!

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A Preface to a Reenactment

This coming week will mark the 149th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth. In previous years the National Park Service and the Ford’s Theatre Society have commemorated this moment in history with a wreath laying ceremony at the Petersen House.  If the tradition is repeated (and I dearly hope that it is) I will, sadly, not be around to witness it.  Instead, I will be about 40 miles south, sharing in the moment of silence surrounded by nothing but trees and birds.  I feel that the log cabin born President wouldn’t mind.

Starting this Saturday, April 12, I will be isolating myself into a forested area in Southern Maryland for a little over four and a half days.  I will not have a tent.  I will not have access to running water.  I will not have a change of clothing.  The purpose for this self imposed isolation is my desire to reenact a moment of history.  Those of you who follow this blog, my Twitter account, or are part of the discussions over at Roger Norton’s excellent Lincoln Discussion Symposium, already know the period of time that I am trying to reenact.  149 years ago, from about midnight on April 16th through dusk on April 20th, John Wilkes Booth and his accomplice David Herold found themselves hiding from Federal troops in a pine thicket in Southern Maryland.  Their caretaker was a man by the name of Thomas Jones.  During those dangerous times, Jones kept the two men hidden and fed while he waited for a chance to get them across the Potomac River.  For almost five days, Booth and Herold hid in the pines worried that the snap of every twig was the cavalry about to pounce on them.

I want to duplicate that experience.  Prior to his spell in the woods, Booth was a braggart regarding his deed and expected his act to be celebrated by his countrymen.  A distinct shift in thinking occurred during those long days and nights in the woods.  Booth read about how his crime was perceived in the newspapers that Jones brought him and he was dismayed.  Rather than finding the doors of Confederate sympathizers opening wide for him, he found himself sleeping on the cold ground dependent on a single soul for his basic needs.  The Booth who emerge from those woods, was a transformed man, a beaten man.  The glorious dream that Booth hoped for faded into a wooded nightmare before his very eyes.

My future camp site

My future camp site

In literature about the assassination, the time in which Booth was in the pine thicket is given little space.  This is not the blame of the historian of author, however.  The lack of interpretation of Booth’s time in the pine thicket is due to the lack of resource material regarding this very private time for the assassin.  Therefore, I decided that understanding this period of time on the escape of John Wilkes Booth would require more than just consulting texts and resources.  To attempt to get into the mindset of John Wilkes Booth, I decided to recreate the conditions that he faced.

Over the past couple of months and with the help of so many generous colleagues, I have assembled the clothing and supplies that Booth would have had with him during his time in the pine thicket.  My reenactment will feature one major anachronism: a video camera.  With this modern tool, I will record my experiences and my thoughts throughout the endeavor.  After returning to modern times, I will edit and share the footage of my primitive camp out here on the blog.

I hope this endeavor explains my more recent silence on BoothieBarn.  The preparation for this undertaking has been massive and has precluded me from engaging in my normal research.

When the 149th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination rolls around in a few days and this blog appears to be silent on the matter, just read one of the previous posts (like this one or this one) and think of this crazy researcher who is at that moment laying out in the woods trying to get into the mindset of the assassin … and trying to remember how many leaves there are on poison ivy.

P.S. Some of my friends and family have expressed their concern for my safety during this excursion.  In order to provide “proof of life” to those caring souls I will be asking my own Thomas Jones to post pictures of me on my Twitter account when she comes to bring me supplies.  So keep an eye on @BoothieBarn over the next week to see how I’m getting along.

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Update: JWB’s Note at the Archives

Yesterday, I found myself in Washington, D.C. for a time.  I braved the snow and waited, cold and wet, in line outside the National Archives for an hour.  When I finally got in, I made a beeline not for the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, but rather for the special exhibit on signatures, “Making Their Mark”:

Making Their Mark exhibit card  My quest today was to see the note that John Wilkes Booth left for Vice President Andrew Johnson, hours before he assassinated President Lincoln.  In the online exhibit guide for “Making Their Mark” you can see a high resolution image of the front and back of the note:

Booth's note to Johnson


Back of Booth's note to Johnson

Fun fact: They do not allow you to take pictures inside of the National Archives.  This is particularly true in the rotunda where the lights are dimmed and there are many guards to protect our country’s charters of freedom from the damaging effects of flash photography.  The core documents to our freedom have faded so much over the years that this very much justified, despite the desire of many to take a selfie with the Bill of Rights.

