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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Historic Hideaway on the Santa Fe Trail. . . For Sale!

When people build houses, they have the misconception they are “forever homes;” they are perfect for a family and fashioned for decades. One would hope the place you call home isn’t just a small stamp in time.

However, suburban development is relatively new- we really have no gauge as to what will happen in the future as things come in and out of style. As things change, cities such as Kansas City have a reputation for sometimes removing the past to make way for what is currently considered bigger and better. Some houses in Prairie Village are being torn to the studs to build new homes upon their foundations.

Even Westport stands as a skeleton of its former glory.
Aerial photo showing Timber Trace's roads being built with Blue Hills
 Country Club in the distance. The home can be seen resting at the
bottom of the hill in the center of the photograph.

It’s pretty rare in the Kansas City area to have the opportunity to own a part of history that predates the Civil War.

And you do.

Nestled snugly between Verona Hills and Timber Trace subdivisions just south of Santa Fe Trail at the foot of a large hill rests a home that has captured my imagination since I was a little girl. In fact, this white painted brick estate is one of the very reasons I started this unique journey into the history of southern Jackson County.

I grew up across the street from a vacant piece of land that exposed a white cinderblock barn buried in the trees. My mother told me stories about when there were horses still kept in the barn. In the early 1970s, she would wake up and do a double- take with coffee in her hand as horses loose from the barn would graze on her grass … in a subdivision. Just beyond this very same treeline on 122nd Terrace, tucked past modern streets and down a gravel road, is this stately home so often missed by even people that live so close to it. Although the barn was razed several years ago, the house still stood, well beyond the years of Leawood, Martin City, and even Kansas City.
August 17, 1980 article in the Kansas City Star
announcing the development of Timber Trace subdivision
that stands now atop the hill 
directly south
 of the historic home. 

Yes, the house is considered by some to be that old.

When I was a little, beach-blonde girl under a decade old, I was captivated by the large, stately pillars... the bubbled glass resting in the windows. . . the uneven, beautiful hardwood floors and the large fireplaces. I could envision a life well beyond the house that stood in front of me. I could use my unique imagination to see into the past.

Just steps away from a creek known in official land records as “Spring Branch,” this home was my stomping ground as a child. Armed with nothing but our imaginations, kids in the neighborhood trespassed onto this land, searched for buried treasure, splashed through the creek and forged trails up the hill before Timber Trace existed.

As I like to say, we were our own pioneers.

This house, along with the New Santa Fe Cemetery less than 100 yards from its hidden driveway off Belleview Ave., is the very reason I have started this blog and this mission to tell history in stories. And because this house means so, so much to me, I crave to find this home new owners that will love it and cherish it as much as I do.

Known in some historical documents as the Watson Place Inn, this lovely antebellum home has seen well over 160 years of history in its day. 

Belleview Ave. where it joins Santa Fe Trail actually used to be the beginning of the driveway that led to this historic home.

A current view of "Spring Branch," the creek that runs
just to the south of the home at the foot of the hill.
Keep in mind that records as we know them today- such as building permits- don’t exist for this two-story home; however, folklore, legends and family stories saturate the few records that do survive. I’ve scoured every library in Kansas City, searched the State Historical Society of Missouri, reached out to past owners and descendants and taken several trips to the Public Records Office to try to piece together the little-known past of this incredible home.

Before the town of New Santa Fe popped up in 1852, settlement had already begun in the area. Most of the early settlement was done by squatter’s rights, meaning that people from other areas of the country looking for opportunity. These families, especially from Tennessee and Kentucky, stopped in Washington Township prior to modern land sales and platting. They knew sale of land was coming thanks to the Land Ordinance of 1785, where everything was to be divided into sections, ranges and townships.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, this area of Jackson County is quite unique, because the first real plat of the area didn’t occur until 1843, 23 years after Missouri was made a state. Washington Township, which includes Hickman Mills, New Santa Fe, Raytown, Martin City and Grandview was known as one of the “Lost Townships.”

Legend has it that the man hired to plat the land for sale got a wee bit intoxicated buying liquor from the Native Americans near the Blue River, passed out and lost his field notes. Embarrassed, he returned to the Land Office and told government agents that this very area was uninhabitable. This little white lie delayed legal white settlement in this region of the county for years.
1843 plat map of Washington Township showing the sprinkled farms that existed
during this early time. Courtesy of the Jackson County Historical Society.

