Lee County Illinois
Part of American History and Genealogy Project

Bench and Bar of Old Lee County Illinois

It is with emotions of pleasure I take my typewriter in hand to begin the story of the legal fraternity of Lee County.

Nearly all of my young life was spent, as deputy circuit clerk, in dose touch with the lawyers of Lee County. And what a glorious flood of recollections sweeps over me the moment I try to select the first one to mention! They almost kill themselves in the stampede to find expression first.

Lee County always has had a strong bar. From Edward Southwick, the first lawyer, down to the present moment, the lawyers of Lee have been known all over the state as men of great ability.

The lawyers of Lee have been a fearless lot of men too. How well do I remember the day the late Bernard H. Trusdell made a speech to a jury which was one of the most remarkable on record.

A certain community which he represented had been over ridden by a lawless lot of hoodlums. They had terrorized the community until quiet, law abiding citizens became desperate and they called upon Bernard H. Trusdell to bring the culprits to justice. Mr. Trusdell secured the indictment of certain members of the gang who had been especially vicious and Mr. Trusdell followed the case into association with the states attorney to give the prosecution the benefit of his legal mind as well as the benefits of his personal feelings in the case.

When he came to conclude the arguments for the prosecution, did he appeal to those jurors to do their duty? Did he approach those twelve men in meekness, begging them to bestow a favor on the community? Did his words indicate that small favors might be accepted from that jury by way of compromise in case of a possible disagreement? Never! In conclusion, he raised a clenched fist; his eyes were aflame with indignation at the lawlessness of the defendants and he told that jury something like this: "The members of this community were presented with two ways to treat this ease. One was a prosecution in court; the other was to administer the law themselves. They have chosen the former and now we expect you to do your duty as jurors. If you don't then I'll be one to shoulder a musket and with others, to settle it the other way."

That jury gave the defendants the limit and never more was that community molested by that or any other gang of law breakers.

And what red letter days were those when Mr. B. H. Trusdell locked horns with his brother, Abram K. Trusdell, today the patriarch of Lee County's lawyers! Brilliant, profound, fearless, tactful, forceful, by the time these two giants had finished their case, nothing had been overlooked; not a single question of fact; not a line of law had been forgotten. They gave and took. Sometimes they rested on the verdict, but more often, the case was followed until the court of last resort had declared for one or the other.

I have heard the old prosecutor, McCartney, of Sterling, say that when the Messrs. Trusdell were arrayed on opposite sides of a case, that that case was the best tried case he ever had heard and for one, he derived great profit in listening to the trial.

I dwell upon the names of these two gentlemen, not because they were so gentle and kind to me, who as a boy was charged with responsibilities which if neglected, would rightly subject me to severe criticisms, but because they were grand lawyers.

How many times have I seen them peep over my shoulder in a pleasant, friendly way, to see if my summonses and writs were issued correctly! Not in a critical, pretentious, pedantic sort of way to rattle me and then open on me with a battery of verbal artillery they knew so well how to level at an opponent, but as friends. The older, Mr. B. H., was a man of magnificent physique; of commanding appearance and yet with me, his gentle ways always were suggestive, accompanied with his laying his arm lightly across my shoulders; he never was impatient with me. And for the other, Mr. Abram K., what cannot I say? My preceptor! How faith-fully he tutored me! How pleasantly he corrected my atrocious answers to hypothetical questions! How patiently too he guided my hand through the intricacies of instructions and other documents! And then there came the day when I must go to Ottawa for the bar examination! With the same fatherly interest, although pressed for time, he left business to go with me to Ottawa and dress up my courage at critical times. And all for me, a boy of trifling abilities, heedless, inappreciative and slovenly. And too, he never credited that important trip as one designed for my benefit. The rather, he made the remark casually that he too must go to Ottawa to make some motions. It is true he made many motions before the Supreme Court on that momentous day, but the trip was made for my benefit; to see me through and he never left my presence until the ordeal was passed and we had returned home.