Luckily, the “Making Their Mark” exhibit was not housed in the rotunda but, instead, in a special exhibit room with more lighting and only one patrolling guard.  While I take the rules of any museum very seriously (you should have seen the way I was giving the evil eye to some high school kids engaging in a snowball fight on the grounds of the Archives before I got in), I just couldn’t pass up the chance to snap a few photos of Booth’s note to share with you all.  If it helps, I did turn off the flash on my phone so that it would not harm the document in any way.  I hope the Archives will forgive me.

Booth's note display  I was both shocked with how small the actual note was.  It was smaller than my 2″ x 3 1/2″ business card that I carry around with me.  After I got back home, I decided that the note was a little bigger than 1 1/2 inches tall and almost 3 inches long.  Here’s a closer picture of the note with an approximate scale:

Booth's note with approximate scale

For some background, here is the conspiracy trial testimony of Col. William A. Browning, Andrew Johnson’s private secretary, in which he mentions the note:

“William A. Browning,
a witness called for the prosecution, being duly sworn, testified as follows:
By the Judge Advocate:
Q. Will you state if you are the private secretary of the President?
A. Yes, sir: I am.
Q. Were you with him on the 14th of April last?
A. I was.
Q. (Exhibiting a card to the witness.) What knowledge, if any, have you of that card having been sent to him by John Wilkes Booth?
A. Between the hours of four and five o’clock in the afternoon, I left Vice-President Johnson’s room in the Capitol, and went to the Kirkwood House, where I was boarding with him. Upon entering, I went up to the office, as was my custom; and I saw a card in my box. Vice-President Johnson’s box and mine were adjoining: mine was 67, his was 68. In 67 I noticed a card. The clerk of the hotel, Mr. Jones, handed it to me. This I recognize as the card.
Q. Will you read what is on it?
A. “Don’t wish to disturb you. Are you at home? J. Wilkes Booth.” It was in my box.
(The card was offered in evidence without objection and is marked exhibit no. 29.)
Q. You do not know anything about the handwriting of Booth?
A. No, sir.
Q. You had no acquaintance whatever with J. Wilkes Booth, had you?
A. Yes, sir: I had known him when he was playing in Nashville, Tenn. I met him there several times. That was the only acquaintance that I had with him.
Q. Did you understand the card as sent to the President, or to yourself?
A. At the time, I attached no importance to it. I had known him in Nashville; and, seeing the card, I made the remark, when it was handed to me by the clerk, “It is from Booth: is he playing here?” I had some idea of going to see him. I thought, perhaps, he might have called upon me, having known me; but, when his name was connected with this affair, I looked upon it differently. It was a very common mistake in the office to put the cards intended for me in the Vice-President’s box; and his would find their way into mine, they being together.”

Appropriately enough, even though I snapped a few more pictures of the note before we left, I was so nervous about being caught and possibly banned from the National Archives for life (a horrible punishment for a researcher) that all the rest of my pictures are blurry messes.  If you want nice pictures of the note, I refer back to the images of it from the “Making Their Mark” online exhibit guide.

“Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” at the National Archives, March 21, 2014 – January 5, 2015
“Making Their Mark” online exhibit guide
The Lincoln Assassination Trial – The Court Transcripts edited by William Edwards

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“Lincoln’s Assassin” on NatGeo’s “Diggers”

Those of you who get the National Geographic channel will want to be tuning in next Tuesday, March 25th at 10 pm EST.  On that date and time a new episode of the metal detecting show “Diggers” will be premiering.  The name of the episode is called “Lincoln’s Assassin” and the show will highlight the exploits of metal detecting duo “King” George Wyant and Tim “Ringy” Saylor as they search for long lost artifacts in places related to John Wilkes Booth.

Lincoln's Assassin Diggers

Over the course of the production, the Diggers dug for Booth relics at his childhood home of Tudor Hall, Bryantown Tavern, Thomas Jones’ Huckleberry, down by the edge of the Potomac, and at Mrs. Quesenberry’s house in Virginia.  “KG” and “Ringy” are unique treasure hunters, making jokes all along the way and making bets over who can uncover the best “nectar” (find).  At the end of the episode the pair will show their “nectar” to an archaeologist and assassination author Michael Kauffman to see if they found a Booth artifact that will change our understanding of history.

