Friday, April 30, 2021

The Boy Scouts of America Early History of the Evanston Council (1916-1969).

Since the history of the Boy Scouts is well known and documented, it is not appropriate to repeat it in this more localized history except as a backdrop or as scene-setting for what happened in the suburban area north of Chicago.

By 1908 the “Hero of Mafeking” (1900) had become a hero to boys in England who were devouring his little book “Scouting for Boys” based on his experience as a British military officer and his concern for the character development of British youth.

Borrowing heavily from various youth movements in England at the time, Robert Baden Powell had published his book in serial form. It was being taken seriously throughout the British Empire and beginning to be noticed in the United States. Independent “Boy Scout” units were being formed based on the content of the book.

The following year, 1909, a Chicago area publisher, William Boyce, was introduced to the Boy Scout model while on a trip to England. He brought the idea back to the United States and legally incorporated the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in February 1910 in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.

That same year, Baden Powell, now a Lieutenant General and peer of the realm, retired from the Army and began to concentrate his time and efforts on the Boy Scout movement full time.

In May 1910, the well-known and politically connected publisher, William Randolph Hearst, formed the more militaristic American Boy Scouts (ABS). He incorporated the organization in June in the State of New York. Thus ABS became a serious rival to the BSA and they began to compete for membership and support national wide. Wherever Hearst had a newspaper, including Chicago (The Examiner & American), there was an ABS office. Before the year was out, Hearst had resigned from the presidency of ABS in a dispute over financing and the use of his name. ABS continued under various names until around 1920.
Early History of the Evanston Council (1916-1969)
Before there was an Evanston Council of the Boy Scouts of America, there was at least one unnumbered and unaffiliated Boy Scout troop in town. The troop met at the Lincoln School. Mr. Peter C. Wercks was Scoutmaster.

On September 21, 1910, a group of men in Evanston met at the home of Mr. Wercks to consider asking for a charter [1] from William Randolph Hearst’s American Boy Scouts (ABS) and to organize a Drum and Bugle Corps. They called their group, “The Advisory Committee of the American Boy Scouts for the City of Evanston.” Mr. Lewis W. Parker was elected Chairman and the group agreed to buy four drums and four bugles for $50. By October they had secured the services of a drum and a bugle teacher and agreed to assess each boy fifty cents per meeting to pay for the instruments.

In December 1910 the press was reporting Hearst’s resignation from the ABS and after some investigation of the matter, the group decided in March of 1911 to affiliate with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) [2]. In May a second troop was authorized by the committee to meet at Noyes Street School with H. A. Clauson as Scoutmaster. Troop One continued to meet at Lincoln School.

In the summer of 1911, 67 Scouts from ages 12 to 16 camped at Grays Lake with Mr. Wercks as Scoutmaster. After camp, Mr. Wercks attempted to resign as Scoutmaster of Troop One over matters of discipline, personal expenses, and time. The committee agreed to offer him $10 a month to defray expenses. He accepted.

On February 6, 1912, Lord Baden Powell visited Chicago and the Evanston Boy Scouts. Troops 1 & 2 were excused from school to attend a “review” in Chicago at the Stock Yards in Baden Powell’s honor. The Evanston Index reported that Baden Powell told Scoutmaster Clauson of Troop 2 “… (the Evanston Troops) were the best he had ever seen in America.” One local newspaper article said that the local Boy Scouts “have brought glory to their city.”

In March 1912, the “Evanston Boy Scouts of America” received an application for the organization of a negro troop. The committee approved the application unanimously in May provided the troop did not “be associated with or take part in any activities of the white troops except parades.” Mr. Alfred H. Edmunds (Edmonds) was to be Scoutmaster of Troop  3… later renumbered Troop № 7. A later newspaper item commented that “Scoutmaster Edmunds deserved great credit for his work in bringing the negro troop of scouts to its present excellent condition.” An article in The Lake Shore News (May 29, 1912) suggested that the troop was the only “negro“ troop in the United States, and they went on later to say that Edmunds oversaw 30 negro boys in Evanston (June 14, 1914).

The Committee also created the position of “Commissioner” to supervise the Scoutmasters and limited the size of a troop to fifty boys. In September 1914, the Committee formally agreed to ask to be“ ...properly recognized by the BSA headquarters in New York City.”