Those were the men who made the Lee County bar famous. Such men gave it a name that must remain imperishable. Men afraid of no odds in a legal controversy, and yet in the midst of a battle who could say to a little boy: "May I trouble you just a minute to hand me the files in this case?'' How too would those older Lee County lawyers play jokes on one another; like boys almost. I can remember one occasion when John Stevens, the writer's father, was compelled to go to Springfield on a case pending before the Supreme Court. Edward Southwick was of the party. Southwick was very dark. Southwick and Stevens were partners at the time too, but when Mendota had been reached, and the passengers had gone into the dining room for dinner, Stevens whispered in the ear of the landlord that a separate table should be provided for Southwick. No specific reason was given more than to nod and make a remark about his complexion. When Southwick attempted to take a chair with his companions, the landlord took him by the arm and very gently hinted that he had provided a separate table for his colored guests. How the profanity did fly from Lawyer Southwick!

Perhaps I'd better not repeat the story of the bet John Stevens made with E. B. Stiles at a banquet, to the effect that he, Stevens, could eat Stiles' oysters. Nor had I better tell the reason why he was able to win. I may say, however, that Stevens won his bet and ate Stiles' oysters.

Even the good old circuit judges knew how to laugh. Can any-one ever forget the trial of that same E. B. Stiles for maintaining a nuisance in the form of a hog pen on Third street, right in the midst of a dense population? For reasons best known to himself, Stiles defended himself without the assistance of counsel. He appeared armed with a very exhaustive brief from which he quoted when he wished to emphasize a point. That famous brief was written by that prince of wits, Benjamin F. Shaw.

A man named Tooke, a nice old gentleman, had the habit of asking for so many favors for his "Dixon Seminary" that he had made himself tiresome to many. Stiles, when he had reached a particularly strong point, affirmed his flight of oratory by opening his brief with great dignity and begging permission to refer to "Tooke on Bores. "

Did Judge Heaton fine the defendant for contempt? Never I Like any other human being he laughed a good old-fashioned laugh that nearly split his fat sides. Aaron L. Porter, twice or thrice sheriff, once had an experience with a wheelbarrow, and right under the observation of that same Judge Heaton, and later in the trial when Stiles had a particularly obstinate bit of law to overcome, he opened up his brief again and asked the court to refer to "Porter on Barrows.'' Verily, never did court or counsel or defendant present a day of such delicious humor as the celebrated Stiles Hog Case, in which the jury acquitted the defendant and at the same time presented him with a purse of a dozen pennies with which to hire a lawyer for the next offense.

From the very beginning of things, the services of Lee County lawyers were sought to go great distances to fight desperate cases. When the old Indian chief, Shabbona, found himself helpless to combat the plots and counter plots of Bogus Gates and his coterie of experts, it was Edward Southwick whose services were sought by the old chief. And Southwick went over to Shabbona's home in DeKalb County and cleaned out the Gates crowd so effectually that no member of it ever dared annoy Shabbona thereafter.

While William Smith, brother of the Mormon prophet, resided in Lee County, he had been quick to perceive the abilities of the lawyers of Lee County, so that when Joseph and Hyrum Smith were thrown into the Carthage jail, S. G. Patrick and Edward Southwick, were sent for, post-haste, to defend them. Of course it is well known that the Smiths were shot without a trial, and before Patrick and Southwick could reach Carthage; but the point is illustrated when the fact has been stated that Lee County lawyers were sought, when what might have been the biggest case of the state 's history, was likely to be tried.

For a time, I was unable to determine who the first lawyer was to locate in Lee County. Until the September term, 1842, when attorneys appeared for clients, the clerk did not name them; but at that time, when a new penmanship appeared on the records, the record writer began the custom of writing his records thus: "And now comes the plaintiff by ______ , his attorney. "

Nevertheless, at the first term of the circuit court, begun on the third Monday of April, 1840, quite unintentionally perhaps, J found the name of Edward Southwick, associated with W. W. Fuller, attorneys for the defendant sheriff in the case of Charles H. Capman versus Aaron Wakelee, I. N. Balestier was attorney for the plaintiff. The latter was a Peoria lawyer. Fuller was an Oregon lawyer and Southwick was a Dixon lawyer. This led me to believe Southwick was the first lawyer. Just when he came to Dixon is unknown, but it must have been about the year 1836, because he was admitted to the bar of Illinois Nov. 25, 1836. Sub-sequent correspondence proves incontestably that he was Lee County's first lawyer.

