This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

My Shamrock Orchestra

27 March 2021

In my collection of vintage musicians' photos, most of the musical groups are divided by gender. There are bands for men and boys, and others for girls and women. This was partly a result of how Western society in the 19th and early 20th century separated people along the lines of race, class, religion and sex. In the professional bands of these earlier times, the musicians were exclusively men. This was also true for large orchestras too, with the rare exception of female harpists who somehow were deemed acceptable. However in smaller communities the rules were less strict, particularly for amateur and church ensembles where men and women played side by side. It's difficult to know how widespread this was, except to say that photographs of mixed gender groups are less common.
So this postcard photo of a small orchestra made up of six women and seven men is an exception to the prevailing customs of their time. The women all wear white dresses with some adding a black bow tie. The men are dressed in their best 3-piece suits. The group have a versatile instrumentation with clarinet, flute/piccolo, bassoon, five violins/viola, two celli, and one double bass, and, curiously, a tambourine. To further break with conventions, seated in the center is a woman who holds a conductor's baton with a rolled up book of music, the signal that she is the leader as well as the keyboard player, either on piano or maybe organ. The 13 musicians posed in a nice relaxed manner outside a building made of stone bricks which has windows that look more typical of a church than a theater, school, or private home. 
The photographer was T. J. Kerslake of Alexandra Studio in Weston-super-Mare, where this postcard was sent on December 19, 1911 to Rev. Edward Weir,  of the Ballintemple Rectory, Ballinagh, County Cavan, Ireland.

    Thanks so much for your letter 
 & the newspaper, we were all       
 so interested in it as besides         
 it being about you it contained    
 items of Grandpapa Weir.              
    Sorry you didn't like photo        
 is this any better?  it is my            
 Shamrock Orchestra as least        
 part of it  so we keep up for          
 ould Ireland.    Daisy is                   
 living in Bristol not here.  With   
 every good wishes for a happy    
 Xmas from your loving neiece (sic)       
Tilly.     Can you find me?              

It's a sweet holiday greeting
and I could easily finish the story here.
But Tilly's question to her uncle seemed,
110 years later, a challenge to me too.
Can you find me?

So this week I accepted her dare
and went on a genealogist's scavenger hunt.

My first step was to search for the good Rev. Weir.
Thanks to the Irish archives on
I quickly found him living in Ballintemple. 

{Click on any image to get a bigger picture}

In the 1911 census for Ireland, one form was filled out and signed by the head of each family residence. For the Ballintemple rectory the head was Edward Henry Weir, age 49, single, born in Limerick, Ireland and Rector of the Parish.  He had two servants. A housekeeper named Kate McCarthy, age 36, single, born in Dublin; and a yard boy from London, Alfred Palmer, age 18. One question on the form asks about "Religious Profession". In this case the household of the Ballintemple rectory was Church of Ireland, an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion along with the Church of England. 
Rev. Weir's St. Patrick’s Church still stands in Ballintemple, and is listed in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. The church is an example of a freestanding Gothic Revival hall-and-tower. It was built in 1821 and according to the website, it is typical of hundreds of small rural Irish churches. The link has a slide show of exterior and interior photos of the church and it appears to be well maintained, maybe even improved over it's two centuries of service to the people of Ballintemple.

St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Church,
Ballintemple, County Cavan, Ireland
Source: NIAH

In 1911 the population of the parish of Ballintemple was listed on a separate form prepared by an enumerator, who was the local constable, David Hoey. In April 1911, Constable Hoey counted 48 people living within the boundaries of the parish, divided into 12 family dwellings including Rev. Weir's rectory. The census recorded each person's faith in three columns specific to either "Roman Catholics"; "Church of Ireland" or "Irish Church"; or "Others", meaning other Protestant denominations. The list indicates that 35 Catholics, and 13 Anglicans lived in Ballintemple. Rev. Weir probably had no trouble keeping an attendance record of his parishioners.