Troops 1 and 2 under Scoutmasters Wercks and Clauson went to summer camp together in 1911 with 78 boys for ten days. Wercks and Clauson were both veterans of the Spanish-American War of 1898 and ran the camp “in the latest military system” according to one observer. The camp schedule and terminology reflects this military flavor:

5:30am Reveille
5:55am Assemble in full uniform
6:00am Mess Call
6:45am Sick Call
7:00am Airing of Equipment (bedding)
7:30am Drill (Gymnastics)
8:15am Prepare for Inspection
8:30am Inspection
8:45am Guard Mount (older boys)
9:00am Fatigue Call
9:05am Police Call
9:30-10am Swimming
9:35-noon Liberty
12 noon Mess Call
1-3pm Liberty
3:00pm Fatigue
6:00pm Mess Call
6:30pm Retreat
6:30-8:45pm Liberty
8:45pm Call to Quarters
9:00pm Taps

In March of 1913, a new Troop 3 was authorized (presumably the “colored” troop had been renumbered). Mr. George Witbold was to be Scoutmaster. Mr. O. D. Davis was approved as Scoutmaster for Troop One and compensated at 30 cents per hour of service and was to have his uniform provided by the “Evanston Boy Scouts.”

Another prominent name was H. C. Carlisle. He was secretary of the organizing committee, an organizer of Troop 2, and later chairman of the camping committee. He is in some reports (around 1913) identified as Scout Commissioner also.

In September a seventh troop is mentioned in the minutes… possibly the “colored” troop but one source, the Chicago Defender, says Troop 7 came into being in May 1912 becoming the “… first colored Boy Scout of America.”

In August of 1913 Evanston (white) scouts (40 strong) were selected from Chicago area scouts to escort Illinois Governor E. F. Dunne at the big annual Naval Review in Grant Park, Chicago partly because of their “soldierly” appearance. Another newspaper article that year noted that the colored troop had 15-16 members.

About this time the Evanston scouting movement was beginning to show some cracks…Scoutmaster Clauson complained… “The troubles in Evanston is that there are too many rich families who are inclined to pamper their children” at the expense of “things in life that are most worthwhile.”

In 1914 Evanston troops boarded the steamer Carolina and sailed across Lake Michigan for a camp at Crystal Lake, Michigan. The camp was near Duck Lake which was to later become the Evanston Council’s Camp Wabaningo.

The Committee continued to meet and the program continued through 1914 and 1915. In April 1915 the Committee concluded that the public had lost interest in Boy Scouts as evidenced by a lack of community-wide financial support and that therefore the Boy Scouts should “suspend” all operations of all troops and the Drum and Bugle Corps. At this time there were about 200 Scouts in Evanston.

By November 1915 under the leadership of the Evanston Women’s Club, $10,000 had been raised and was considered sufficient to resume operations.

A new era was about to be launched for scouting in Evanston. A new council was formed and later incorporated in Illinois in 1916. J. P. Fitch was employed as Scout Executive with W. Eastman as Council President. Troop 1 was reorganized at St. Luke’s Church, Troop 2 was reorganized at Cramdon School, and Troop 3 was reorganized at Orrington School. The Drum and Bugle Corps continued with about 40 boys. National records give the total involvement as 245 Scouts in 1916.

According to an April 1981 article in the Palatine Countryside, in 1916 the Cook County Forest Preserve “conveyed” to the Evanston Boy Scouts six acres of land off Hillside Road in East Barrington. The Evanston Boy Scouts planned to use the land for camping and eventually build three cabins, a residence, a pump house, and a latrine. The camp was originally named “Evanbosco.” Later it was renamed Camp Jackson to honor a long-time Scouter, Al Jackson who had done much to improve and maintain the site.

Chicagoland Scouts camped at Evanbosco over the next fifty to sixty years, but by 1976, it had fallen into disuse and disrepair and its use was suspended by the successor council (Northeast Illinois) “due to health and safety conditions.” The camp was sold for $97,750 in 1979 much to the disappointment and chagrin of many old-time Evanston Scouters.

During World War I (1917-1918) many older Scouts took over leadership as young adult leaders went to war. Scouts pitched in and sold Liberty Bonds, collected peach pits used in gas masks, and identified Black Walnut trees to make propellers.

