All the King's Horses

This familiar structure in the New Center area of Detroit used to be the Mounted Division headquarters of the Detroit Police Department's 9th Precinct. If you remember my older posts, I have also explored and written about the 16th Precinct, and 6th Precinct.


Well-known local architect Louis Kamper designed this structure in 1898, which was also known as the Hamlin Avenue Station, because E. Bethune Street was originally called Hamlin. He also designed the 8th Precinct in 1900, the familiar "castle" building at the corner of Grand River & Rosa Parks, in a very similar style. At the time, both police stations included a barn. Kamper also designed several well-known skyscrapers downtown, such as the Broderick Tower and Book-Cadillac Hotel.

The c.1915 Sanborn map of this area, called "North Woodward" at the time, shows the Michigan State Telephone Co.'s "MArket" exchange office across the street, Cadillac Motor Co.'s Plant #4 on the block behind it (Custer & John R), and almost every lot already filled with houses. There were even a few residential garages converted into machine shops. Today this area is called the North End. The same map from 1897 shows the north side of Hamlin Street built up, only a few houses scattered around the surrounding blocks, and neither this building nor the telephone exchange were present yet. If there was a pre-existing farm here, it was not immediately evident from that map where its homestead or barns stood.


Here is a historic photo of what the 9th Precinct Station looked like before it was mostly demolished (the Mounted Division was housed in the smaller structure to the right):

Image from Newspapers.com
It seems that the 9th Precinct was closed in 1954, and their patrol area was made part of the (then) 13th Precinct on Woodward. The Mounted Division stayed, which is why their building remains standing and the old station next to it was demolished. Now that this one is closed too, the Mounted Division headquarters has been moved to massive Rouge Park on the city's western limits, where the Buffalo Soldiers' stables are also located. I talked about Rouge Park and the old stables there in an older post.

Today this building is for sale, and with New Center on deck to become New Midtown I can't imagine it will be long before someone comes along and turns it into studios, or some confusing eatery with a bizarre name.


I immediately checked under the front desk to see whether it had a gun holster screwed to it in a convenient place like every other Detroit precinct I've ever been in. It did, and I've highlighted it for you below with my Mickey Redmond-esque telestrator skills. For obvious reasons, it's always good to have an extra gun on hand in Detroit.


Inspector Patrick Henry Muscat wrote a 320-page history of the Mounted Division ahead of the unit's centennial in 1992, but unfortunately I haven't been able to look at a copy. An article about it in the Free Press however touches on a few of the high points.

Detroit's mounted police unit is one of the oldest in the nation. There were mounted patrols in the 1870s, but the Mounted Division wasn't officially organized by city commissioners until 1893. A mounted cop was first used that August to direct traffic at Farmer & Gratiot, and soon there were a total of six dedicated mounted men and eight horses in the unit. Admittedly it was started as a bit of an experiment, but soon they were being used to do everything from impounding "belligerent stray cows," to corralling hogs and ducks, and escorting U.S. presidential entourages from Teddy Roosevelt to Pope John Paul II. Inspector Muscat recalled that the DPD has also trained other units across the country, and even a Royal Canadian Mounted Police unit out of Calgary, to whom it was suggested they contact Detroit "because its specialty is riding to music."


The first mounted "police" in Detroit in the 1870s were more like cowboys of the city than actual police; they liked the saloons and rowdiness a little too much, and enforced the law like vigilantes, if at all. It was not until 1897 when Capt. J.T. Spillane, an ex-Civil War soldier took over the unit and straightened them out that Detroit had a proper mounted force becoming of its status as a genteel city. His broad cavalry style hat, Wyatt Earp mustache, hardened disciplinarian eyes, and the war medals on his chest said everything that needed saying, I'm sure. Incidentally, it was immediately after this crack-down occurred that the Mounted Division took up residence here in this newly completed 9th Precinct building, although some men were almost immediately broken up into smaller units and reassigned to various precincts so as to cover the city more adequately.


