Archbishop John Hughes, aka Dagger John, New York City’s most influential and vicious clergyman, had a huge impact, whether he was consecrating Calvary Cemetery and Fordham University, or peppering the mayor with threats to burn down the city.
” Are you afraid,” asked the mayor, “that some of your churches will be burned?”
“No, sir; but I am afraid that some of yours will be burned. We can protect our own. I come to warn you for your own good.”
-Life of the Most Reverend John Hughes by John R. G. Hassard
• The “Black Coats,” aka America’s evil wizards, aka the Jesuit colonizers
• The Mohawks who built Manhattan
• Threats to burn down the city
• What happened on the land that became Calvary Cemetery
• The first saint born in the US, a Protestant society woman with eleven children who became a Catholic nun
• Secret societies in Ireland
Episode Script for Archbishop John Hughes, aka Dagger John: Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York
DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product.
“As early as the year 1840 the late illustrious Archbishop Hughes . . . foresaw that in a few short years the only burying-ground then available to the faithful of New York . . . Situated in what was at that time the upper part of the city, would be entirely inadequate to the wants of the rapidly increasing Catholic population.” -The Visitor’s Guide to Calvary Cemetery, 1876
- Welcome back! We’re talking more about Calvary Cemetery: this time, I wanted to focus on Archbishop John Hughes, who consecrated the cemetery, because he’s a real character. But we’ll also touch on some of the history of Catholicism in New York, the first saint to be born in the US, and the fascinating story about some of the workers who built some of NYC’s most famous skyscrapers, including the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, and the World Trade Center. Plus there’s some secret societies andnd suspicions of dark wizardry thrown into this history as well.
- I’ll also talk a bit about the history of the Catholic church in New York.
- I wanted to talk a bit first about the history of the land the cemetery was built on, I wanted to read a bit from The visitor’s guide to Calvary cemetery, which was published in 1876–one note, some of the language used here is out of date and racist :
- The locality of the cemetery, peaceful and quiet as it seems to-day, has had its share of stirring scenes. On February 25, 1643, just about the time of the arrival of the illustrious Father Jogues, the first priest who ever visited the Dutch Colony, the Governor at Fort Amsterdam, on the pretense of some injury received from the natives, dispatched two bodies of troops at midnight, one of which fell upon the Indians at Pavonia, on the Jersey shore, and the other upon those at Corlears Hook, Manhattan Island. Both expeditions were fearfully successful, resulting in a horrid butchery of the sleeping Indians. The natives at first thought it was their old enemies, the terrible Mohawks, but were soon undeceived, for, only about a week after, the settlers at Flatlands attacked those at Merrickawick (now Brooklyn), seized a large quantity of corn, and killed two of them who attempted to defend their property. . . . The dwellers along the shores of Mespat Kills . . . Or, as in later days, called the Newtown Creek, felt the vengeance of the savages with the rest, and the vicinity soon presented a fearful spectacle of smouldering ruins and slaughtered inhabitants.
- The guide goes on to say that the colonists around the creek moved to an area called Furman’s Island, “a short distance east of the present cemetery, and built a fort for mutual protection. They appear then to have concluded a peace, for there is on record a deed, or release, from the Indians to the white inhabitants, of several miles of land, including the Wandell plantation (and part of which is now Calvary Cemetery), lying north of the Creek.”
- I just want to pause for a sec here, since we’re looking at Catholicism in NYC, and there’s some important context to get into here about what happened with the Jesuits in New York when they first got here, including a figure who the cemetery guide mentioned, a Father Isaac Jogues.
- So this is a history I’m familiar with because I went to Fordham University in the Bronx, which like I mentioned last week was founded by Hughes. And at Fordham, there’s a dorm called Martyr’s Court, which is named after a group of Jesuits known as “The North American Martyrs” or the “Canadian Martyrs.” Each wing of the hall is named after a martyr, so one’s called Goupil after St. Rene Goupil, one’s Jogues after St. Isaac Jogues, and one’s Lalande after St. Jean de Lalande. Also, in a building called Duane Library, there’s a large mural depicting the martyr’s–that’s where the Fordham admissions office is nowadays.