If land wasn’t platted, you couldn’t legally buy it.

Keep in mind that there were already a few farms and cultivation occurring on the land; these rough and tumble pioneers weren’t going to let something like, you know, the government, stand in their way. They got a head start.

So several brazen families entered into the unknown, uninhabited edge of western Missouri and squatted on land. Before you could even lay claim to land – even before you could buy it- you had to at least built a cabin.

The fireplace in the dining room
So that’s what they did.

Before New Santa Fe was platted, at the current intersection of State Line Rd. and Santa Fe Trail, the area was known as Blue Camp 20.  Named because it was 20 miles from Independence, Mo. and on the route of the Santa Fe Trail near the Blue River, Blue Camp 20 was in the earliest days of the trail a stopping point before entering the Wild West. Early pioneers on wagon trains would camp on the Trail for the evening. Founder of New Santa Fe, Dabney Lipscomb saw how important this jumping-off point of the Santa Fe Trail was and envisioned expansion at this location.

To envision expansion means that there was something already festering at Blue Camp 20.

Enter in the historic home known best as the Watson Place Inn.

According to legend, the home at 123rd and Belleview was first a tavern on the Santa Fe Trail. Some locals call it the old “49er’s tavern.” However you want to look at it, there was most likely a building, now the heart of the dining room of the house, that served travelers on the Santa Fe Trail.

The pine hardwood floors in the dining room
Possibly a one-room cabin with a dirt floor, this “tavern” could have served thousands of pioneers willing to risk it all. Speculation is all we have to go off of along with dusty records that repeat the same stories. But behind every legend and folklore is the truth, even in the smallest fragment.

The current owners of the home have been told that the original entrance to this cabin would have most likely been on the north side of the house instead of the western entrance today. A date of 1844 has been given to this portion of the home, although your imagination must run wild to envision what it looked like then. Regardless, the lovely, open dining room with a fireplace façade partially reworked (but still has fittings for pots to swing) is a centerpiece of the room. For three decades, I have imagined the actions of this very space, wondering how many footsteps walked before me on the worn floorboards.

Even though the house itself is a wonder, the land
where the house sits is just as fascinating. In order to reconstruct what happened when and what action this home would have seen over the years, one has to recognize the past pioneer residents of this land.

A current map showing the original outline
of the land occupied
In July 2016, I wrote about the very first white settler to “buy” this land by deed. His name was Anthony Davis, and he has a rich foundation in the history of the western United States. Anthony, born in 1794 in Kentucky, was pivotal in the removal of the Potawatomi Indians in Indiana and Kansas.

After several years working with the Potawatomi, it appears Anthony was ready to settle down and get some land. Familiar with the area of Kansas Territory, which was not open to white settlement (yet), Davis jumped a few steps over to the Missouri side and purchased land in Jackson County, Missouri.

In 1846, he was able to purchase the north half of Section 18, containing 154 acres. In 1848, he purchased the south half of Section 18, containing 144 acres. This is the land that currently is bordered by State Line to the west, Wornall to the east, approximately 122nd Terrace to the north and Blue Ridge Boulevard to the south.

I wrote about Anthony just shy of a year ago, and he had quite the story to tell. To read more of his story, click here!!! 

As so many did at the height of the Gold Rush, Anthony decided his fate was better served to the west. In 1849, he packed up his belongings and his family to head toward the western horizon. Before he left, he sold his land at quite a profit- a big profit.

And if land is sold at a big profit, that usually means there were improvements made to the land. Improvements include clearing acreage and building a home.

In 1850, the new, ambitious owner of this prime real estate passed to William S. Gregory.

Sound familiar, Kansas City?
William S. Gregory (1825-1887)

Gregory Boulevard?

The future first mayor of Kansas City, William S. Gregory bought Anthony Davis’s land for a total of $3,200. This may not seem like much, but it was for back then- and that tells me there was more than just land being sold.

William S. Gregory, born in 1825 in Kentucky, didn’t just live for a time on the land (and quite possibly the house for sale)- he also opened a grocery store in the town of New Santa Fe. It’s common knowledge that Gregory had a grocery business on the levee in the future town of Kansas, he was also pivotal in the development of what would become New Santa Fe. The store would have sat on the state line and served both the town and the wagon trains traveling westward.