Constable Hoey also made an account for all the buildings in the parish, both inhabited and uninhabited. The non-livable structures included 4 stables, 2 coach houses, 7 cow houses, 4 calf houses, 1 dairy, 6 piggerys, 10 fowl houses, 2 barns, 4 turf houses, 7 sheds, and 2 stores (presumably for farm storage). There were 12 private dwellings in Ballintemple where families lived, and each home received a score for its construction. Walls of brick or stone rated higher than those made of wood and mud. Likewise a roof of tin or slate tiles was better than one with a perishable material like thatch. The constable also counted the rooms in each house and the number of windows on the street front. Perhaps not surprisingly, of all 12 houses the rectory of St. Patrick's Church got the highest score with 7 to 9 rooms and 5 windows.  

Using Google Maps street view I discovered that just adjacent to the grounds of St. Patrick's Church is an old two-story house with 5 windows. There are no other houses nearby except a more modern house across the road. It looks like a rather neglected but substantial building. The church is visible on the right just behind the trees. I think this is where Rev. Edward Henry Weir lived when he received his niece's Christmas wishes for 1911.

There were not many records with Edward Henry Weir's name, but I found four official government lists that are unusual and merit a mention. It seems that the Rev. E. H. Weir of Ballintemple liked dogs because in 1912, 1915, 1916 and 1920 he paid a fee to get each of his pets a proper dog license, pursuant to the Act 28 Vict., Cap 50.  Over about eight years he owned a brown terrier, a red terrier, a black & white Cocker spaniel, a black Pomeranian, and another black & white terrier. My interpretation of the license fee was 2 shillings 6 pence for each dog. Sadly the list does not contain any names for the dogs.

On 8 October 1920, Rev. Edward H. Weir died of a heart condition at the Royal City of Dublin Hospital. He was age 59 years, 4 months, and a bachelor. In the following year his probate was published in the official British gazette. His effects were valued at £984 12s 8d and one of his executors was his brother, George Wetherall Weir, MD. This turned out to be Rev. Weir's older brother who lived in South Shields, downstream from Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England. 
Of course, my first thought was that Tilly might be George's daughter. But in the 1911 census for his household, George Wetherall Weir, age 53, a medical practitioner who lived with his wife, Emily Benson  Weir, age 44, along with a domestic servant, Margaret Brown, age 28. After 15 years of marriage, George and Emily Weir did not list any children, living or dead. So Edward Weir must have had other siblings. 

With a little more study at, I found the Weir family tree carefully assembled by a descendant of the family. After learning the name of Edward's father, James Maxwell Weir (1824-1889), I found his second brother, William Maxwell Weir, (1851-1886). William married Frances  Mary Smith in 1874 and together they had seven (or maybe eight) children before William's death in 1886. Their last child was Matilda Louisa Weir, born 1881 in Knockaverry, county Cork, Ireland.

Matilda, or Tilly Weir, was now very easy to find in the 1911 census for Weston-super-Mare. At the top of the list was Frances M. Weir, age 66, widow, and head of a school. Living with her were daughters, Mary Weir, age 35, single; Grace Weir, age 31, single; and Matilda Weir, age 29, also single. All three daughters listed their occupation as teacher. Below them were eight names of pupils, all girls age 11 to 16, and two young women employed as domestic cook and housemaid.

1911 Census of England & Wales,

After a search for the 1901 and 1891 census records, I learned that Frances had been a head principal at a small girl's school in Weston-super-Mare since 1891. In that year the five surviving Weir children, Mary M., 16; Charlotte A., 15; James M. 12; Grace F., 11; and Matilda, 9;  lived with their mother, Frances, at the address of Burton House.  10 years later, at the next census of 1901, her son James had left home, but now Frances employed each of her four daughters as a "Governess" at her Burton House school. As there were only four female pupils that year, that was a very good student/teacher ratio. 

Dublin Irish Times
5 August 1871

These private schools were quite common in the British educational system. In a search of the newspaper archives for the various Weir names, I found an advertisement in an 1871 edition of Dublin Irish Times for the Limerick Collegiate, Civil, and Military Academy. Its principal was James Maxwell Weir, A.M., Ex-Sizar and Ex-Scholar, T C D, the father of Frances' husband, William Maxwell Weir,   and Matilda's grandfather. The advert noted that, "Young men are most expeditiously and successfully prepared for all examinations, collegiate or otherwise."  Frances Weir was probably following his teaching model adapted for girls. And though they took in boarding students, there were probably a good number of local girls who attended their classes too. I also suspect they may have kept a second annex school for younger primary age children.