- I remember seeing that mural and getting extremely frustrated when I was a student, because if you know anything about American history, you can guess how much the martyrs “helped” the indigenous peoples they supposedly came here to save.
- Jogues, for example, said that he came to New France, as Canada and Northern NY were known as back then, to “devote himself to labor there for the conversion and welfare of the natives”
- So to follow Jogues through his time there: He arrived at a Jesuit mission on Lake Huron on September 11, 1636.
- As soon as he got there, he became very sick.
- Then, since the mission was near a Huron village, the sickness seemed to spread there, and people got very sick. This is unfortunately a pretty typical story of the interaction between colonists and indigenous peoples in the area that’s now the US.
- It turns out that there had been repeated epidemics, which the Huron rightfully blamed on the Jesuits. The Hurons gave the Jesuits the appropriately ominous name the “Black Coats.”
- So the Jesuits tried to convert people, and while many villages of indigenous people rejected them, they did succeed in converting some Huron people.
- Eventually, Jogues, along with some other priests and some converted Hurons, were captured during a journey by Mohawks. It sounds like they weren’t great captors, and it was an unpleasant experience, though I actually don’t want to elaborate more than that, since we have so many accounts of gruesome things that happened to colonists, who were the victors who got to write history, and much fewer accounts of what happened to indigenous peoples (aside from vague stuff like “they died from diseases” or “died in conflicts with colonists” etc). There’s a reason for this discrepancy, which is that the indigenous peoples were destroyed through genocide and their ancestors are still suffering in America today, so their stories don’t get told the same way.
- So anyway, Jogues ends up escaping, and he was brought down to New Amsterdam, where he stayed with a Protestant minister until he could get on a ship bound back to France.
- That made him the first Catholic priest to set foot on the island of Manhattan.
- Not only is he immortalized at Fordham, but he also appears on the doors of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, a church we’ll be talking about in a bit.
- Jogues ended up returning to Iroquois territory and became an ambassador to the Mohawks.
- The Mohawks viewed Jogues and the other priests as basically evil wizards, which I think is a very accurate way to look at them. Colonists had brought smallpox, measles, and other infectious diseases to the Mohawks, who had no immunity to them and saw huge fatalities.
- And the Jesuits had come to preach their religion (which as someone who grew up Catholic, I can say is full of magic) and try to convince indigenous peoples to convert, while at the same time unwittingly bringing them disease and death.
- After another major disease outbreak, and a crop failure, the Mohawks believed their misfortunes were the result of religious paraphernalia that the Jesuits had left behind in their village. Which, you know, that’s close enough to being true that I think that’s very fair to believe. Think about all the people who died because of the contact they had with European colonists.
- So there was an anti-French faction of the Mohawk village, and they went and killed Jogue and the other Jesuit, LaLande, who was with them.
- Then, indigenous people who were allies of the French (I’m not sure if they were Mohawk or Huron, but I assume they were Huron?), captured the man who killed Jogues. The man was condemned to death, but while waiting to be executed, he was baptized and then renamed Isaac Jogues. So then it’s like Jogues was martyred again.
- One thing is that I would assume this conversion happened with the man’s consent, but I wonder if it wasn’t?
- So then a bit later on, around 1666, a Mohawk village called Ossernenon (which is where the Jesuits were killed, and where Auriesville, NY, is now) was destroyed by forces led by a French aristocrat, in retribution for the killing of the Jesuits. They also destroyed 2 other Mohawk villages in the area. It’s unclear how many people were killed when those three villages were destroyed.
- But after the destruction of their villages, the French forced the Mohawks to accept the missionaries, and the Jesuits established a Jesuit mission nearby, though that was destroyed by the Mohawks in the 1680s.
- Jogues and the 7 other Canadian martyrs were made saints in 1930 and are clearly still well-regarded today, which I find pretty awful.
- Before colonization, the Mohawks were one of the most populous tribes in the area, and they had a lot of influence in the Iroquois Confederacy, but disease took a terrible toll, and in the year 1635, their population went from 7,740 people to just 2,830 people. So many people died that they had to consolidate into three tribes, down from 4. During the Revolutionary War, the sided with the British, since the colonists had done so much harm to them, and after the war, their land was confiscated, and many of them moved to Canada.