At this time period, New Santa Fe was really the only town in all of Washington Township. It would be three more years before Hickman Mills was founded.

In January of 1846, Gregory married Eliza Ann Margaret Wade (b. 1828) in Jackson County, daughter of Col. Samuel B. Wade. Samuel, born in 1806 in Kentucky, was one of the many men that chose to uproot his family and move west to the Jackson County area.

So, the question remains: did William S. Gregory live on the land that is now for sale? That’s super hard to decipher, as many of these men owned land all over the county. We have to look at the evidence that does exist.
An 1887 original copy of William S. Gregory's personal
price list of goods is held at Missouri Valley Special
Collections. Gregory changed his business name to
"Gregory & Son" in 1867.

One glaring clue that indicates that by 1850 Gregory was, in fact, living on the land can be seen through the serious and oftentimes difficult subject of slavery. And in 1850, his chattel is listed in Washington Township- where the historic home is.

As for Sam Wade, he and his wife, Polly (Long) Wade moved to what we now know as the Northeast part of Kansas City with his family in the early 1840s. William S. Gregory, Sam’s son-in-law was involved in building his business holdings in and around the future location of Kansas City. For whatever the reason, in 1851, Sam Wade and William S. Gregory decided to swap farms. For $4,700 each in what would be equal trade, Gregory took over the farm that would be on current-day Independence Avenue and Wade moved  his wife, their children and their slaves to the farm just south of New Santa Fe.

Also in 1851, Eliza Wade Gregory, William S. Gregory’s first wife, died from a cholera epidemic. They had two children together. She was buried on the land in New Santa Fe somewhere near the home.

Although creepy now but not super uncommon then, William went on to marry Eliza’s younger sister, Mary Wade (b. 1833), thus linking Gregory to the Wade’s in more ways than one.

Original plat of the Town of Kansas, 1839. It was
incorporated as a city in 1853. Courtesy of
Missouri Valley Special Collections
By 1853, with the incorporation of the City of Kansas, William S. Gregory was elected as first mayor, defeating Benoist Troost. He helped write the city charter, establish laws and acted as both tax collector and attorney.

Gregory only served ten months before citizens realized, scratching their heads, that Gregory didn’t actually live within the city limits of Kansas City, thus making him ineligible to be mayor. And where was that qualification written? In the city charter…

…that he helped write.

He lived, not surprisingly, to the northeast of what was incorporated. At this time period, the city ended on the east side at Locust.

Even though William S. Gregory is a fixture of this home’s unique past (and I was super excited to find evidence that he owned the property!), I have been stunned the more I've researched Gregory’s father-in-law, the extremely vocal, overly cocky and opinionated Democrat, Col. Samuel B. Wade.

This guy is the quintessential border ruffian.

Sam Wade is one of those guys that inspired me to get to the bottom of this crazy early history of southern Jackson County. And, trust me, I’m just getting started with my research on this outspoken “politician.” The title “colonel” was simply out of respect, not from service in any battle.

Col. Wade lived on the land- and possibly occupied – the historic home for sale. He and his wife, Polly (b. 1811) had seven children that survived into adulthood, the second and third oldest being the wives of William S. Gregory. Their children were: Nancy (b. 1823), Eliza Ann Margaret (b. 1824), Mary Catharine (b. 1833), Lou Ann (b. 1836), Emma (b. 1840), James (b. 1843), and Walter (b. 1847).

A cartoon from the 1850s indicates the feelings toward Border Ruffians at the time.
So by the time Col. Wade decided to make the area of New Santa Fe his home, he was 45 years old with only his three youngest still in his care. I guess this gave him even more time to be active in the political unrest of the area.

Part of the road leading away from the home
And by political unrest, I mean the institution of slavery was under fire due to the possibility of Kansas becoming a free state. . . and Kansas was just steps away from the western border of his farm in New Santa Fe. Sam, in 1860, had six slaves ranging from two to 35 years old. The 1860 Slave Schedule indicates that all his slaves shared one cabin on the land.

So yeah. It’s safe to presume that our buddy Samuel Wade (and William S. Gregory) were totally cool with keeping slavery going in Kansas. And these guys would do anything to stop free-soilers from settling on the land to the west.