Weston-super-Mare, also called just Weston, is a coastal town west of Bristol, just below the start of the great estuary of the River Severn. In the mid 1800s as railways began connecting the cities and towns of Britain, Weston-super-Mare became a popular destination for people in Bristol and southwest England as a holiday seaside resort. This was despite the fact that the tides in Weston-super-Mare are extreme, and the low tide mark reveals a dangerous mile-wide mudflat beyond the sandy beach. By 1911 much of the city's residential  center was well established, and the Weir's girls' school at Burton House at 17 Walliscote Road in Weston-super-Mare still remains much as it would have looked in 1891. Most of the cities buildings were constructed of local stone blocks. 

Frances Mary Weir died in 1930, but her girls' school continued under her daughter's management, and was still in operation up to the 1950s. In 1958 the sisters Charlotte Alice Weir, and Matilda Louisa Sumner (Weir) were listed as the principals of Burton House School in a compendium of independent schools.

Source: Independent School Association Yearbook, 1958

Matilda waited to age 43 before taking a husband, marrying Edward Frost in 1924. After his death in 1929 at age 79, she took a second husband, William Frederick Sumner in April 1932. On their marriage registry Matilda listed her profession as "Teacher of Music". Her father's name, William Maxwell Weir (deceased), was also required for the record, as was his rank or profession, "Inspector of Schools". She did not have children by either husband.
Charlotte Alice Weir, spinster, died in February 1960 at age 84. On probate her estate was valued at £8251 6s 9d.  Shortly after that, the Burton House school closed after 70 years of educating young girls under Frances Mary Weir and her daughters. 
Five years later, Matilda "Tilly" Louisa Weir-Frost-Sumner died on 3 May 1965 in Weston-super-Mare. She was 84 years old.

So did I find her?
In a way, I'd like to say, yes,
I've come very close.

Using the tools of  Google Maps I've tried to identify the location
of the orchestra's photograph. My best guess is that the musicians
are outside of a church, possibly St. Paul's Church of England
which was only 3 blocks away from the Weir's Burton House School.
But without closer examination it's hard
to distinguish these stone blocks 
from any other masonry in Weston-super-Mare
as the building blocks all look the same style.
But I think I'm pretty close.

Yet it doesn't feel precise enough
as I can't positively pick Tilly out
from the six women
in her Shamrock orchestra.

It is December 1911. Tilly is now age 30. The girl in front with the tambourine looks too young. However both the violinist seated left and the orchestra leader do look about 30 years old. Could Tilly be the conductor and pianist? Maybe.

In the second trio of women, the violinist on the ground is surely too young for a match. And the seated violinist might be age 30, but I think she looks more in her early twenties.
However the woman in glasses, standing right with a violin, is, I believe, Charlotte Alice Weir, based on a photo attached to an family tree. It was posted by a Weir relation who identified a woman with glasses as Charlotte Weir taken in the 1920s or 30s. If I have this correct, then it's possible that Matilda's sisters Grace and Mary are also playing in the orchestra. Maybe even their brother James too. I'm tantalizing close to having an answer to her question. So very close.

Can you find me?

It's a riddle that we all 
at some time in our lives.
A game of hide and seek.
Where am I?
Will anyone come look for me? 


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where it's all about the wall.

Trapped in the Land of Hope and Glory

19 March 2021


A swarm of trombones
is a sight to behold.
But it's
tiresome to watch
all that puffing and pumping,
and the noise that they make
will drive any man to drink.


 And who ever thought
that adding more voices
granted permission
to sing every verse
of every anthem,
should be sentenced to.
a few years of hard labor.

if you've seen one tenor horn
then you've seen them all.
Hearing a horde of them
does not improve the experience,
and instead makes you wish
that you'd never seen none.



 For when music becomes an ordeal,
a quagmire from which there is no escape,
you can only hope
that you will endure the torment
 until the last note dies away.