- The Mohawk people still exist: there are about 5,600 Mohawks living in New York, and about 23,600 living in Quebec and Ontario.
- Also, one interesting fact is that Mohawk ironworkers were involved in building many of the skyscrapers in Manhattan, and has been for 6 generations. Mohawk ironworking teams worked on the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the UN, Madison Square Garden, plus bridges including the GW, the Triboro Bridge, and the Hellgate Bridge.
- Hundreds of Mohawks a;sp worked on the World Trade Center, and the last girder was signed by Mohawk ironworkers, which is an ironworking tradition. And when the World Trade Center was destroyed, Mohawk volunteers helped with cleanup.
- I’ll include a link to an interesting article I read about it in the shownotes
- So let’s talk about John Joseph Hughes, aka “Dagger John.”
- Before we get into his biography, I wanted to read a quote from an 1866 biography called
- Life of the Most Reverend John Hughes by John R. G. Hassard:
- Archbishop Hughes was neither the most learned theologian, the best scholar, the most eloquent preacher, nor the most active missionary among the bishops of this country ; but there was none of his episcopal brethren that possessed his influence, and none whose general reputation stood so high with the public at large.
- So, in short, “Dagger John” loved power.
- He was called Dagger John for 2 reasons:
- First, bishops draw a cross before signing their name, and crosses are dagger-like
- And second, he was famously aggressive
- Born in County Tyrone, Ireland in 1797. County Tyrone is in Northern Ireland but my understanding is that even today, it’s a majority Catholic county.
- At the time that he was born, there were a bunch of anti-Catholic laws that the British had enforced.
- Hughes later talked about how for the first 5 days of his life, he had lived in “social and civil equality with the most favored subjects of the British Empire.” And then, when he was baptized Catholic, that changed.
- Life wasn’t so great for his family because of their faith: his sister was denied a Catholic burial, and when he was 15, Hughes was almost attacked by Orangemen
- Orangemen are members of the Loyal Orange Institution, or the Orange Order, which is a Protestant fraternal order that’s based in Northern Ireland (though there are Orange Order lodges throughout the UK, the Commonwealth, and the US)
- The order was founded in 1795, two years before Hughes was born, and the idea was that they’d be a Masonic-style society that was, according to Wikipedia, “sworn to maintain the Protestant Ascendancy”
- The Protestant Ascendancy was basically the domination of Ireland by a minority of protestant landowners, clergy, and professionals
- The idea was that Catholics, as well as other religions aside from the Church of England and Church of Ireland, including Presbyterians, other protestants, and Jewish people, would be excluded from politics
- Basically, what happened was that the land owned by Irish people was taken by English people. (Like for example, whenever there were revolts against the English, England would confiscate Irish people’s lands and give them to “loyal” people, aka English Protestants.)
- And through that, not only was Ireland under English rule, but within Ireland, the ruling class were English, or “Anglo-Irish,” and the actual Irish were excluded from politics in their own country
- So the Orangemen were the rich, English, anti-Catholic group, and then there was another secret society called the Ribbonmen, who were poor, Irish tenant farmers. The Ribbonmen’s goal was to oppose evictions and bad conditions for tenant farmers. There were a number of conflicts between the groups.
- It sounds like both groups had a number of Masonic-influenced practices, like being organized into lodges.
- So basically, things weren’t great for the Hughes family. John Hughes’ father was a poor tenant farmer, and John Hughes had to be taken out of school to help on the farm.
- Wikipedia says that Hughes was “disinclined to farm life” which I assume means it didn’t go so well, so Hughes was sent to be a gardener’s apprentice at an estate called the Favour Royal Manor where he studied horticulture.
- His family moved to the US in 1816, where they lived in Pennsylvania, and Hughes joined them in 1817
- Hughes tried applying to college at Mount St. Mary’s College in Maryland, but they didn’t accept him. But the rector hired him to be a gardener
- While he worked there, he befriended a woman, Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, who later became a saint.
- (In fact, she was the first saint who was born in the US.)
- Her story is kind of interesting, because her life probably isn’t what you’d imagine for a nun who became a saint: She was born an Episcopalian, married a wealthy businessman when she was 19, and lived on Wall Street where she and her husband were very big figures in NY society.