By 1855, territorial elections were underway to place people into office in Kansas. I wrote about one of these cases of blatant fraud that involved many of the men of New Santa Fe last year. To read a detailed account, click here!

To sum it up, men from Missouri, including William S. Gregory and Sam Wade, stormed into Kansas in March 1855 to vote illegally.

1850s voter fraud in Kansas Territory as shown
in an early political cartoon.
Sam Wade and his son, Jim traveled with William S. Gregory to Bull Creek to ensure their pro-slavery buddies, mostly living in Missouri, were voted into office. B.C. Westfall, a resident of New Santa Fe in JACKSON COUNTY, MISSOURI was elected as one of the judges.. in Kansas Territory. In his testimony to the territorial government that investigated these frauds, Westfall stated, “Samuel Wade, of Jackson, voted once for himself and once for ‘Jim Wade.’ Jim is a boy. . . I asked him why he had voted for a child? He said he had laid out a claim for him close to his own claim, and he expected he would be a legal voter sometime!”

All the judges knew Samuel Wade and his son, yet no one objected to the vote of an 11 year-old boy.

This was the very beginnings of Bleeding Kansas and the Border Wars that followed.

Partial article from the Border Star published
July 21, 1860 featuring a public meeting in
New Santa Fe run by Wade.
Instead of keeping quiet, Sam Wade was extremely active in the southern Jackson Co. area from the early 1850s up until the outbreak of the Civil War. And during all this time, Sam lived on the land that now holds this historic home.

He helped organize pro-slavery conventions, speakers and even served in July 1860 on a chair in New Santa Fe to publicly declare who citizens should vote for in the upcoming elections. They sent their resolutions off to the Border Star newspaper out of Westport and had them published.

That’s one way to get a target on your back during these tumultuous times of the Border Wars.

Keep in mind, as tricky as it is to imagine it today, the people living on the border were targeted constantly. Just as often as border ruffians, also called bushwhackers, barged into Kansas to threaten, burn and sometimes kill these newly settled Kansans, the Jayhawkers were equally evoking pain on the pro-slavery Missourians living near the border.

One of the most famous Jayhawkers made his way into the pro-slavery border town of New Santa Fe.

Col. Charles Jennison (1834-1884), founder
of "Jennison's Jayhawkers"
Col. Charles Jennison was commissioned lieutenant colonel of a cavalry unit out of Kansas in September 1861 that quickly became known as Jennison’s Jayhawkers. Working out of Kansas City, Jennison’s “job” was to strategize how to stomp out the Confederates and their sympathizers living on the western border in Missouri. He was known to use fire and fury across this already beaten-up area. Jennison and his Jayhawkers would steal property they could use, set fire to things he couldn’t, and on occasion kill those who stood in his way.

The fate of Col. Samuel Wade may have been inevitable considering the circumstances.

In December 1861, an article originally printed in the Leavenworth Times indicates that New Santa Fe was the target of one of the most infamous guerilla bands to bleed out of Kansas and into Missouri. Jennison’s Jayhawkers made their way through the town. . . and it was burned.

That leads us to two obvious questions. What happened to Samuel Wade? And how is it that the house for sale at 123rd and Belleview, that is said to partially predate the Civil War, is still standing?

I have done my due-diligence to try to figure out what exactly happened to Sam Wade. I don’t know exactly, to be clear. What I do know from talking to his direct descendants is that they were always told a few interesting stories about the family. One is that Polly Wade, Sam’s wife, knew the war was imminent and, although illegal at the time, taught their slaves to read and write.

Reprinted in the Olathe Mirror, Jennison's burning of New Santa Fe
was announced in the paper December 5, 1861.
Second, the family was always told that Sam Wade was “killed.” The word choice here is important for obvious reasons. When I searched for Sam and when he died, the only thing I could find was that he died in 1861. And, he was extremely active in loaning out money to people in the area. Promissory notes are part of the pages and pages of documents contained in his probate file that didn't even begin until after the war ended. The last date I have for him loaning out money is at the end of October 1861.

That only leaves two months for him to have been "killed," and this raid into New Santa Fe by Jennison’s Jayhawkers occurred in December of the very same year.

So I’ll leave that up to you to decide what happened to him.

