The STORY OF MADISON - Chapter Five
Welcome to the Story of Madison

Madison Since the War--1866-1899.

State Historical Society.

Although, as has previously been noted (p. 26), it was 1870 before the Capitol dome was complete, the new building was made habitable for officials by January, 1866. Upon the twenty-fourth of that month, the library and museum of the State Historical Society formally occupied its quarters in the south wing of the Capitol, the occasion being celebrated with considerable eclat. Wisconsin had had an historical society while it was yet in the Territorial stage. As a result of agitation begun in the columns of the Mineral Point Democrat (October, 1845), a society composed of some of the principal men of the Territory was formed in Madison in October, 1846. But that society accomplished nothing; and the one which succeeded it in 1849 (January 30) was but a slight improvement, accumulating only fifty books in its career of four years. In 1853, this society was reorganized, and in January, 1854, Lyman C. Draper, a young Philadelphia antiquary, became its first secretary and executive officer.The collections now grew rapidly, and were arranged in the basement of the Baptist church; it was from here that they were in 1866 removed to the Capitol--in what were then thought "ample and luxurious" quarters. But in eighteen years the library had grown to 109,000 titles, and the portrait gallery and museum were proportionately large; it was chiefly to accommodate them that the new south wing of the Capitol was built, and into the three upper floors of this wing the Society moved in December, 1884. Even this space soon became crowded, such was the phenomenal growth of the collections in every department. The legislatures of 1895, 1897, and 1899 nobly responded to the persistent appeals of the Society for a fire-proof building of its own, equipped with all modern conveniences, and voted appropriations which ensured the erection of a structure (on grounds given by the regents of the State University, on the old "lower campus") creditable alike to the Society and the State.

The Society, now regarded as one of the proudest possessions of Wisconsin, is accredited by scholars, the country over, as having won a general standing equal to that of the Massachusetts society, the oldest and hitherto the foremost of American historical organizations; while in the work of investigation and publication, it is probably the most active of all. It has accumulated a library of 215,000 books and pamphlets, which ranks third in size and importance among the great historical libraries of the United States, and is the most important reference library west of the Alleghanies. While aiming to be a general library for scholars, it is strongest in the fields of Americana, English history, political science, and economics. It is resorted to by scholars and special investigators from all parts of the West and South, and its reading rooms are daily thronged with professors and students of the State University, to whom the collections are freely accessible. The Society's publications consist chiefly of The Wisconsin Historical Collections (biennial), Class Lists (occasional), Portrait Gallery Catalogue (triennial), and Annual Report ; it also frequently issues bulletins of information. By a law of 1897, the several local historical societies in Wisconsin are now auxiliary to the State society, make annual reports to it, and send delegates to its annual meetings.

Selections from the annals.

The Fourth of July celebration, in 1866, regarded in the light of a State peace celebration, was an event which will long live in the memory of the oldest inhabitant. Twenty-thousand people were upon the streets, 3,000 of them having arrived by railway from Beloit, Janesville and elsewhere; there was a procession of veterans bearing Wisconsin battle flags, of soldiers, orphans, engine companies, etc., and the customary orations. It was in this year, also, that the board of regents of the State University purchased the greater part of the present experimental farm; and that Madison bought her first steam fire-engine (December).

We learn from the newspapers that in 1867 the first pipe organ came to town in April, for Grace (Episcopal) church; and that (May 15) there was launched upon Lake Mendota the first steamboat built for that water--the "City of Madison," a paddle-wheeler having an engine of 20 hp., length of 56 ft., beam of 13 ft., and a cabin 12 x 16 ft. Shipments from Madison had by this time assumed considerable proportions: over the Milwaukee & Prairie du Chien railway (Milwaukee system), had been transported to the East 232,904 bus. of wheat, and 386,500 lbs. of dressed hogs; the Chicago & Northwestern railway had carried East 279,167 bus. of wheat and 638,800 lbs. of dressed hogs.


A Capital-removal scare.