- She was a really devout Episcopalian, who did a lot of charity work with her sister-in-law, Rebecca, who wikipedia describes as “her soul-friend and dearest confidant” which sounds pretty gay but okay.
- She had five children, and when her father in law died, she took in 6 of her husband’s siblings who were under the age of 17.
- Because of some conflicts with France and the UK, her husband lost several of his ships and the family went bankrupt and lost their home. She and the children moved in with her dad on Staten Island, and her husband, who’d had TB most of the time they’d been together, got even sicker from the stress and was sent to Italy, accompanied by Elizabeth and their oldest daughter.
- Interestingly, they had to quarantine for a month upon reaching Italy, because Italians feared that they’d brought yellow fever with them from New York.
- Unfortunately, the italian climate didn’t help enough, and her husband died in italy in December 1803.
- Elizabeth and her daughter were taken in by her husband’s Italian business associates, who introduced her to Catholicism.
- When she got back to NYC in 1805, she converted to Catholicsm. Interestingly, in 1805, there was only one Catholic church in all of New York City, St. Peter’s Church in the financial district.
- To support her huge family, she started a school for girls, but when people found out that she’d converted to Catholicism, most of the parents pulled out their children.
- She was prepared to move to Canada, but she ran into a priest (who had fled france during the reign of terror) and who was involved with St. Mary’s College, a seminary in Baltimore, and in 1809, she moved there to help start a Catholic girls’ school.
- She also established a religious community dedicated to caring for poor children, and she founded a congregation of religious sisters–the first to be founded in the US–and started the first free Catholic school in the US, which started off parochial schools in the US.
- She was made a saint in the 1960s, and is the patron saint of widows and seafarers
- So anyway, back to John Hughes: he impressed Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, and she convinced the rector to admit him as a seminarian.
- He started school there, though he kept working in the garden, and worked as a latin and math tutor, and he was a prefect which apparently was a thing at that school.
- John Hughes became a priest in 1826. He did a lot of work in Pennsylvania, where he founded:
- St. John’s Orphan Asylum in 1829
- St. John the Evangelist Church in 1832
- We talked earlier about how he also founded St. John’s College—maybe you’re noticing a pattern in the naming conventions? Specifically, that he loved naming things after himself.
- Around the same time, John Hughes got into a very public tiff with a Presbyterian clergyman, Rev. John A. Breckinridge, who claimed that Catholicism wasn’t compatible with American values like republicanism and liberty. People thought that John Hughes would be trounced by the better educated Breckinridge, since he was an immigrant, but he debated very well and made a name for himself as a very aggressive defender of Catholicism.
- In 1837, Pope Gregory the XVI named Hughes the coadjutor bishop of the diocese of NY
- So, back to Hughes, who’d just been made coadjutor bishop of the diocese of NY
- There was some drama there, because most priests in the dioceses had been rooting for another priest. So in protest, the priests didn’t go to the concecration
- He didn’t waste any time in getting into arguments:
- he tried to get the government to support Catholic parochial schools off the ground, and that failed, so instead he set up a private parochial school system
- He threw a fit because the KJB was used in public schools, and he claimed that Catholic kids were getting indoctrinated into Protestantism through the footnotes in the KJB. However, there are no footnotes in the KJB.
- He campaigned in support of Irish immigrants, who were facing a lot of discrimination at the time
- Though, important note: while it doesn’t sound that Hughes loved the idea of slavery, he said felt that labor conditions in the North were worse than the conditions of enslaved laborers in the South
- Which, I understand that conditions were very bad in factories and stuff in the 19th century, but I think he’s missing the point. Comparing poor free workers and enslaved workers isn’t exactly apples to apples.
- Plus, he spoke out against the abolitionist movement.
- Remember, this is a guy with a ton of power, who isn’t afraid to say what he thinks. So he could have really spoken out against slavery, and supported the rights of black people in the US. But he didn’t, and instead used his platform to criticize abolitionists and say that slavery isn’t really as bad as working in a factory, so it’s not like he really had a problem with slavery.
- It sounds sort of like he had an issue with slavery when he was younger, but then changed his mind as he got older. Apparently, after traveling to the South and Cuba, in 1853, he decided that emancipation would be a bad thing for both slave owners and enslaved people.