Regardless, Sam Wade most likely didn’t meet a favorable and easy death, and his wife, Polly, died around the same time. Neighbors and family members took in the remaining three children and the farm most likely stood vacant during the Civil War.

The front living room, a step down from the oldest portion of
the home, greets visitors of the home.
This leads to the second question- how did the home survive the Jayhawkers and the war? That’s extremely hard to decipher and records are sketchy. Some writers believe the original part of the home was used as a tavern for both sides, but considering what I have uncovered in research about good ole Sam Wade and William S. Gregory, I’d say this is highly unlikely.

Maybe it survived because the owners had been killed- or because the house sat low in the valley near a large hill (appropriately still called “Wade’s Hill” by some locals) and could be used during the war?

We most likely will never know, but I do know that the house, its basement and its old pine floors show no evidence of fire damage.

Sam and his wife were buried on the land next to their daughter, William S. Gregory’s first wife.

A bill located in Samuel Wade's probate clearly indicates that 6 bodies
were removed and reinterred at Union Cemetery
After the war ended and the Union claimed victory, Sam’s house and land remained tied up in probate. His family held onto the land and house for several years, most likely renting it out to local tenant farmers. His sons and one daughter moved to Independence, Kansas in the 1870s and settled there permanently.

Sorry, but that is just too ironic…. Not only did they move to Kansas- but to INDEPENDENCE.

Before completely abandoning the farm at New Santa Fe, the Wade family heirs commissioned for six bodies to be removed from the farm in July 1872 and reinterred at Union Cemetery.

After the unbelievable and quite prominent lifestyle that Sam Wade led, his grave is unmarked and was undocumented along with the other five Wade family bodies buried there.

Dr. John Ellis Watson, namesake of the
Watson Place Inn
Union Cemetery’s records of burial were burned in a fire on-site in 1889. All of the people with headstones there were accounted for by simply walking the grounds; however, those, such as Sam and his family, were lost in time since they never were properly marked.

This is where I stepped in. No matter a person’s belief system or politics, no one or no event should be erased from history. Never. When I could confirm with several documents that Samuel B. Wade, his wife, and his daughter Eliza (along with three others) were moved to Union Cemetery, Union Cemetery Historical Society finally listened.

The final burial location of Sam and his family members will now be listed, hopefully by this week, in the official records of Union Cemetery- no longer lost but still without headstones.


Now back to the house and land.

In the late 1860s, a town partially rebuilt after being burned needed a doctor. Pennsylvania-born Dr. John Ellis Watson (b. 1834) answered to the call of duty and chose Sam Wade’s farm as a perfect location to settle.

Nellie Watson Klapmeyer, oldest
daughter of Dr. Watson. Circa 1869
This is where the home gets its common name of “The Watson Place Inn.”

Dr. Watson added (or possibly updated) a room to the southwest of the home, importing native chestnut from his home state. The room stays perfectly preserved, a lovely addition to this antebellum-style home. It’s certainly not clear what was there when Dr. Watson moved into the house, but there is no question that he made some drastic changes.

Watson gained national fame when he lost his first wife, Abigail in 1869 and decided to bury her back in their home state. On the train ride, his daughter Nellie, only two years old, wouldn’t stop crying. When a lady stated she would be better off with her mother, Dr. Watson responded, “Her mother is in the baggage coach ahead,” indicating her mother had passed away.

This story allegedly inspired Gussie L. Davis to write the song “In the Baggage Coach Ahead," a famous song in its day.

After returning with Nellie to Jackson County, Dr. Watson got to work finding a new wife. In November 1871, he married Louisa (called “Lou”) Simpson Lipscomb (b. 1845), daughter of Joel Lipscomb and Henrietta Harris. Dr. Watson and his new wife, according to a family record, moved into their new home the day of their marriage. I wrote about Joel, his strong pro-slavery beliefs and his home (once a slave cabin!) in a prior post. To read more about it, click here!!

They went onto have three children. Lou raised Nellie, John’s child with his previous wife, as her own. This blended family of six improved and lived in the house. Dr. Watson  died in the 1880s and is buried near Martin City at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

The library/parlor, nicknamed the "Chestnut Room," shows the influence
Dr. Watson had on the current look of the home.
Lou moved into the city and rented out the farm for over forty years. When she died in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1928, the house passed to her children. In 1929, just shy of 60 years after Dr. Watson made his home at the Watson Place Inn, the family sold it to new owners with new ambitions.