On Nov. 4, 1840, Edward Southwick appeared in court, and on his motion, William W. Heaton was admitted to practice, and so was Walter Merriman, who does not seem to be known as a Lee County lawyer. This would make him the second lawyer. Shepard G. Patrick was admitted to practice, on the records of the clerk of the Supreme Court, March 29, 1842, and the first time I found his name on the Lee County records, was under date May 4, 1843, when as senior member of the firm Patrick & Noble, he appeared in the Lee circuit court.

In the records for May 6, 1843, I find the name of Cyrus Chamberlain, as master in chancery of Lee County. If he was a lawyer he would come next to Southwick, but no evidence exists that he ever practiced. Lorenzo Wood, who was admitted in Michigan, came to Dixon in 1842. Although his name always was included as a member of the bar, he never practiced. The same may be said of Roberts, of Roberts and Mackay. On Sept. 11, 1843, I find also that Edward Southwick appeared in court and on his motion, John V. Eustace was admitted to practice.

Southwick seems to have led in practice from the beginning, his name appearing in four-fifths of all the cases, as attorney for one side or the other. Other names, most of them unfamiliar, are Edwin R. Mason, S. A. Mason, Chase (was it George or Charles?), May, Kellogg, Fraser, Wallace, Evans, Wells, states attorney. From the appearance of the dockets, one must decide that litigation was common. I found one case whose term number was 111.

But, to begin with, the first term of court, held in the schoolhouse on the third Monday of April, 1840, was presided over by Judge Dan Stone, of Galena. He will be remembered as the member of the Legislature, who with Lincoln, signed what was designed to be a protest against a slavery resolution, passed by the lower House. Aaron Wakelee, was sheriff; Shelton L. Hall, circuit attorney and George W. Chase, clerk. The grand and petit jurors, selected by the county commissioners and mentioned in another place, with few exceptions, appeared and were sworn in. Those of the grand jury panel, who did not appear, were Noah Bedee, David H. Birdsall and Peter T. Scott, and Judge Stone entered a rule on them to show cause why they should not be fined for con-tempt. I cannot find where they were fined, which makes it probable that they purged themselves.

Lee was attached to the Sixth judicial circuit Jan. 15, 1840, and the times for holding courts were fixed for the third Mondays of April and September. The bonds of George W. Chase, clerk, $2,000; Samuel Johnson, coroner, $2,000 and Aaron Wakelee, sheriff, $2,000, were brought into court and approved.

There must have been at least forty-one cases on the first docket, because one of that number, Charles Franks vs. Thomas H. March, bill for injunction, was reached.

The first case on the docket was John M. Kinzie, the famous Chicago man of the early days, vs. William Wilkinson, appealed from Smith Gilbraith, a justice of the peace. It seems that Kinzie appeared at neither trial and so he was called in open court three times, and failing to appear, his appeal was dismissed, and the judgment of the court below, according to the practice of that day, was affirmed. A procedendo was issued and the costs taxed, the first case in the fee book, were $4.17½.

While the Kinzie case was first on the docket, case number five (5) was the first case in which a motion was made, at that term, entitled, William F. Bradshaw vs. James Dacey and Daniel Carpenter. Defendants asked to have the case dismissed, and the motion was overruled.

Seven indictments were returned by the grand jury; the first was against Zachariah Phillips for keeping a gaming house; the second was against the same party for keeping a billiard table; the third was against Jude W. Hamilton, for selling liquor without a license; the fifth was against Caleb Tallmage (shades of Black-stone and Kent! It was Deacon Tallmage!) for selling liquor without a license; sixth, John and Joshua Cutshaw, for selling liquor without license, and seventh against John B. Wilson, for forgery, counterfeiting and passing counterfeit money.

Hamilton, with a man named Chapman, ran a store in the original John Dixon house in 1836. Their establishment was the first opened in Dixon. He is also reputed to have built the first frame building in Dixon, a little affair which sat close to the east wall of the brick building on the alley, First Street, between Ottawa and Galena avenues, owned by George Downing and occupied by the American Express Company and another tenant.

Hamilton was found guilty and fined $10 and costs. Tallmage was found not guilty. The Cutshaws gave bond for their appearance and then defaulted it.

At this term of court, the first "first'' naturalization papers were issued to Nelson Thurston, who declared his intention to become a citizen.

A special term was called for the first Monday of November, 1840, at which the cases on the docket had run up to at least one hundred and eleven.