At the time this station was surrounded by plenty of open land, it had a barn or two for storing hay and berthing the horses. Before that, the Mounted Division was housed on W. Baltimore Street. A quote from the 1898 Free Press article described the early days before the mounted police came about, saying that Detroit was
...infested with hobos and vagabonds of all kinds. They approached the city from the east, west, and north, and preyed upon the quiet, sparsely settled sections, stealing wherever they could and making themselves at home with private property. They became a crying evil, and their boldness became an increasing menace ... The mounted police have waged a continual war on the hobo, and so completely discouraged him that he now finds it to his advantage to give Detroit a wide berth.
Gasp! I scarcely can imagine how ghastly life in our fair city of Detroit would be if "the hobo" had won that war! Huzzah for our gallant Victorian knights in shining armor! The breathless writer went on to say that "The same may be said of carousing in the outskirts by loose characters." Harumph! Good thing we don't have any loose characters in the city today! Quite!


A different, sarcastic tone was carried throughout the front-page article "Police With Clubs Stop 'Red' Parade," in the May 2, 1909 Free Press, where the reporter recounted the time the entire 50-man Mounted Division charged and trampled a May Day parade of Italian Socialists in Grand Circus Park. About 200 regular patrolmen were also involved, "with their trusty blackjacks concealed in their right-hand overcoat pockets." The marchers were carrying and waving red flags, which the police took offense to, declaring that the parade could continue only if the red flags were surrendered. You may recall that the first "Red Scare" occurred around this time in history, stoked by paranoia of working class revolutions and anarchism.


When the parade-goers refused to give up their flags, Capt. Baker of the Mounted Division allegedly tried to grab one by force, and a signal was given for the rest of the cavalry to charge the crowd, "riding ruthlessly over Park Commissioner Hinchman's posie beds, tearing up about $4,000 worth of city sod" in the attack. "Clubs and fists were used freely" even though the crowd was not armed, and red ribbons were "torn from the coats of many of the defiers." Many were bloodied during the 30-minute ordeal as the crowd dispersed down Broadway in a panic. Two reporters were also beaten by police clubs while helping one of the Italians find his little boy who was lost in the fray. A meeting was held in Arbeiter Hall that evening to consider what legal action could be taken against the police for the attack.

It would seem that police brutality is not merely a modern issue, and has been around as long as policing itself. When thinking about history, we tend to forget that "the good old days" were not really all that good. A perfect example of this is how everyone has forgotten that Italians used to be a minority, who were viewed and treated the same way African Americans and Muslims are still treated today—as malcontents, thugs, terrorists—even though Italians are now considered "white" and lovable.


At first when the Mounted Division was established, it was spread out at multiple stations, and eleven mounted men were stationed under the command of Lt. M. Fitzpatrick, and Captain Jesse Mack, of the Canfield station. Command of all Detroit's mounted police was centralized here at the 9th Precinct  station in July 1908, according to one article. Commissioner Smith took control of the different mounted divisions at the outlying station houses across the city and placed them all here under the command of Capt. Lemuel Guyman.


There was an initiative in 1927 to trim up the "portly" bellies of Detroit's increasingly sedentary police force, but it was noted in this article that out of all the precincts the Mounted Division were the fittest, and owing to the natural exercise they got while riding out to their beats every morning, they were the one division that "needs no gymnasium training." I think that still holds true today, although I think Detroit cops are generally leaner than their suburban counterparts, owing to the fact that they can't really afford to eat on their meager paychecks, ha.


One cop's "Shortcut Down an Alley Led to Scandal," read a headline in the paper some years later. On his way back to the station in July 1939, Inspector Perry W. Meyers of the Mounted Division decided to cut down an alley behind the Boulevard Building on the northeast corner of Woodward & Grand Boulevard—which until recently served as the DPD's headquarters, but was Ford Motor Company's main office building and sales showroom at the time. In taking this shortcut he noticed four "suspicious" men in a car, so he investigated. Inside he saw four guns on the floor, and several cigar boxes full of cash. "This was the beginning of the now-famous Robinson case," the article explains.


Although Myers was hailed for his excellent police work, what happened from there created a scandal that raised all kinds of questions of corruption within the Detroit Police Department. A grand jury investigation into the department's handling of (and potential connection to) the case was conducted, which resulted in the chief of detectives resigning, and the superintendent being removed from office. It sounded like the victim of the robbery was at the center of a gambling racket that the police were in on, and members of the gangland underground applied pressure to intimidate the prosecution—including abducting two investigators the day before they were to testify. As it turns out, Inspector Myers was apparently the only honest cop in the 9th Precinct, which he was given command of when his former commander, Inspector Boettcher, was relieved due to his involvement.