 This photo postcard
of a large outdoor concert
gives no time or place.
The brass band is easily
over 75 musicians,
all men in bowlers and straw hats.
And the choir arranged
on stepped bleachers
could be 350 singers or more.
My best guess
is that the brass instruments,
and the chimney pots at top right, look British.
And the hats and the fashion look 1910-ish.
But the purpose of the event,
whether patriotic, religious, or temperance,
must remain unknown.

Yet for one gentleman and a young lad
this was one concert best forgotten.


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is waiting
to see who will pay the pipers.

Two Brass Trios

13 March 2021

 A trio of brass instruments makes a nice sound together.
Music for three offers a better range than a duo,
and is not as dense as a quartet,
or as intricate as a quintet.


When the two top instruments are the same type,
their voice lines can weave
a melody between each other,
while the lowest instrument
provides a sturdy accompaniment.

Strictly speaking a brass trio
is neither a band, nor an orchestra,
and not really a complete brass section
of either ensemble.
So a photo of a trio of cornets and tenor horns
may be nothing more than a picture of three friends.

Or maybe brothers.



The first image comes from a cabinet card photograph of three gentlemen with two cornets and a bell-up tenor horn. It's an uncommon pose having the two cornetists play a fanfare while the tenor horn player sits on a fake rock and looks directly at the camera. They are dressed in dapper three-piece suits, the two cornetists wearing striped trousers. It's an attire better suited to an orchestra rather than a band. The young men appear close in age, somewhere around 20 - 25. Certainly they are friends in music, but their features are not too dissimilar, so perhaps brothers too.  

The photographer was John D. Strunk of 730 Penn St. in Reading, Pennsylvania. The card mount's decorative scalloped edges was a feature popular in the 1890s. From my experience collecting vintage photos, Mr. J. D. Strunk was one of the more prolific of Reading's numerous photographers, as his work is very common to find. Back in the day, Reading was an important railway hub and many travelers stopped their on the way to somewhere else. In 1889 its city directory listed ten photographers, seven with addresses on Penn St. within a block or two of each other.
Source: The Internet
For some years now, as an aid to dating old photos, I have compiled a digital archive of images of dated photographs that I find on eBay. The now faded back stamp on J. D. Strunk's cabinet card of the three musicians is no longer very clear. But sometime ago I came across another cabinet card that used the identical engraving of a painting of a mountain landscape resting on an artist's easel . That photographer was Kibbe of No. 6 W. Main St., Amsterdam, New York. 
Penciled in the top corner is the photo subject's name and the year 1887. Photographers usually bought their special card stock in bulk from paper dealers who offered designs printed in Germany or England which left a space for photo studios to print their individual name. Mr. Kibbe and Mr. Strunk obviously used the same supplier's catalog. Note that this card mount did not use the  scalloped edges which first appeared roughly in 1888 and continued to 1900. 
 * * *

My second photo shows three bandsmen dressed in fancy uniforms with flat-top shakos, frilly epaulets, shiny belt buckles, and several rows of brass buttons. One man has a tenor helicon over his shoulder and the other two have cornets. All three men hold small folios of their sheet music which would be held by the lyre clips attached to their instruments.

This brass trio stands in front of a realistic paper mache tree and a painted backdrop of a grand gateway. The cabinet card photograph was taken at the studio of R. E. Green of Portland, Michigan. Mr. Green used a simple logo on the front of his card stock and left the back blank. But unlike 98% of my anonymous cabinet photos, one of the musicians decided it merited his name. A descendant filled in the names of the other two, his brothers.

On the side is a penciled note:

Return to J. E. Platte.

And next to it, written in ink:

John E Platte
Joe Platte
_? Platte, Ferd's dad)
Ferd Platte
(Norm + Aloy_
? Pl dad)

Portland is a pretty small town in south central Michigan, in between Grand Rapids and Lansing. In the 1890s it had a population of 1,678 citizen, including, I suppose, Mr. R. E. Green, the photographer, though I couldn't find his name in the census records. The Platte brothers are not there either, but it didn't take long to find them in the next county in the village of Westphalia, Michigan, about 9 miles northeast as the crow flies. In 1900 the three brothers lived on adjacent farms, neatly listed in the census like a genealogist's ideal family tree.
1900 US Census, Westphalia MI

John E. Platte, age 27, born May 1873 was head of the household which included his mother, Mary A., age 67, and his father, Ferdinand Platte, age 67. Next was Ferdinand J. Platte, age 29, born June 1870, and his wife, Catherine, and two children, Anthony and Mary A. They were followed by Joseph Platte, age 35, born Jan 1865, and his wife, Mary, and daughter, Caroline. John, Ferdinand Jr., and Joseph were farmers. It would seem that their father, Ferdinand Sr., was no longer working on the farm. He and his wife, Mary A. were both born in Germany, or Prussia as noted in the 1870 census, had been in the United States since 1836. The three brothers had several other siblings, as their mother had given birth to 12 children, 8 surviving to 1900.