Col. Arthur Elliott was a manager of a savings and loan operation and wanted to embark in the fashionable custom of Kansas Citians to own a farm outside of the city. In May 1930, despite the onset of the Great Depression, Col. Elliott, his wife, Bonnie and two young children set upon the Watson Place Inn as a summer home. He bought the home and 43 acres of land for $260 an acre.

But tragedy struck. On Thanksgiving Day in 1930, Elliott complained of indigestion as they entertained friends at their new farmhouse. The next day, Col. Arthur Elliott died of a heart attack. He was only 48 years old.

Five years later after the house had been enlarged and a pond was added on the northeast section of the property (where the cul-de-sac currently is on 122nd Terrace), Col. Elliott’s wife sold the home to John V. McKinney, a streetcar executive who dreamed of a peaceful life in the country with his young family.

By the 1940s, the Watson Place Inn had greatly transformed from its original modest beginnings. The farm, which hugged the Santa Fe Trail to the north, was passed along to Clinton Gates, a lawyer based in Kansas City.

Under the ownership of Elliott’s widow, the house was expanded from 11 rooms (the oldest being the front-facing) to 16. Just shy of 5,000 square feet, the dilapidated farmhouse was no more. Further changes were made when the Gates family moved in. Paget Gates, Clinton’s daughter, recalled, “My parents made major changes to the dining room and decorating changes of the living room and library but as I remember, those two rooms remained similar in size and shape as before.”

A photo published in the Kansas City Star in 1935 shows the condition
and changes made to the home. A screened-in porch used to cover the first
and second story of the front (now removed).
Through the 1950s, the Gates family found farm life in the outskirts of Kansas City to be ideal. The pond that they fondly referred to as “the lake” was used for ice skating in the wintertime. History seemed to repeat this custom even well after the pond was filled in to make room for a cul-de-sac and houses at the end of the street. My neighbors, the McInerney’s, found a low spot in their yard to be the perfect place for a small pond, and for several years, we kids would brazenly attempt to ice skate on it as well.

Little did we all know that there was once a large pond at this very spot.

Paget and her siblings enjoyed every moment at the Watson Place Inn. She loved milking their cow, Judy, in the morning before heading to school. A large vegetable garden and an orchard on the property created a sense of self-sufficiency in a rural setting.

The farm, as shown in an aerial photo from the late 1940s, featured a barn, chicken coop, orchards, a vegetable
garden, a separate in-law quarters and various other buildings on over 45 acres. The road leading into the lefthand corner
was once part of the driveway off Santa Fe Trail and now is Belleview Ave. Courtesy of the Gates family.
As the house passed through a few more owners through the last fifty years, its overall look has not been altered. Most of the farmland was sold for development in the late 1950s, leaving a small portion to the owners of the Watson Place Inn.

Simple yet impressive details, such as this
built-in nook in the dining room, add
historic charm to the home.
Regardless, the rich history of this historic gem in South Kansas City has stood the course of time. And just as time shows, owners come and go- some for short periods of time while others longer. 

After over 30 years of the current ownership, the Watson Place Inn is searching for new owners to preserve and share the history for future generations. This beautiful, unique antebellum-style home with layers upon layers of incredible history deserves to continue to stand the test of time.

The current owners of the home told me on a visit that they felt more like caretakers of the Watson Place Inn than owners. They were meant to be there to ensure the home stayed in-tact along with the 4.8 acres that surround it. Virtually undisturbed, the soil surrounding the home is likely to hold more treasures buried deep.

This home, which remains so dear to my heart, has history behind each bubbled glass in the windows, within each fireplace, on every pine floorboard, and with every brick on its façade. The house screams historic beauty that just is holding on for the right owners- the right caretakers- to continue preserving the important 160+ years of history that has, until now, eluded most everyone.

And each day as it sits quietly on the market, I pray for the right people to stumble onto its stoop and fall in love with this home and the land as much as I have over the years.

UPDATE*** January 29th, 2018- This house has been SOLD!
*Please keep in mind that this is still private property!!
** The featured photo is courtesy of Reece & Nichols.568-79c2db1f129d&first=1

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