It wasn't long after the automobile was invented that calls started to be raised for the abolition of the Mounted Division. Obviously Detroit was one of the first cities to use automobiles for police work, and by the middle of the 20th century it seems there was a perennial attempt to do away with horse patrol to cut costs.

In the 1946 article "Nothing Takes the Place of Mounted Policemen," Inspector Perry was still in command of the station, and told Free Press reporters that mounted cops "aren't a helluva lot of good until you need them," but "when you need them you need them bad. There's nothing that will take their place with crowds and in alleys." It was Lt. O'Donnell's opinion that one mounted man can do the same job as 20 cops on foot. Nowadays it seems the police theory on crowd control is apparently to just send MRAPs and infantry to beat the living hell out of people after deploying teargas and other confusion tactics like "kettling."


Detroit's 9th Precinct had 57 horses in 1946, New York had 418, Chicago and Philadelphia had 140. The most famous horse the DPD ever had was Beautiful Star, donated by Haywood Murphy. One of her foals, Red Rex, also became a police horse.


Police Commissioner George Edwards was threatening to get rid of the Mounted Division in 1963, which at the time had 42 men in its service. He ordered a study into their usefulness to determine whether they should be diminished or eliminated. It had become the way of the world of policing in recent years, to completely mechanize their patrolmen, with many departments across the country opting in favor of motorcycles and automobiles instead of foot patrols or horses.

In my personal opinion I think this has been one of the worst things that has ever been done to policing—it takes away the policeman's face-to-face rapport with the community he patrols, reduces his familiarity with his turf, and hurts his image in the eyes of the community. No longer was he the "friendly neighborhood policeman" strolling past the shops and saying hello and making small talk to check on everyone in town; today we have the impersonal stormtrooper cop who rolls through your street with his bulletproof windows rolled up and his eyes hidden behind sunglasses, wearing armor and carrying guns that only soldiers are supposed to have, scanning you for any potential violations he can fine you for and make his quota. Now when people see a cop behind them, they feel nervous...even if they have done nothing wrong.


Commissioner Herbert W. Hart had been just as callous in scrutinizing the Mounted Division back in 1958, saying, "The Mounted Division must go. We need the men elsewhere." Mayor Louis Miriani put a stop to that after receiving a wave of phone calls from citizens angry about the move, but the writing was on the wall.

Inspector Edward T. Rogell was in charge of the division in those days, which were regarded as the unit's heyday, when they numbered 60 men strong and had a drill team that competed across the country at horse shows. Department brass could only see one thing: it cost $391,000 to budget the Mounted Division, and they only write $100,000 in parking tickets.


Lt. Ambrose O'Donnell (then retired) and others listed reasons why cutting the division for budgetary reasons didn't make sense. For one thing, 95% of the department's budget went to salaries, while the Mounted Division only took up 5%. Not to mention it only cost 50¢ per day to feed a horse..."and try to buy gasoline that cheap!" It had been his observation that with every change of administration, "some young man writes up a list of things to do—like getting rid of the Mounted Division." Former police commissioner Edward Piggins recalled that the mounted men were of "great aid" to him, especially in controlling labor strikes. And "they don't stall on cold days."

The people spoke up again in 1964, and the Mounted Division was saved from being disbanded a second time. By 1966 the Mounted Division was trained in riot control, and was part of the three branches of the DPD that could be mobilized in the event of a major riot. The other two branches were the Tactical Mobile Unit, and the "commandos" of the Motor Traffic Bureau. When the Great 1967 Riot occurred, it started in the early morning hours of a Sunday, coincidentally the one time of the week that all three of these units were off duty. Naturally the Mounted Division was called into action during the Riot (as was every other single swinging dick in the department). It is important to note that the 1967 Riot occurred as a direct backlash specifically against the climate of brutality that the Detroit Police had long fostered in the city.


A letter published in the Free Press written by the wife of a Vietnam veteran painted a disturbing picture of police brutality at the "love-in" that occurred on Belle Isle on April 30, 1967. The couple attended the event in their Sunday best, she wrote, apparently to convey that they were just regular upstanding middle class citizens there to observe what the hippies do, and had no illegal intentions. Nonetheless it was clear that her confidence in the police was shaken by what she saw. The violence that day started between police and some bikers, and was considered one of the foreshocks to the calamitous city-wide riot that followed in July.