As they posed left to right wearing their splendid uniforms, Ferdinand, Joseph, the oldest brother, and John E. Platte, the youngest, look like they belong to a military style band. In the 19th century many communities in America maintained regiments of state militias that regularly assembled each year for military training. Since soldiers always have to practice marching, there had to be a band playing march music. So it was common for a civilian brass band, to be hired as the "regimental" infantry band for a few weeks. 
The three Platte brothers were very likely members of a such a "military" brass band, possibly from Portland, but maybe from the larger city Lansing which was only 23 miles to the southeast. A small village band could rarely afford expensive uniforms like these. Maybe the photo was made during a special event celebrating Portland's heritage, or maybe just the occasion of getting new band uniforms. I think the youngest Platte brother, John E., looks about age 18-20 in this photo, which, based on the useful 1900 census information, would date their photo to about 1893.

Source: Wikipedia
The small community of Westphalia, Michigan was established in 1836 by German settlers from the province of Westphalia in northwest Germany, and the Platte family were part of that early immigrant group. The father of the brothers, Ferdinand Platte Sr., was honored as one of those first German pioneers, with an obituary in the Detroit Free Press on his death in 1902. The Wikipedia page for the village includes a photo of a sign in the village which tells a short history of the settlement that includes two members of the Platte family.  Since Ferdinand Sr. was only a child when he arrived at Westphalia, the music making in the Platte family was likely taught by the previous generation. With such a large family, there might have been enough to make their own band too. 

In 1890 the population of Westphalia was only 350. This Michigan farming community has not grown much in 130 years with only 933 residents today. Google maps show a Platte Farms just two squares east from the Westphalia's center crossroads. It's a place where all  directions are measured in right angles. 
Do you suppose Joseph, Ferdinand, and John ever practiced their brass trio by marching down the straight roads into the village?


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where two is company,and three's a charm.


A Pair of Musical Partners

06 March 2021

 Do these two funny fellows look familiar?
A handsome dark-eyed young man
plays a lute shape guitar.
His foppish sidekick cuts
a pose with a violin.

You probably don't recognize them
you've seen characters
like this duo many times.

Think Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye,
or Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.


And the same goes
for these two string musicians. 
A goofy sailor boy fiddles and sings
as a pretty young girl
accompanies him on guitar.
The expressions on their faces
hint at humorous lyrics
we can not hear.

Think Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds,
or  Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour.

The names of these musical partners
were once well known.
People recalled the catchy tunes
and the comical sketches
because they had heard them, live on stage.
It was the golden age of German musical theater.
And every show had songs to sell
and celebrity performers to promote.


The first pair of characters are the actors Oscar Sabo and Carl Clewing. They are dressed in their roles as Kurt Match and Hermann Plannenschmidt from the operetta Bummelstudenten – The Student Loafers. The song is Ballade von Geigerchen – Ballad of the Violinist. This musical comedy by Austrian composer, Rudolf Bernauer (1880 – 1953), and Austrian lyrist, Rudolf Schanzer (1875 – 1944) opened in Berlin in 1910 with 429 performances that season. 

The storyline involves two carefree students who are disinclined to ever complete their studies. When Hermann's rich uncle dies, he inherits a fortune of a million marks, with one condition. He must get a real job and earn 5,000 marks on his own.  The two pals set off to try a variety of occupations but, of course, succeed at none of them. There's a girl involved too. The lesson learned is that love is worth more than money.