At many sessions of the legislature, both Territorial and State, Milwaukee had sought to secure the removal of the Capital to that city. But in none of these efforts, before or since, was success so near as in 1870. February 19, an assembly bill for this purpose was introduced, and referred to the committee on state affairs. The committee, in reporting thereon, called attention to the fact that persons in attendance upon the sessions found insufficient accommodations at the hotels; nevertheless, the State having already invested a large sum of money in the new capitol, the committee thought removal inexpedient. Thereupon the people of Milwaukee, backed by their county board of supervisors, made an offer to the State (February 28) of the free use of the county court house, then being constructed there. On the night of March 9, the bill came up in the committee of the whole. It was debated at great length, and with considerable acrimony, being finally reported for indefinite postponement by ayes 55, nays 31.

The United States census of 1870 revealed the fact that Madison had a population of 9,173--about one-half of the present (1899). The assessed valuation of the real estate was $2,500,000, and of personal property $1,260,018. The board of education had in charge eight school houses valued at $70,000, on sites valued at $14,900, and there were 956 pupils.

The result of the removal agitation in 1870, induced the organization, soon after the legislative adjournment that year, of a stock company composed of prominent citizens, for the erection of the Park Hotel, which was opened to the public in August, 1871. The local newspapers of the day asserted, with customary exaggeration that this building was at the time "the most costly and handsomest of the kind in Wisconsin."

History of the post-office.

Another event of 1871 was the completion of the United States building, which houses the post-office, the federal courts, the internal revenue collector, and other United States officials resident here. The first post-office in Madison was established February 15, 1837, with John Catlin as postmaster, but it was not opened for business until May 27 following. At first, Peck's house, on S. Butler street, was the post-office; but soon it was removed to Simeon Mill's store; in 1841, Postmaster David Brigham moved it to "a small wooden building on the triangular corner of Main, King, and Pinckney streets;" Postmaster Abbott (1850-53) dispensed mail matter in a "small building" on King street occupying the site of Perry's old junk store; Postmaster Jones (1853-61) held forth in another "small building,"--most buildings were small, in those days,--adjoining the State Bank; then the post-office went to the site of the present Burrows block; thence to the building on West Main street now occupied by Thuringer & Sons--whence it was removed to the new federal building in 1871.

A year of progress.

The year was also notable for the organization of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters, which has since had a useful existence, chiefly as an agent for the publication of important monographic work, and the accumulation, by exchange, of a valuable library of sets of transactions of other learned bodies throughout the world. Other events were the completion of the railway to Portage, the first train over which line arrived in Madison on the 9th of January; and of the Northwestern line to Baraboo--at which latter place there was (September 12) a joyous celebration. Ladies' Hall, at the State University, and the St. Regina Academy were among the many new buildings this year. The Democrat, in its review of 1871, says: "In increased railroad facilities and public improvements, the State has never made more rapid growth than in the past year, and Madison has made the same progress in all that tends to its substantial progress."

The principal event of the year 1872 was the meeting (July 4) of the Society of the Army of the Tennessee. There were 7,000 visitors from out of town, the lions of the occasion being Generals Phil Sheridan, Belknap (then secretary of war), Pope, and Noyes (then governor of Ohio). The large procession was in charge of Col. William F. Vilas and nine aides. Yacht and rowing races were held in the afternoon, and fireworks concluded the exercises in the evening. In 1873 over $300,000 was spent in the city for new buildings--the new High School being chief in the long category.


The public library.

The city assumed charge of the free library in May, 1875, being the first community in Wisconsin to take advantage of the State library law of 1872 allowing cities to tax themselves for the maintenance of such institutions. In common with many other towns throughout the country, Madison's first public circulating library was inaugurated by an association called the Institute. This was organized April 8, 1854. Chancellor Lathrop, of the State University, was the president, and there was a long list of subordinate officers; a reading room was at first the chief attraction, and a debate section and a lecture committee were other features. The Madison Institute was at first flourishing, but gradually--there being a lack of funds with which to purchase fresh books--the interest of the public waned, only to be revived when the city undertook to conduct a library under the general State library law, since which time it has been an unqualified success. The library now contains about 16,000 books, well selected, and accessible through an excellent card catalogue, and the reading room is well patronized. The yearly expense to the city is about $3,000. Madison is liberally supplied with libraries. That of the State Historical Society contains 220,000 titles; the State (law) Library possesses nearly 40,000, and that of the State University a like number. These great aggregations of books, open to public use, form one of the chief attractions of Madison as a scholastic center.

Principal events of 1876-77.