In 1918 Dr. Earle D. Kelly who had been Scoutmaster of Troop One became Scout Executive. Two hundred and forty-nine Scouts were registered at that time according to national records. Also, this year the first Eagle Scout Award was presented to E. Eale in Troop 2 of Evanston.

By 1920 the number of troops had grown to fourteen with membership at 280 boys. The 10th Annual Report BSA lists 262 scouts in 10 troops.

In 1920 the Evanston Council purchased 100 acres of land on the northwest side of Duck Lake on the Eastern Shore of Lake Michigan near Whitehall for $10,000. It included the channel to Lake Michigan and several hundred feet of Lake Michigan frontage. The camp was named “Wabaningo” after an Indian chief from the Ottawa tribe who camped, hunted and fished in the area. A few years later the Council purchased an adjacent 450 acres on the north shore of Duck Lake for $25,000. In 1927 250 acres was sold to the Grand Rapids Council and became Camp Showondossee. Travel to camp could be an exciting trip either by automobile (210 miles from Evanston and some five hours) or by steamer ship from Chicago’s Navy Pier aboard the S.S. Carolina or the S.S. Georgia of the Goodwin Steamship Lines. The steamer fair was $5.00 added to $25.00 per week camp fee in 1943.

In 1969 Camp Wabaningo was sold after the merger with the North Shore Area Council.

The 1968 Long-Range Plan report of the council recommended that because of encroaching urbanization, loss of privacy, water pollution, and tax problems that “a search should… commence immediately for a wilderness property.” This recommendation was made despite a companion recommendation that the Evanston Council consider consolidation with the North Shore Area Council.

The White Lake Beacon goes on to report… “The scout chapter of Duck Lake history came to a close when the councils sold their camps (Wabaningo and Camp Showondossee) to the conservancy in 1970.” The state of Michigan acquired the property and in 1984 established Duck Lake State Park.

Scouts from other councils found Wabanigo an attractive place to go for summer camp. The Herald (Maywood, Illinois) reported in a feature article on July 2, 1940:

“More than fifty Boy Scouts from the Oak Park Area Council… are taking part in the various activities at Camp Wabaningo situated on the shore of Duck Lake among the pines and oaks covering 387 acres.”

The article goes on to list the facilities as:
• A recreation hall and handicraft lodge
• A “spacious” screened dining hall
• A library and museum building
• A trading post and modern latrines and wash houses
• A quartermaster building, ice house, vegetable cellar, and two boathouses.

Accommodations include “large tents” for eight scouts) with wooden floors and steel cots with pads. A camp promotion piece in 1929 also lists “A completely equipped hospital… (that) assures the utmost care and prompt actions in case of an accident.”

“Luxury” however, would not be a word used to describe all the accommodations. Charles “Chuck” Gibson, an Eagle Scout from Troop One in Evanston, wrote an appealing five-page memoir of his experiences at Camp Wabaningo recalling that “We had no electricity, no (running) water, no flush toilets” but that bathing was a compulsory affair…, “we were instructed to bring a towel and a bar of soap down to the beach (of Duck Lake) and give ourselves a good scrubbing in the lake.”

Wabaningo received an unfortunate national attraction in July of 1955 when a 12-year-old scout from Evanston, Peter Gorham, was reported missing. In August his decomposed body was found near the camp with a bullet wound in his skull. Later, a known sex offender was picked up, confined, and was eventually convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. The whole affair was reported by the press across the nation.

Gibson in his remembrance piece concluded, “… the big thing I learned at Wabaningo (was) to live the 12 Scout Laws… and I found out I could live comfortably and happily with my fellow man. Camp Wabaningo taught me that there is so much in life to smile about.”

Camping sites seem to have grown during this period: Camp Howell (west of Glencoe) became a weekend camp and Camp Waukonda near Harms Woods was added. The 6.5-acre Camp Evanbosco next to Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Barrington, Illinois, came into being in 1930.

Earlier in 1921, Camp Sherrell next to Glenview was purchased.

Having learned the bitter lesson of having no area-wide financial plan and fundraising effort, in November of 1915 regular community fundraising started. Things limped along and by 1921 the campaign netted $9,274.