The writer, Nancy Goldsworthy, said that the crowded bridge was closed by police when they arrived, and they witnessed mounted police charging through the crowd, "recklessly smashing the closest heads with their clubs." The crowd "was not unruly" she said, and people were "just running for their lives." The people tried to comply by getting out of the road, but mounted police followed the crowds onto the sidewalks to continue "beating innocent bystanders, who included older people, women, and some children." Goldsworthy said that they were "beginning to succumb to the instinct of self defense or retaliation" against the barbaric attack, as many in the crowd already had, and she firmly believed that the mounted police had instigated the "riot" on the bridge that day. She closed by saying, "We used to think that police brutality was a farce, but maybe it isn't."


Another inglorious incident in which the Mounted Bureau tarnished its history was on May 13, 1968 outside Cobo Hall, where they assaulted a crowd of marchers about to take part in an event held by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In the year following the 1967 Riot, tensions between Detroit Police and black residents were at their pinnacle, and it didn't take much to spark a confrontation...which usually meant the still all-white police department went ballistic with use of force. So when the chanting marchers at Cobo Hall circled around a stalled car that was part of the procession, with some of them climbing on the car, Lt. Ted Sikora called for the "assistance" of the Mounted Division.

According to the scholarly book Violence in the Model City by Sidney Fine, what happened next was observed by Community Relations Service officials of the Department of Justice. They reported that even though the march organizers were getting people to go back into Cobo Hall, 15 to 20 officers of the Mounted Division charged into the crowd, "swinging billy clubs indiscriminately and trampling men, women, and children."


The mounted police drove the frightened crowd into the hall, where they were met by foot patrolmen who also began beating them with batons to keep them from storming the building. Although the police had radios, there appeared to be "no communication" between the mounted units and those on foot, and the crowd had nowhere to go but be crushed. Multiple police were observed circling around fallen members of the crowd and beating them "maliciously," and as more police arrived they simply joined in the assault because they saw their fellow officers engaged, without even knowing what was going on.

According to one of the observers, mounted cops were even "chasing and trampling blacks" in the lobby area and hallways of Cobo Hall. At one point an officer retrieved a carbine from the trunk of a squad car, but was persuaded to put it back by one of the Dept. of Justice officials. The commander of the mounted unit was asked by one of the same officials to pull his men back, but he responded "by having his horse step on the foot of the official." The Mounted Division withdrew an hour later, but up to 26 unarmed people were reported injured in the assault.


In 1974 the question of cutting the division was apparently raised yet again, but a Free Press poll showed that 67% of people believed that the DPD should keep the Mounted Division, while 32% said that they should be cut. The plan then was to cut the force by half, and relegate them only to the larger city parks.

An editorial in 1974 reiterated the point that those seeking to cut the Mounted Division were operating under a false presumption that the unit is expensive to operate simply because it seems "anachronistic," or obsolete. The reality is that the Mounted Division gives more value "dollar for dollar and man for man" than any other unit of the department, not including intangibles such as the intrinsic good PR that their impressive image bestows upon the force—a department which in 1974 was loved by almost no one, thanks to a litany of incidents like the one at Cobo described above.

As proof of their merit, other cities were currently enlarging or reactivating their dormant mounted units, the writer said. By 1974 the cost of feeding a horse for a day was up to 90¢—which wouldn't even buy two gallons of gasoline. Furthermore a horse cost $400 and would give 10-20 years of service, while a scout car cost thousands, and would only be kept a few years.


But mounted cops aren't all smiles and dashing good looks, they also use their elevated stature to sneak a peak more easily at what you have in your car. A story about Sgt. Douglas Muston in 1996 told all about how he did just that by striding up next to a car where a man was cautiously dividing up a bag of weed. Muston said that if he were in his patrol car he never would have seen the marijuana. Sounds exactly like what happened in 1939 when Inspector Meyers cut down that alley.

Muston also commented that in his 11 years of regular precinct work, he never got near as many smiles, waves, or people coming up to chat with him as he did in a single day as a mounted officer. So the horse does add some good PR, but they are also used as a tool to gain confidence and make a bust.