Our old friend Frederick R. Dutcher, cut considerable of a figure at this term of court. He and Smith Gilbraith were the two justices of the peace, elected at the first election held for the purpose and it seems he married a couple without having a marriage license. The circumstance must have cut a great figure in contemporaneous history, because he was indicted three times at this term and once in May, 1843; but he got away from it all after considerable litigation. A party named Knowlton was his attorney. On Sept. 19, 1842, Michael Fellows, our first recorder, first appears on record. He was made deputy circuit clerk on that day by G. W. Chase, the clerk.

In 1856, James K. Edsall, who subsequently became Attorney-General of the state, came to Dixon from Kansas, where he had been a member of the Legislature.

In August, 1855, a directory printed in a newspaper called the Daily Whisper, contained the following list of Dixon lawyers: F. R. Danna, John Stevens, John V. Eustace, Heaton and Atherton, J. D. Mackay, S. G. Patrick, Frederick A. Soule and Edward Southwick. Lorenzo Wood should be included, although he and Danna nor Soulé practiced actively. Wood, however, in 1849, had his sign out in Dixon, as a lawyer.

In 1845, a correspondent writing for a Rockford paper made the statement that there were six lawyers in Dixon. They were so far as known Edward Southwick, S. G. Patrick, Silas Noble, William W. Heaton, John V. Eustace and Lorenzo Wood.

John V. Eustace later, in 1856, became a member of the Legislature. He introduced a bill making a new circuit, which was passed and he became judge of that circuit from the ranks of Lee county attorneys. He served until 1861, when Judge William W. Heaton was elected. When the law establishing the appellate courts was passed, Judge Heaton was appointed to the appellate bench and became the first presiding judge for the first, Chicago, district. He died in 1878, while in office and Judge John V. Eustace was elected to fill the vacancy. Judge Eustace died in office and Judge John D. Crabtree was elected to the office and very soon was elevated to the appellate bench for the second district. He too died in office and Judge Farrand was elected to the office which he has held ever since. Thus it will be seen Lee County has furnished a circuit judge ever since the year 1856, and an appellate court judge for two of the districts of the state.

From the Lee County bar, Solomon Hicks Bethea was made a judge of the United States district court, in Chicago. Sherwood Dixon, S. H. Bethea, Charles B. Morrison and William B. Sterling, all occupied the position of United States district attorney, the first three for the northern district of Illinois and the last named for the State of South Dakota.

William Barge too was one of the big lawyers of Illinois. He enjoyed a very large practice and was known the state over as a lawyer of great learning and power. To come to the present bar of Lee County, it ranks as it always has ranked. The present dean is Abram K. Trusdell, who has retired from active work to enjoy a competency he has reserved from a large and active practice. The firm name is Trusdell, Smith and Leech. Mr. Clyde Smith has fought and won in the highest courts, and that too, lately, some of the most important cases which have come before them. Mr. William L. Leech, the junior partner, resides in Amboy.

In the celebrated Miller case, Mr. Clyde Smith won the distinction of securing in the laws of evidence, a new rule, of such importance and potency that not only has it been adopted as a leading case on "handwriting," but all text books have incorporated it in their new editions. The law schools to teach evidence of "hand-writing by comparison," from the principles Mr. Smith established in the Miller case. This case today enjoys as much fame as the celebrated "rule in Shelley's case" enjoyed of old.

Hiram A. Brooks and Clarence C. Brooks, as Brooks & Brooks, enjoy an extensive business. Mr. H. A. Brooks is regarded as one of the strongest trial lawyers in Illinois at this period. J. W. Watts, who is the head of the law school, is most deeply learned in the law, and he is known far and wide. The graduates from his law school occupy important positions before the bar in half the states of the Union and several others are upon the state and national benches. Still others are today United States attorneys. Recently the alumni of his school formed themselves into a society and many met in Dixon to enjoy a banquet.