In 1921 the Council got serious and organized a well-conceived campaign with a goal of securing $30,000 for operating purposes. Two hundred and forty-four men were recruited into 30 teams supported by printed materials and aggressive publicity. $35,685 was raised to finance a two-year budget in support of 400 Scouts in 15 Troops.

From 1921 to 1932 an average of $18,752 was raised in community campaigns. In 1933 the Council became a Community Chest agency and an average of $13,947 came from that source. According to figures in the 1968 Long-Range Plan, the Community Chest was the principal source of operating funds until 1959 (averaging $25,245 a year). In 1960 Sustaining Membership began with $8,058 received. The source grew steadily so that in 1967 it represented 24% of the operating budget.

The movement continued to grow in size and interest. In 1924 there were 534 Scouts in 17 Troops, in 1926 it was 694 Scouts in 25 Troops. In 1927 a part of Camp Wabaningo was sold to the Grand Rapids Council and Camp Sherrell was sold to the Forest Preserve. Sea Scout Ship “Hobo” was purchased.

In 1926 the Evanston Council was conducting a creative “elective” in the Boltwood Intermediate School where boys could learn scout skills for academic credit through “practical work instead of the lecture method.” Don Boulton, Assistant Scout Executive was in charge.

A two-year drive launched in 1927 to raise enough money to buy property on Elmwood Avenue and an additional $30,000 for a building. The land on which the building was erected as part of the former site of Boltwood Intermediate School before it burned down.

March 23, 1929, a letter from the Evanston building Commissioner (no name listed) to Dr. E. D. Kelly:

“Dear Sir – Your application for permission to erect a building to be used for headquarters for the Evanston Boy Scouts upon the property known by street numbers 1225-31 Elmwood Avenue was granted by the Zoning Board of Appeals on condition that the building be erected in strict accordance with the terms of the Evanston Building Code and with the plans submitted to the Board of Appeals."

By 1929 registration had grown to 777 Scouts in 24 Troops, the following year 820 Scouts were registered in 28 Troops and the next year registration grew to 836. 1931 was the first full year of the new Cub Scout program with Four Packs chartered enrolling 117 boys. Unfortunately, Sea Scout Ship “Hobo” had to be scuttled as unseaworthy. There is photographic evidence of a Sea Scout Ship “Lafitte.”

A 1931 article in a publication identified as “Civic Service Corps” noted that 65% of 12-year-old boys in Evanston became Scouts and their advancement rate ranked with the highest in the country. The article also mentions the ambitious plan to build a headquarters building for $120,000. The two-story office building was to include offices, meeting rooms, and a swimming pool.

According to a newspaper article, the financial campaign started in 1927. “The building, however, was not built following the 1929 market crash…” and the $30,000 was placed in a trust fund that grew to $35,000. A campaign was launched to raise the $85,000 to complete the project.

The exact dates for all this are not clear but a Mr. Amos M. Mathews who was elected in 1948 was identified as Council President. Another undated article citing Mathews and Evanston Mayor John R. Kimbark reports a groundbreaking ceremony. Kimbark was Mayor in 1953 and resigned in 1961. A one-story building was built and eventually sold in 1971 to the Bethany Baptist Church.

In 1931 the Silver Beaver Award was authorized by the National Council to recognize distinguished service to boyhood within local Councils. Mr. H. W. Carlisle of Evanston was the first recipient in the area now served by the Northeast Illinois Council. Mr. Carlisle was a long-time activist in scouting since 1915 and had been elected a member of the Chicago Council and appointed to the Chicago committee to find and establish a permanent camp for “Chicago’s 6,000 Scouts.”

A paper in the files of the Evanston Historical Center indicates that Mr. Carlisle had organized a troop in 1908 and planned to affiliate with the American Boy Scouts. It should be noted that the American Boy Scouts did not incorporate until 1910 in New York State.

The minutes of the “Evanston Boy Scouts” organizing committee of April 1911 record that he was asked to join that group that year. He did and became Secretary in 1912 and continued to serve in that capacity until 1915.

Along with Mr. Peter Wercks, he did attend the first summer camp at Grays Lake in 1910, apparently with his son, Henry C. Carlisle, who was 12 at the time.