In 1982 Detroit had the fourth largest mounted division out of 80 in the country; nationally, the popularity of mounted units was enjoying a resurgence by that time, and Detroit's was back up to its full compliment of 44 horses and 53 officers.

Even today there are more than enough settings in Detroit to justify the need for police horses...Rouge Park, Belle Isle, Palmer Park, Wayne State, Greektown, Eastern Market, the parades, and big sports crowds downtown.


In many places I found the floor to be covered in spilled horse feed (see above).

There were gutters in the cement floor, possibly to channel away the copious amounts of horse piss that regularly flowed down this hallway, or so that it could be sprayed out with a hose:


"Larry The Hammer: The Bang-Up Blacksmith of Bethune Street," was the title of a feature that chronicled the life and times of Larry Whitmarsh, the blacksmith who was kept on staff at this precinct in 1972, tasked with keeping the horses shod.

In the midst of the very city responsible for doing away with the horse as a mode of transportation, the Motor City, the piercing sound of his hammer falling still rang out from within this old building as if it were the frontier times. And at the time, he was still using the same forge that was installed in 1915. One of the blacksmith's duties was to gather his tools and go out in the field to re-shoe a horse if one got thrown off somewhere.


An October 2002 article at metrotimes.com revealed that by that time the Detroit Mounted Police were at another low point in their history, short on staff and funds. It said that the unit "peaked in 1979 with 65 horses and 56 officers," but was currently down to a mere 18 horses and seven officers, Lt. Fred Bowens commanding. They were forced to stop patrolling around 1996 due to the retirement of a large number of its senior officers at the time, and have been relegated to crowd control duty when needed.


There was still a waiting list to get in however, as the Mounted Division has always been a "coveted duty" among cops, despite all the stable chores and manure shoveling that comes with it. But even with the vacancies in the unit's ranks, the department had not been accepting transfers for four years, since the Patrol Division naturally took precedence.


To be eligible for mounted duty, an officer should have some riding experience, and have to pass a 10-week training course where they learn to handle horses in an urban setting. Each officer names his horse and remains with it until one of them retires.


The horses themselves are trained for up to six months, slowly being exposed to the noise and chaos of city streets and large crowds. In 2002 there weren't really enough officers available to conduct the necessary training, or for breaking the horses in. There were about 25 officers in the regular precincts who were qualified to ride a horse on duty when called upon, such as when President Bush came to town in 2002 and the Secret Service specifically requested a mounted police detail.


Mounted police are considered the best form of crowd control the article observed, because horses are "intimidating, but not aggressive."
Usually interactions with the police are stressful and coupled with the sounds of sirens and flashing lights. Life in the Mounted Division is a little different. They are still police officers and issue citations from time to time, but their primary tasks are to help with public relations and provide crowd control at special events. 
Translation: They're real cops, not the militarized tax collectors that seem to be taking over the job today. Of course, as those stories from the 1960s illustrated, even mounted cops can commit barbaric acts, although the more relaxed nature of Mounted Division duty today seems to produce men that are more even-tempered. And since mounted police are so effective at PR and crowd control, the department can’t afford to do away with them.


I hope I am presenting a balanced analysis here; I do tend to be critical of the police, but based on history (and current events) I think it is warranted. For full disclosure, I am neighbors with a Detroit cop who was in the Mounted Division for many years, and who I find to be a very upstanding human being with a balanced mind and demeanor, in spite of his job. I only wish there were more like him who could rise above the inherent strife of police work and bring such a professional approach to the job.


Of the several signs near this phone, one is a list of extensions for... "Inspector (permission only), Front Desk, Sergeant's Room, Squad Room, Leather Shop, Blacksmith Shop":


A cell phone list included a lieutenant who was crossed out, as well as "Sgt. Headapohl, Officer Lichonczak, and Officer Bender." There were also a few contacts posted regarding cruelty to animals and "caring for animals in need."


I ventured into the attic, and found it fairly empty, although hay was clearly stored up in here. Overall this historic structure is in decent shape, despite a few decayed wooden rafters I saw.

In the corner was the tiny little turret, sadly much less interesting from inside than outside:


From its window, a view of the Michigan Bell central office across the street:


Looking up inside the turret...rather anticlimactic:


Nearby I found a practically ancient can of Pfeiffer's Beer, which hasn't been brewed in Detroit since the 1950s...drinking on duty?! Tisk tisk!