The centennial year (1876) was properly celebrated by people of Dane county, by exercises in the Capitol Park, Prof. S. H. Carpenter, of the State University, being the orator of the occasion. Julia Ward Howe (January 19), Henry Ward Beecher (February 22), and Robert Ingersoll (May 22), were the city's most distinguished visitors in 1877; and February 17, Ole Bull, then a citizen of Madison, gave a concert for the benefit of the University art gallery. The last of the old-time taverns, the Lake House, was burned the 8th of April--it had been erected by Hank Carman in 1842. The first Science Hall, of the University, was opened on June 21. A tornado swept across the city on the 6th of July, doing much damage to trees and smoke stacks. August 21, the Lakeside Hotel (at what are now the Monona Lake Assembly grounds) was destroyed by fire. From August 22 to 24, occurred the first annual rowing regatta, on Lake Monona.

Events of 1878.

In the spring of 1878, the use of the telephone was inaugurated in Madison. Upon the twenty-fourth of May, Dane county was visited from east to west by a cyclone, the central path of which passed through the town of Oregon, six miles south of Madison. The damage was serious, many families being rendered homeless; the sufferers were aided by popular subscriptions of money and goods. President and Mrs. Hayes visited the city September 10, the President addressing the people at the State Fair grounds--Camp Randall; many thousands of visitors thronged into the city from all parts of Southern Wisconsin.

Events of 1879.

In 1879 (March 29), the chief event was the gutting of the Fairchild building, by fire; during the course of the conflagration there was a terrific explosion, from gunpowder stored in the basement, seventeen persons being injured. The construction of the summer hotel at Tonyawatha Springs was commenced this year.

Events of 1880.

Charles Stewart Parnell and John Dillon, the leaders of the Irish Land League, addressed an immense throng in the assembly chamber, at the Capitol, February 26, 1880. The general assembly of the Presbyterian church was held in Madison, May 20-31, of the same year, the attendance representing all portions of the country. September 6 and 7, the city was en fete to welcome General Grant, who spoke at the State Fair; it is probable that Madison was never before invaded by so many strangers.

Events of 1881-83.

The year 1881 is notable because of the great snow storm of January 26; and the opening of the first Wisconsin Sunday School Assembly (afterwards styled Monona Lake Assembly), at Lakeside, August 2. In March and April, 1882, there was a small-pox scare, with four well-developed cases. April 27, bids for the city water works system were opened; the pipes were tested September 19, and the engine started at the pumping station December 2.

Free postal delivery was inaugurated in Madison, April 16, 1883. Upon the eighth of November, that year, the south wing of the Capitol, then in course of construction, fell at noon, resulting in the death of eight workmen.

Events of 1884.

Matthew Arnold (January 25) and Père Hyacinthe (May 8) were the visiting lions of the year 1884. Upon the fifteenth of July, the National Educational Association opened its annual session in Madison, five thousand visitors being in attendance .In the course of the summer, some alarm and considerable discomfort were occasioned by an epidemic among the fish of our lakes; dead fish were washed ashore in huge winrows, and the city government was obliged, during several weeks, to employ teamsters to cart them away for burial. November 15, the first street cars, hauled by mules, made their trial trip. Upon the first of December, Science Hall was burned.


Events of 1885-86.

The old Burrows Opera House, which for many years had been the city's playhouse, was condemned and closed January 8, 1885, and for five years thereafter our people were restricted to the use of Turner Hall. July 8, Madison was visited by a destructive tornado, declared by newspapers to be the "most destructive ever experienced in the place." A distinguished visitor of the year (September 18) was Hinrich Baron Berlepsch, of Dresden, Germany, who came to investigate the agricultural resources of Wisconsin.

Three men were killed and seven injured by the explosion of a boiler in the St. Paul round-house, at West Madison station, January 22, 1886. The new Dane County court house was completed in November of the same year; and in December, the first art loan exhibition was held--in the rooms of the Y. M. C. A.

Events of 1887-89.

In 1887, Justin McCarthy (February 11), President and Mrs. Cleveland (October 7-10), Dr. Joseph Parker, of London (November 16), and Charles Dickens, son of the great novelist (December 7), were in the city. The visit of Mr. and Mrs. Cleveland was to Col. William F. Vilas, then secretary of the interior, and attracted to Madison large crowds of strangers; it was made the occasion of considerable ceremonial.