Carlisle’s name appears again in 1924 as a member of that year’s Council fundraising campaign. He went on to serve as Council President according to a profile in the Evanston Congregational Church’s 1976 history, “Our Congregational Heritage.” A report “50 years of Scouting in Evanston” lists him as Council President from 1930 to 1944. Newspaper articles dated 1936 and 1937 list Henry W. Carlisle as a Vice President of the Evanston Council. This is probably more accurate. The Evanston Council newsletter, “Scouting Ahead,” for February-March 1965 identifies Mr. Carlisle as a member of the Council Committee in 1915. He was influential in getting the Evanston Woman’s Club to sponsor a campaign to secure financial support that allowed the Evanston Boy Scouts to continue its operations.

The big event in 1935 was the organization and production of a Merit Badge Exposition to be held in the Northwestern University gymnasium. The Exposition was to be sponsored jointly by Evanston, North Shore Area, and Northwest Suburban Councils. The objective was to interest more boys in becoming scouts. Planning started in August.

The idea was to bring merit badge work alive with demonstrations conducted by scouts on how to accomplish the various requirements for each badge. The merit badges presented included life-saving, swimming, journalism, Indian Lore, horsemanship, stamp collecting, basketry, and over 50 other subjects. There was also a stage show presented by the scouts as well as music provided by various high school bands and Drum and Bugle corps.

In 1936 the Evanston Council took the lead in organizing a six-council adult leadership course at its Camp Evanbosco near Barrington. The courses included subjects both for scouts and cubs. It was reported in 1937 the participating councils were DuPage, Elgin, North Shore Area, Northwest Suburban, Oak Park, and West Suburban.

At the close of the 1937 camping season at Wabaningo, Loren W. Barclay, National Director of Camping praised the camp as “One of the best in the United States.” In that year council leaders completed plans for building a new hospital and converting the existing hospital to an improved camp headquarters.

Always concerned with keeping older scouts interested in the movement, Evanston in the spring of 1937 formed the Evanston Senior Scout Association with 60 charter members. Only scouts (or ex-scouts) who were at least 15 years old were qualified for membership. The previous year, in 1936, Thomas J. Keane, the National Director of the Senior Scouting Program, had spoken at the Regional 7 meeting hosted by the Evanston Council. The Evanston Review commented, “Senior Scouting, a comparatively new branch of scouting, combines a program of strenuous outdoor activity… with special activities along vocational lines.” The association planned a trip to Turkey Run in Indiana and to send two delegates to the First National Jamboree in Washington, DC. James Harness of Troop 24 was elected the first president. [3]

In June of 1937, Evanston held an official send-off at the City Hall for the 35 scouts that would represent the Council at the Jamboree from June 20 to July 9th.

In a 1943 publication of the Boy Scouts of America entitled “Boy Scout Victory Services News,” honoring World War II heroes who were scouts, Lt. William F. Eadie, USNR, an Eagle Scout from Troop 17 in Evanston is cited for his heroic rescue of members of World War I flying Ace Captain Eddie Rickenbacker’s party, who had crashed in the South Pacific. Using scouting skills, at one point Eadie lashed survivors to his light Kingfisher aircraft's wings and taxied 40 miles over choppy waters back to his base. “That chap (Eadie) has what it takes” declared one of the rescued men. Eadie received the newly created Air Medal for his “meritorious achievement.”

Also, in 1943, Evanston’s Wabaningo Lodge #248 of the Order of the Arrow was chartered and continued until merged in 1969 by Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan Lodge #40.

Francis Roy in 1948 was named chairman of a Capital Fund Raising project to finally construct a building at the 1225 Elmwood site. The council had been renting space at 614 Davis Street on the third floor. It did not meet the needs of the council any longer. The trust that was formed from the original Capital Fund Raising project had grown to $35,000 so an additional $50,000 was needed to complete the L-shaped council headquarters. Also on the committee were Philip B. Schnering, Thomas E. Boswell, Archer L. Jackson, George R. McKay, and Earl J. Rusnak. Mr. Jackson’s firm, A. L. Jackson, and Company supervised the construction. Amos M. Mathews was the council president, Donald M. Boulton (Scout Executive), H. S. (Sid) Pettett (Field Executive), and Mrs. James H. Wells and Mrs. E. A. Bartz (secretaries).