Moving toward the rear of the attic, I found that there were several hoppers built into the structure for the purpose of storing horse feed and hay, as well as small doors overlooking the alley where hay bales would have been hoisted up from a wagon:


A look inside of one of the hoppers:


From the roof you can see the rear of the new M-1 rail system's service garage, perhaps a sign of the coming revival of the North End / New Center area, or of another economic bubble, depending on your view of Dan Gilbert:


Out back, a large storage bin has become overgrown with foliage and graffiti...I assume this is where the manure was kept:


I am not sure of the original purpose of this small two-story structure, but it was definitely once part of the police station:


Inside, it looked like some space had once been a workshop, maybe the leatherwork shop?


I found the living quarters of a recent squatter here as well, including his bedding and some bottles of water.


From the window, a better view of the Michigan Bell central office across the street...this skyscraper grew up from a tiny little neighborhood telephone exchange to be one of the largest central offices in the state. It eventually housed several different telephone exchanges, as well as the apparatus for Time Service, and the company's heavy power equipment:


Here's hoping that someone *other than Dan Gilbert* buys this old thing and fixes it up into something new. I would even be fine with it becoming a police station again. Imagine that, renovating a building to use it for it's original intended purpose? Very avant-gard!


References:
Sanborn maps of Detroit, Vol. 10, Sheet 1 (c.1915)
Sanborn maps of Detroit, Vol. 6, Sheet 30 (c.1897)
"Our Mounted Police," Detroit Free Press, July 10, 1898
"Police With Clubs Stop 'Red' Parade," Detroit Free Press, May 2, 1909, p. 1 & 8
"North Woodward," Detroit Free Press, April 13, 1902, p. 4-3
"Guyman Takes Command," Detroit Free Press, July 17, 1908, p. 12
"Keeping Detroit's Finest on Edge Physically," Detroit Free Press, April 10, 1927, Feature Section
"Inspector Myers' Shortcut Down an Alley Led to Scandal," Detroit Free Press, January 14, 1940, p. 5
"Nothing Takes the Place of Mounted Policemen," Detroit Free Press, March 10, 1946, p. 4
"Bronco-Buster Edwards May Cut Down Mounties," Detroit Free Press, January 22, 1963, p. 3
"Cop Rides High to Make Arrest," Detroit Free Press, March 30, 1996, p. 3
"Here's a Resounding 'No!'" Detroit Free Press, January 27, 1963, B1
"Police Mounties Get New Chief—And New Lease on Life," Detroit Free Press, March 24, 1964, p. 3
"Police Started Riot," Detroit Free Press, May 3, 1967, p. 6A
"In the Saddle With Some of Detroit's Finest," Detroit Free Press, June 12, 1987, p. 7C
"Sound Off," Detroit Free Press, April 14, 1974, p. 1
"Cutting Mounted Police Fiscally Unjustified," Detroit Free Press, May 10, 1974, p. 2
"Detroit's Mounted Police," Detroit Free Press, April 22, 1982, p. 12F & 3A, 10A
"On the Best Groomed List," Detroit Free Press, March 22, 1980, 14D
"A Mane Event: History of Detroit's Mounties," Detroit Free Press, December 19, 1992, p. 1
"Larry The Hammer: The Bang-Up Blacksmith of Bethune Street," Detroit Free Press, June 12, 1987, p. 20 (supplemental)
Violence in the Model City, by Sidney Fine, pgs. 128, 164, 403, 413
http://www.atdetroit.net/forum/messages/107211/118097.html?1194220717
http://www.metrotimes.com/detroit/a-stable-force/Content?oid=2174674

2 comments:

  1. I worked in that AT&T building for my last few months in Detroit and always wondered what that cool little building next to it was -- thank you for the tour. You may be interested to know that AT&T building is mostly empty. Only two floors were occupied while I worked there (not counting the lobby with a security guard or two). The second floor was a full cubicle farm filled with customer support peeps on the phone and, several floors up, I worked with about five other people. Whenever I was bored, which was often, I'd wander around the building. Everything was left open. One entire floor obviously used to be the cafeteria that must have fed the whole building.

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  2. I am guessing the beer was Officer Bender's.

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