Henry S. Dixon and George C. Dixon, as Dixon & Dixon, sons of Sherwood Dixon and great grandsons of John Dixon, occupy prominent positions as lawyers. Their father was recognized as one of the foremost lawyers of his time, and they enjoy the heritage of that name as well as the support and confidence of a large clientage, made up largely of big corporations, like the Illinois Central and Northwestern steam railroads and the local Intra Mural Surface railroad between Dixon and Sterling, as well as our big Illinois Northern Utilities Company. As successors of the firm Dixon (Sherwood) & Bethea, Morrison & Bethea, and Morrison, Bethea & Dixon (H. S.), Messrs. Dixon & Dixon came into a fine practice. One thing is most remarkable about these firms; Sherwood Dixon, S. H. Bethea and Charles B. Morrison, in the order named, were made United States district attorneys for the northern district of Illinois, from continuations of the same partnership. Edward H. Brewster is in the enjoyment of a splendid practice. Associated with him is his brother, Charles W. The former was states attorney and is the legal adviser of the cement company, the biggest of its kind in the country. When big corporations want good lawyers they have been in the habit of selecting Dixon lawyers. For years Mr. John E. Erwin has taken the position of a leading criminal lawyer of Illinois. During the past year he has handled three of the most noted criminal cases of the state. Two of them were desperate. Probably for blood curdling atrocity, the Doctor Webster case will rank first for long years to come and in each case he not only got his men off with their lives, but in one instance he secured the liberty of his client.

Lee County has been fortunate in its public prosecutors, especially with Messrs. (Charles B. Morrison, Edward H. Brewster, Charles H. Wooster and Harry Edwards. These gentlemen made great reputations. Mr. Wooster lives in Amboy and he enjoys one of the largest practices in the county. George P. Goodwin was another of the old time big lawyers of Lee County. When he became commissioner of the land department for the Chicago and Northwestern railroad, he left active practice. On his death, Judge Crabtree took the position, but preferring active practice he returned to Dixon and later was elected state Senator and then circuit judge.

James K. Edsall was elected state Senator first and that office was made the stepping stone to the more important one of Attorney-General which he held for two terms. In that office he made a great name as a lawyer and in the United States Supreme Court; records, his name will be found associated with some of the noted Illinois litigation. While in Dixon he was employed by the son of Lewis Clapp to fight the will of that testator. Judge Eustace presided and he decided in favor of Mr. Edsall 's contention to the effect that an executor could not be endowed with the discretionary power given in this will. Thus an estate of something like half a million dollars, passed to the son instead of to the erection of an agricultural college. Lewis Clapp, at his death, was the richest man in Lee County.

For careful and very able effort in the management of cases, Messrs. Wingert & Wingert have no superiors before this or any' other bar. Their defense, last summer, of Dr. S. M. Green, indicted for manslaughter, was generally admitted to be one of the master-pieces of trial work. The jury acquitted Doctor Green. But what-ever the case may be, common law, chancery or criminal, they are the same clear, close and able men and by the time the case has been digested, it is safe to say not one solitary point has escaped their observation and study. The statement that they are splendid lawyers will bear repetition many times.

John P. Devine is walking rapidly to the front as a lawyer of the first abilities. Last year he was elected representative in the General Assembly and what is unusual for a new member; he was placed upon the most important committees in the House. To him Governor Dunne looked for support in the many trying emergencies which arose and in not one single instance did Mr. Devine err in judgment or waver in his support of the Governor's efforts to pass reform bills. His remarkable record has given him a commanding popularity and influence in the state.

Albert H. Hanneken, one of the younger members of the bar, has reached a strong position in a marvelously short period. His practice already reaches the volume that many of the old time practitioners never realized to their very last days.

At one time in his career, a criminal had been charged with the commission of an offence from which no escape seemed possible. He had participated in the theft of a valuable automobile. He had been caught red handed. In assigning him counsel, it was assumed as a matter of course he would be convicted and so would make a fit subject for one of the younger lawyers to practice on.

Accordingly Mr. Hanneken was selected. To everybody's astonishment he selected his jury with discretion and a vim that indicated a fight of the first magnitude. Over a day was consumed in the trial of the case and when the jury returned their verdict, it acquitted Mr. Hanneken's client and convicted the co-defendant. Other incidents at the same term happened, just as important and to the average layman, just as unusual. That ended abruptly, Mr. Hanneken's apprenticeship and today he occupies a position which is impregnable.

City Attorney Mark C. Keller, by reason of a long list of special assessment cases, and the successful management of them, has won the reputation of being one of the strongest lawyers of the bar. It is his privilege to boast that he never has been beaten in one of his cases.