This episode will not only be an entertaining look at metal detecting, but also highlight several sites related to the life and escape of John Wilkes Booth.

On a personal note, I had the good fortune of being present at Huckleberry back in August on the day that the crew was shooting there.  I had unknowingly shown up at the Loyola Retreat House to take some pictures of the water’s edge, when I saw a large number of vehicles outside of Huckleberry.  After approaching the Diggers group and learning that they were shooting an episode about Booth, I was graciously invited to remain and watch the production.  It was an entertaining afternoon to say the least.  “KG” and “Ringy” are quite funny and Michael Kauffman was an excellent foil to their exuberant declarations of finding Booth’s “this” or “that”.  Here are a few pictures I took while the guys were shooting their scenes:

Diggers set 1

Diggers set 2

Diggers set 4

Here’s a shot of Michael Kauffman providing some background information about the different places the Diggers visited and Booth’s escape route:

Diggers set 5


I was also allowed inside of Huckleberry where some of the production assistants were working.  Huckleberry is used to house visiting priests to Loyola and is therefore furnished like a typical house today.  Nevertheless here is a short video I shot from inside the house.  Michael Kauffman makes a brief appearance to answer a couple of my questions:

In the midst of shooting there was a huge down pouring of rain and so there was a mad dash to protect the cameras and other equipment.  I helped the best I could by grabbing hold of the tent awning they had set up to prevent it from blowing away in the strong winds.  Michael Kauffman made the wiser choice of rushing into Huckleberry with his camera and microphone.  Within a half an hour the rain had stopped and there was only one more scene to shoot.  After they shot the scene I took this picture of Mike Kauffman and the guys:

Diggers set 6

Why is “Ringy” covered in mud?  You’ll just have to watch Diggers on Tuesday, March 25th at 10 pm EST to find out!


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JWB’s Note at the Archives

A new exhibition entitled, “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” is coming to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.  Here’s a blurb from the Archives describing the exhibit:

“Signatures are personal. The act of signing can be as simple as a routine mark on a form, or it can be a stroke that changes many lives. Signatures can be  an act of defiance, or a symbol of thanks and friendship. “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” will draw from the billions of government records at the National Archives to showcase a unique collection of signatures and tell the stories behind them.

illustrate the many ways people have placed their signature on history, from developing to signing Power The stories in these records, of famous and infamous, known and unknown individuals, are part of our s history, all having made their marks on the American narrative.”

The exhibit contains the signed documents of many notable (Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, etc.) and famous (Jackie Robinson, Katharine Hepburn, Michael Jackson, etc.) individuals.  It also contains documents from unknown people who wrote of the world around them such as a Japanese American in an interment camp signing a loyalty oath during WWII.

The collection also contains the signatures of infamous individuals like Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and presidential assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

The National Archives houses the paper evidence collected by the government during the investigation into Lincoln’s assassination.  Therefore, they have a multitude of documents written by or owned by Booth to display.  For this exhibit, the Archives is displaying one of the most intriguing notes that John Wilkes Booth ever signed: his note to Vice President Andrew Johnson.

Booth's note to Johnson

John Wilkes Booth left this note for the Vice President in the hours leading up to the assassination.  His short message, “Don’t wish to disturb you Are you at home? J Wilkes Booth” has been the subject of inquiry ever since.  Conspiracy theorists attempt to use this note as evidence of the Vice President’s complicity in Lincoln’s murder, but most historians seem to believe that, in the moments leading up the tragic events, Booth was making sure all his targets were accounted for in order to topple the entire head of the government: Lincoln, Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward.

I am not personally aware if this note has ever been on public display before this exhibit.  The “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” exhibit runs from March 21st, 2014 until January 5th, 2015.  After that, it is likely this fascinating artifact, and all the others, will be returned to the vaults of the National Archives.  Don’t miss the opportunity to see John Wilkes Booth’s note to Vice President Johnson on display at the National Archives.


Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” Exhibit eGuide.  Download the guide HERE and turn to page 22 for a back view of Booth’s note. I’ve also tweeted the page on Booth so check out my Twitter account @BoothieBarn.

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