- Also, supposedly President Lincoln consulted with Hughes, and selected him for a “special mission” to Europe in 1861, where he says that he went as a” friend of both north and south alike”
- And remember, there was a huge amount of tension between the Irish community and the community of free Black people in NYC, so he could have literally saved lives if he’d tried to confront racism in the Irish Catholic community of NYC.
- I’m talking, of course, about the NYC Draft Riots in July of 1863, in which poor white people, mostly Irish immigrants, attacked black people throughout the city.
- During the riots, an orphanage that housed 233 Black children, was attacked by a mob of several thousand people, who looted and burned down the building.
- The children were saved just in the nick of time, but during the riots around 120 people were killed, black businesses were burned, and many black people left Manhattan for good, moving to Brooklyn.
- The book Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th Century NC by Stacy Horn talks more about this, if you want to learn more.
- But anyway, I wanted to mention this because John Hughes could have done a lot of good, but he didn’t. As far as I can tell, he was a fierce defender of fellow Irish Catholic immigrants, but his compassion didn’t seem to extend any further than that.
- Technically, Hughes did speak out against the draft riots, because the governor, seeing that the rioters were mostly Irish, asked him to, but I think that’s a case of too little, too late. He gave the speech after 3 or 4 days of rioting.
- His health was poor, so he had this notice posted around the city:
- ” I am not able, owing to rheumatism in my limbs, to visit you, but that is no reason why you should not pay me a visit in your whole strength. I shall have a speech prepared for you. There is abundant space for the meeting around my house. I can address you from the corner of the balcony. If I should be unable to stand during its delivery, you will permit me to address you sitting ; my voice is much stronger than my limbs.”
- About 3000-4000 people showed up for his speech, which was well received even though apparently it was rambling, and it was clear his mental faculties weren’t so hot at the time. He was near death at the time, and this was his last public address.
- So while he did technically speak out against the riots once they were already well underway, the truth was that one speech probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference, but he could have really changed people’s minds through his ministry, but he didn’t.
- Also, even his biographer, Hassard, admits that the speech probably didn’t make any difference, because the people doing the rioting were still doing it, they hadn’t paused to hear a religious speech. The draft riots were eventually ended up military intervention.
- When he spoke about the draft before the riots, he was pro-draft and encouraged people to join up out of patriotism, but didn’t mention anything about the human rights abuses of slavery.
- In 1842, the bishop died, and John Hughes became bishop
- He had a mess on his hands.
- There were about 200K catholics in NY and north Jersey, but only 40 priests
- Also, nativism created a major issue for Catholics in America.
- Nativism was a big thing at the time, which, ironically, claimed that America should be for “Native Americans.” Which, let us be clear, did not mean indigenous Americans. In this context, “Native Americans” for some reason meant the descendants of colonizers from the 13 original colonies.
- Nativism is just a fancy word for racism and bigotry.
- Later on, in the 1880s, Nativism took the form of things like the Chinese exclusion act, which is exactly what it sounds like, and after the turn of the century, there was something called the “Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907” which resulted in Japan stopping emigration to the US.
- In the mid-19th century, Nativists generally opposed Irish Catholics, who they said couldn’t be trusted since they were obviously loyal to the pope
- In 1834, a nativist mob burned down a Catholic church in Boston (tho no one was injured)
- There were a number of nativist riots. In 1844, riots in Phillly led to people being killed, and later, in 1855 in Louisville, Kentucky, on election day, rioters killed at least 22 German and Irish Catholics
- So when, in NYC, an anti-Catholic protest was planned, Hughes told the mayor, who had nativist sympathies, that “if a single Catholic Church were burned in New York, the city would become a second Moscow”
- That’s a reference to a fire in 1812 that basically destroyed the entire city of Moscow. 6,496 of 9,151 private houses, 8,251 retail shops and warehouses, 122 of 329 churches, were destroyed
- I wanted to read this great exchange between Hughes and the mayor, as recorded in Hassard’s 1866 biography:
- ” Are you afraid,” asked the mayor, ” that some of your churches will be burned ? “
- ” No, sir ; but I am afraid that some of yours will be burned. We can protect our own. I come to warn you for your own good.”