Beyond the visit here of Lieutenant Schwatka, the arctic explorer, upon the fourth of December, there appears to have been little of importance recorded by the newspapers in 1888.

The city hospital constructed by Drs. Gill and Boyd was opened in 1889; and on September 21, the corner stone of Fuller's Opera House was laid.

Events of 1890-91.

April 7, 1890, Fuller's Opera House was formally opened--it had cost about $80,000, and was pronounced one of the best of its size in the West; ten days later, Max O'Rell lectured there to a large audience. The monthly market day (chiefly for live-stock) was inaugurated in Madison, this year. September 27, the Congregational Church celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its organization. Speaker Thomas B. Reed was here upon October 29.

The principal events of the year 1891 were the visit of Henry M. Stanley (February 18), the laying of the corner-stone (July 6) of Christ Presbyterian Church--the old church on Wisconsin Avenue having been sold to the Masonic bodies for a temple--and the opening to sale of lots in Elmside addition.

Events of 1892-93.

In 1892, Madison's principal progress was evinced in the mending of her ways: October 1, the street railway was first operated by electric cars; and two weeks later October 15) the Raymer drive was formally opened to the public.

The Masonic Temple was dedicated upon February 24, 1893; April 28, the University Heights Co. was organized, for the purpose of platting and opening to sale lots in that new suburb; August 17-20, there was held here the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; September 2, Labor Day was first observed in Madison; during September, a local electric fire-alarm system was inaugurated; and November 17, fire destroyed the principal building at Sacred Heart Academy (Dominican Sisters, Edgewood Villa).

Events of 1894-95.

The events of 1894 were: the opening of the University gymnasium, May 25; the annual meet of the Western Canoe Association, at Picnic Point commencing July 10; the meeting of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, October 10-13; and the dedication of Cornelia Vilas Guild Hall, connected with Grace (P. E. ) Church, November 15.

In 1895, the city entertained (June 4-6) the national convention of the Modern Woodmen of America, which attracted 20,000 visitors. From July 14 to August 4, there was held the first Catholic Summer School, which brought many distinguished Catholics from all parts of the United States.

Events of 1896-97.

The Columbian Catholic Summer School was permanently located in Madison, August 6, 1896. The political campaign brought to Madison several notable visitors for the Republicans (September 23), Russell A. Alger, Gen. O. O. Howard, and Gen. D. E. Sickles; and for the (silver) Democrats (October 31), William J. Bryan, their candidate for the presidency.

The opening of the Farwell drive, along the eastern shore of Lake Mendota, was one of the most satisfactory events of 1897; another, was the continuation of the street rail way line to the suburb of Wingra Park, and to Forest Hill Cemetery. Dr. Nansen, the arctic explorer, lectured in the University gymnasium (November 22) to a large audience.


Events of 1898.

The year 1898 was notable as being the fiftieth since the admission of Wisconsin to the Union. The approval by the president, of the congressional act providing for admittance, bore date of May 29, 1848. As May 29, 1898, fell on Sunday, the anniversary was fittingly observed by local celebrations at several county seats throughout the State, on Saturday, the 28th. The first state officers (Nelson Dewey, governor) were sworn in at Madison, on June 7, 1848; this being the actual date upon which the State of Wisconsin began business as such, it was, by legislative action, made the official anniversary, and a legal holiday. The event was celebrated at Madison throughout the seventh, eighth, and ninth of June by appropriate literary and patriotic exercises, in the presence of a large crowd of visitors.

April 28th, Madison bade a formal farewell to the Governor's Guard (Co. G., First Wisconsin Volunteers), who had enlisted for the Spanish-American war; the newspapers described the crowd as "the biggest turnout in the history of the city." The company on leaving Madison numbered 84 men, but was subsequently recruited to 105, under the United States army requirements. At first going to Camp Harvey, Milwaukee, the company left there May 20th for Camp Springfield (later, Cuba Libre), Jacksonville, Fla. The First Wisconsin was accounted one of the best drilled and equipped regiments in the volunteer service, but did not chance to be chosen to go to the front The summer was therefore spent in camp, where Co. G. lost three men from typhoid fever. The company reached Madison on the return, September 10th, and were here mustered out on the twenty-seventh of the following month.