February 2, 1948 – the first God and Country Scout Award in Evanston Council went to Philip Carlson at the Calvary Baptist Church, Evanston. Part of the requirements for the award was to serve at least 150 hours of service to the church.

In June of 1955 ground was broken for a new Scout Headquarters building at 1225 Elmwood Avenue. It was finally opened in July of 1956.

The 1959 Annual Report of Council Lists Camp Evanbosco (renamed Camp Jackson) at Deer Grove Forest preserve (near Barrington) on 6 ½ acres and Camp Wabaningo of 380 acres near Whitehall, Michigan plus the office at 1225 Elmwood Avenue as properties operated by the Council.

Evanston was interested to give “in every Boy Scout the opportunity of going to (camp) any weekend.” The Camp Evanbosco was maned by experienced adult volunteers to direct the program of a provisional troop. A troop was made up of whoever showed up (with a reservation). Each scout had to be self-sufficient with his own gear, food, and sleeping equipment. Outdoor merit badge work was emphasized.

It is an interesting note that the concerns of the Council today are about the same as they were 40 to 50 years ago. A document prepared by the Evanston Council entitled “Goals and Personnel of the Council Committee.” (1959-1960)

1959–1960 list these concerns:
  • Training… at all levels, units, youth, commissioners
  • Better planning
  • Public Service
  • Membership Growth
  • Finance
  • Increased Camping Experience
In 1963 the Evanston Council initiated the first Annual “Together” conference of churches, schools, civic clubs who were interested in advancing their youth work via the scouting movement.

In 1968, as part of the National program entitled “Boy Power ‘76,” the Evanston Council under the leadership of Council President William J. Neill and Scout Executive Sid Pettett formed a long-range planning committee. Alban Weber was chairman. One of the conclusions was that “additional emphasis must be directed at once to the organization of a greater number of units in these (minority) areas… if the Council is to fulfill its objective of bringing the scouting program to all boys. The same objective exists today!

This same report concludes that its work “leads to a consideration of the merits and disadvantages of possible consolidation” with another council. The report goes on… “Because of a naturally close kinship to the North Shore Council… several meetings have been held… to discuss the possibility… and the committee recommends drafting a preliminary plan for such consolidation.”

Although not stated in the report, the consolidation notion apparently had the encouragement of the National Council.

Robert E. Dunn, a longtime Scout, and Scouter from Evanston offered this insight into the process:

“In 1968, the National Council sent representatives to Evanston. One at a time, a representative took a member of the Evanston Council Executive Board to lunch. Each was told that when Doc Kelly resigned and Don Boulton replaced him as Council Executive we had violated a national procedure in which Council Executives are appointed by the National Office and that Evanston not be allowed to repeat that procedure. Further, the Evanston Council was the smallest Council in the United States, and that Evanston would be required to consolidate with the North Shore Area Council. Thus, on October 21, 1968, the Executive Board of the Evanston Council voted to recommend consolidation with the North Shore Area Council by a vote of 22 to 6. This led the Evanston Council to the very unhappy requirement to sell the beautiful Scout headquarters in Evanston and Camp Wabaningo in Michigan. Proceeds from these sales were used to purchase additional property at Camp Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan, the section now called Wabaningo, at the Wisconsin camp.”

The Evanston Council consolidated with the North Shore Area Council in 1969 to become the Evanston-North Shore Area Council and in 1971 consolidated with Oak Plain Council to form the Northeast Illinois Council.

NEIC History Project Committee
Edited by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.



[1] “Charters” authorizing a BSA Troop were initially granted to Scout Masters. It was not until 1935 that charters were given to sponsoring institutions or groups.

[2] The separation of white and negro scouts apparently continued through the years as reflected in a piece in The Evanston Review in 1936 headlined “Negro Boy Scouts Will Go to Racine."

[3] The Exploring program for older boys was established in 1959 The Saint Mary’s Bulletin of February 1943 records that Troop 18 “has lost all of its officers” (adult leaders) to the war and asks if anyone is willing to help as Scout Master. As was common in other units in similar circumstances older scouts who were former Assistant Scoutmasters filled in. The troop apparently survived and prospered. It was still in existence in 1959 along with a Pack and an Explorer Post. In fact, Evanston was doing quite well that year with 27 Cub Scout Packs, 21 Troops, and 9 Explorer units chartered.

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