Carl Clewing (1884–1954)
Source: The Internet

Carl Clewing (1884–1954) began his acting and singing career in Berlin. His character as Hermann was his first successful roll that led to his appointment at the Royal Court Theater in 1911. During the war he first served as a messenger and then became a fighter pilot. After the war, his Heldentenor voice  took him to the Bayreuth Festival where he sang in Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Parsifal. Clewing was also an avid hunter and is reportedly the inventor of the pocket hunting horn, a tightly coiled bugle horn that became popular with German/Austrian hunting enthusiasts. (As a horn player, I can't resist showing what this instrument looks like. It is about 7 to 8 feet long, yet fits into the pocket of a shooting jacket.) 

* * *

Oscar Sabo
Source: Theatermuseum Wien

The funny fellow on both postcards is Oscar Sabo (1881-1969), an Austrian actor and singer who first trained to be a violinist, but found real success in Berlin as a singer. During the war years, he began appearing in silent films and later transitioned to sound films. Sabo is credited with 115 films from 1915 to 1964. In 1916 he replayed his roll of Kurt Match, in a silent film adaptation of Bummelstudenten. However Carl Clewing was then serving in the army and is not listed in the cast, so these postcards date from the earlier stage production.

The young women on the second postcard is Lisa Weise (1880–1951). The top caption reads Grosse Rosinen, Links sass Munga, Rechts sass Mongo, which translates as "Large Raisins.  Munga sat on the left, Mongo sat on the right." 

Lisa Weise and Carl Sabo co-stared in a number of operettas and Posse mit Gesang, a type of German farce with songs. In this photo they are performing in Große Rosinen or "The Choicest Plums", a better contemporary English translation, which was an operetta by German composer, Walter Kollo, (1878–1940) with libretto by Willy Bredschneider. This operetta premiered on New Year's Eve 1911 in Berlin and was Kollo's first successful work. He went on to become one of the most celebrated German composers of light music, producing 44 operettas, farces, and revues between 1907 and 1940. 

Thanks to the wonderful I found two recordings of Oscar Sabo and Lisa Weise in their roles in this operetta, Grosse Rosinen. These were reproduced from Gramophone disks made in 1912. The first recording is entitled Mädel Jung Gefreitwhich translates roughly as: "Young maid courted."  

* * *

* * *
If the embedded player does not work,
try this song link to hear it on the website

I've been unable to find any description of the plot to Große Rosinen, so we will just have to imagine its story. But I did discover another postcard of the same scene at the archives of the New York Public Library. This card has the caption, Das Lied von Munga und Mongo, and it is autographed by Oscar Sabo and Lisa Weise. 

Oscar Sabo and Lisa Weise
Source: New York Public Library

A second song from 
the operetta, Grosse Rosinen
is entitled: Pauline geht Tanzen,
which translates as:
Pauline goes dancing.


* * *

* * *

 Lisa Weise and Oscar Sabo
in Extrablätter at the Berliner Theater, 1914
Source: Wikimedia

Oscar and Lisa were photographed for several stage productions in Berlin. This postcard shows them in the 1914 operetta Extrablätter – The Extra Special at the Berliner Theater. Both actors appeared in some silent films, but following the war, Lisa Weise retired from the theater and disappeared into obscurity. 
In 1912, the July 20th edition of The Literary Digest, published a report on the current state of Germany's theater life. During the period from September 1910 to August 1911, 38,000 performances were recorded in 435 cities at 665 theaters. There were 2,525 works presented from 1,324 authors. Of these works, 2,056 were plays from 1,077 dramatists, and the remaining shows were 218 operas and 208 operettas from 214 composers. Twenty-five plays of Shakespeare were presented with 1,042 performances. It was also the year that Richard Strauss premiered his sparkling great opera Rosenkavalier, which had 228 performances. 
It was indeed a golden age for Germany's theater culture. In the two postcards of these three entertainers, Lisa Weise, Carl Clewing, and Oscar Sabo, we get a glimpse of their charm and wit, and even a treat of their singing voices from old grainy gramophone records. We can assume that they were talented actors and probably good instrumentalists too. Still without seeing them in the context of their full show, we can only imagine the laughter and applause that came from their audiences. 

Sadly we do know how over the next three decades, German history will abruptly change its culture. I think that makes scenes like these all the more poignant for their sentimental nostalgia. 


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where two are not too many.



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