- “Do you think, bishop, that yonr people would attack the procession ? “
- ” I do not ; but the Native Americans want to provoke a Catholic riot, and if they can do it in no other way, I be lieve they would not scruple to attack the procession them selves, for the sake of making it appear that the Catholics had assailed them.”
- ” What, then, would you have me do ? “
- ” I did not come to tell you what to do. I am a church man, not the mayor of New York ; but if I were the mayor,I would examine the laws of the State, and see if there were not attached to the police force a battery of artillery, and a company or so of infantry, and a squadron of horse ; and I think I should find that there were ; and if so, I should call them out. Moreover, I should send to Mr. Harper, the mayor-elect, who has been chosen by the votes of this party. I should remind him that these men are his supporters ; I should warn him that if they carry out their design, there will be a riot ; and I should urge him to use his influence in preventing this public reception of the delegates.”
- Because of how intense Hughes was as a person, the city backed down and didn’t allow the anti-Catholic protestors to have the rally
- It also probably helped that he arranged to have 1000-2000 armed men guard each Catholic church in manhattan. He said the men were “resolved, after taking as many lives as they could in defence of their property, to give up, if necessary, their own lives for the same cause.”
- Some Catholics in NYC even prepared to burn down their own houses in order to destroy the homes of their anti-Catholic neighbors
- He was a guy with a lot to say, so he started a newspaper called the New York Freeman, and in it, he wrote:
- “to convert all Pagan nations, and all Protestant nations. . . . Our mission [is] to convert the world –including the inhabitants of the United States – the people of the cities, and the people of the country, . . . the Legislatures, the Senate, the Cabinet, the President, and all!”
- So, you know, not aggressive at all
- In 1850, the pope declared the diocese an archdiocese, which made John Hughes an archbishop
- Hughes was archbishop until he died, in 1864.
- The book A history of St. John’s College, Fordham, N.Y., which was published in 1891, describes his death thusly:
- He laid his head back on the pillow, closed his eyes, breathed quickly and gently for a few minutes, and died with a smile about his lips.
- At his funeral, more than 200K people viewed his remains. His body was laid out for 2 days.
- His biographer, John R. G. Hassard described the funeral this way:
- It was perhaps the most imposing ceremony of the kind ever witnessed in New York. Eight bishops and nearly 200 priests took part in the services. . . The courts and other public offices were closed on the day of the funeral, and resolutions of sorrow and condolence were passed by the State Legislature
- While he was a complicated and pretty unlikeable character, Hughes did have a lasting impact on NYC. In addition to consecrating Calvary Cemetery and founding the school that became Fordham, where I lived in a dorm named after him and walked by a statue of him every day, he also was behind a lot of northward development in Manhattan.
- Back in the day, the city’s population was concentrated in lower Manhattan, like the Village and below.
- But John Hughes felt that the city would grow northward, and he insisted on building St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue and 50th street.
- (We talked about the cathedral a bit in the Renwick Smallpox Hospital episodes, since it was designed by James Renwick, Jr., but just a reminder, it’s now one of the top tourist attractions in NYC.)
- He laid the cornerstone in 1858, and people mocked him for building a church in such a rural area.
- Newspapers called the church “Hughes Folly”
- But Hughes was right–eventually, the city grew up around the cathedral, and it ended up being a really great location
- Hughes had been buried in Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which is in Soho, but in 1882, his body was disinterred and put into the crypt in the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Sources consulted RE:
Books RE: Archbishop John Hughes and Calvary Cemetery
A History of St. John’s College, Fordham, NY (1891): https://archive.org/details/historyofstjohns00taafrich/page/46/mode/2up
Life of the Most Reverend John Hughes by John R. G. Hassard (1866):
Atlas and directory to the plots and grounds of Calvary cemetery (1886):
The Leonard manual of the cemeteries of New York and vicinity 1 edition (1901):
The visitor’s guide to Calvary cemetery, with map and illustrations (1876):
Websites RE: Archbishop John Hughes and Calvary Cemetery
Story of Mohawk ironworkers: http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2012/09/the-mohawks-who-built-manhattan-photos.html
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