Mr. Grover W. Gehant is the youngest member of the bar today. In most instances it is the experience of young lawyers to wait long and patiently for business. Mr. Gehant is a notable exception to this rule. In less than a year's time he found himself engaged in some of the biggest cases on the calendar. By reason of the long illness of Mr. A. C. Bardwell, the master in chancery, in whose office Mr. Gehant had become installed, it fell to his lot to unravel some of the knottiest problems the chancery docket presented and he did it in a masterful way. Net results: he was immersed in business immediately.

I cannot overlook Arthur G. Harris, John B. Crabtree and William H. Winn.

Our youngest lawyer is John J. Armstrong; but he is the best developed youngster in this county of Lee.

Judge Robert H. Scott, County judge, never has sought active practice. He has contented himself with his official duties.

Messrs. A. C. and Henry C. Warner enjoy the largest probate practice in the circuit. The senior member in his younger days was deputy county and circuit clerk and deputy treasurer and it is not saying too much to pronounce him the best probate lawyer in Northen Illinois.

And here is another phenomenon which the Lee county bar presents. I may safely challenge any other county to reproduce another such instance.

Down in the southeast township of this county a little village of perhaps six hundred souls stands. It is surrounded by a land virtually flowing in milk and honey. Its people are wealthy, almost to the last person.

In that contented, law-abiding community is stationed Charles P. Preston, the lawyer who enjoys the most lucrative practice in Lee County. By sheer ability, honesty, sobriety and industry, he has won this brilliant distinction and I beg to assert that he has met for years, foemen worthy any warrior's steel. Three counties, Lee, LaSalle and DeKalb, pay tribute to him almost reverentially.

Purposely I have reserved this place for one of the best loved men who ever lived in this community. The first letter of his name is the first in the alphabet, and I suppose I should have begun with him. As one of the very first of our citizens, I suppose I should have selected his name as number one. As a continuous resident of Dixon since 1854, how may I excuse this delay? In delaying this little reference, I may have shown wretched taste. But I am sure the reader will not convict me.

Jason C. Ayres has been a member of the Lee county bar for long years. He never has practiced actively, because of the large interests which year after year have engaged his attention other-wise.

Nevertheless, he never has permitted himself to get beyond hailing distance from his brothers.

He is president of the Dixon National Bank. He is a large real-estate holder. In the process of building up his large fortune, others reposed such confidence in him and his judgment that drafts for amounts almost unlimited, drawn by Mr. Ayres, would have been honored at sight. Of such men, the Lee County bar and the Lee County people are proud.

Thirty-seven years ago a couple of youngsters from Lee county presented themselves before the Supreme court for the bar examination. Their pulses ran high. They passed. Both live in Lee County today. One lives in Amboy, one in Dixon. The first is my very dear old friend, J. E. Lewis, tried and true and generous; the dean of Amboy's lawyers. And there too may be found Charles H-Wooster, P. M. James, Charles E. Ives and William L. Leech, able, strong, and successful; the two Charlies, boyhood friends as true as steel.

Numbers never made things better. Amboy ranks second to Dixon numerically, but in Amboy will be found a little city with as many loyal, royal people, man for man, as in any community under the sun, and of those people, you will pardon me if, with my lifetime of association with J. E. Lewis, Charles H. Wooster and Charles E. Ives, members of the Lee County bar, I am drawn a little closer towards them and reserve for them a few more words, before I say good bye.

Attorneys of the Lee County Bar

Charles E. Ives
P. M. James
J. E. Lewis
William L. Leech
S. B. Pool
Charles H. Wooster Amboy;
Jason C. Ayres
A. C. Bardwell
E. H. Brewster
Charles W. Brewster
Hiram A. Brooks
C. C. Brooks
John B. Crabtree
Henry S. Dixon
George C. Dixon
John P. Devine
John E. Erwin
Harry Edwards
Grover W. Gehant
M. J. Gannon Jr.
A. G. Harris
A. H. Hanneken
Mark C. Keller
A. W. Leland
Charles B. Morrison
J. F. Palmer
W. F. Preston
Clyde Smith
Robert H. Scott
J. O. Shaulis
Harvey Sindlinger
A. K. Trusdell
A. C. Warner
J. W. Watts
E. E. Wingert
William H. Winn
Henry C. Warner
Dixon; J. W. McHale
Charles F. Preston Paw Paw

Lee County History


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