An explosion in the round-house of the Northwestern railway yards occurred January 24th, three men being killed and two badly hurt. On the 19th and 20th of February, Madison experienced the heaviest fall of snow since the great storm of 1881. The most notable visitor of the year was Joaquin Miller, the "poet of the Sierras," who lectured at the Congregational Church on the ninth of December.


Random notes on Madison in 1899.

The State census of 1895 revealed the presence here of a population of 15,590. If the number of new houses built since then, and other evidences of growth, are to be taken as criterions, it is fair to assume that at the present time Madison contains about 20,000 souls. The city school census in 1899 (persons between four and twenty years of age), was 5,388, and the total enrollment in the public schools 2,893--although the normal seating capacity of these schools is but 2,717. The school property is valued at $225,000; the number of teachers employed is 61, and the amount spent in the last fiscal year, for running expenses of schools, exclusive of new buildings, was about $46,000.

The principal local events of 1899 have been as follows: January 14, the Fourth Ward school building was partially destroyed by fire. January 25, Mrs. Caroline Wheeler, said to have been the second white woman in Madison, died at Wauwatosa. February 5-12, Francis Murphy, the famous temperance agitator, was in the city. February 11, Darwin Clark, the oldest pioneer in Madison, died. February 16, William J. Bryan spoke in the University Gymnasium. April 1, Silas U. Pinney, of the State supreme court, died. April 5, James Conklin & Sons' barn on the shore of Lake Mendota, foot of North Hamilton street, was destroyed by fire, sixteen horses being lost. July 22, Mgr. Martinelli, the apostolic delegate of the Roman Catholic Church to the United States, visited the Columbian Catholic Summer School in Madison. July 26, Murat Halstead spoke on Aguinaldo, at the Monona Lake Assembly. October 16, President William McKinley, en route from Sioux City, Iowa, to Milwaukee, stopped in Madison and spoke for ten minutes from the east steps of the Capitol, to about 6,000 people; the President was accompanied by Lyman J. Gage, secretary of state, Elihu B. Root, secretary of war, John D. Long, secretary of the navy, and Attorney General Griggs. October 20, Mrs. Roseline Peck, the first white woman to settle in Madison, died at her home in Baraboo.

The Madison of today is far different in appearance from that of twenty, or even fifteen, years ago. Not only has there been considerable growth, but the town has quite lost its former village aspect; domestic architecture, which up to 1880 was severely simple, often crude, has developed to a stage quite equal to that found in cities of greater pretensions; the public and commercial buildings erected in late years are much superior to those of the olden time; the "modern conveniences" of the age--city water and sewerage, gas and electric light, telephones, etc.--are now provided for in most of the old houses and practically all of the new; private carriages are numerous, where formerly they were rare; electric street cars render intercommunication easy between the most distant parts of the city; building sites are no longer restricted to the high land, which is practically all taken up--the lowlands, not long ago thought forever doomed to rushes and frogs, are now being rapidly filled and settled upon; and there are "suburbs" enough to satisfy a town of five times the size of ours. In many directions, our people have taken upon themselves metropolitan ways; the homes of the city are well furnished--many of them luxuriantly; the shops, far more enterprising than of old, deal freely in goods which even a decade ago would have been thought impossible for this market, and advertise with a freedom welcome to the newspaper offices; and there is in general vogue a style and manner of living and dress quite foreign to the Madisonians of the '70's and early 80's.

All this has been accomplished so gradually as to be almost imperceptible, for Madison has in no sense been a "boom" town; but it has nevertheless come, and is a matter of comment among strangers who have known the city in earlier days. In a measure, of course, this is not peculiar to Madison alone--it is but a reflex of what has been happening the country over; since the War of Secession, the people of the United States have been fast becoming less provincial in habits of life and thought.

If we stop to inquire what it is that makes Madison grow--slowly, but surely and solidly--we shall find that the chief causes are three in number: (1) the rapid strides of the State University which in twenty years has grown over 400 per cent; (2) the natural growth of the resident official class--federal, State, and county--keeping pace with the lusty development of the commonwealth ; (3) the railroad interests, which are considerable, now that we have lines reaching out to all the cardinal points of the compass, and a considerable transfer and wholesale business centered here. Madison's manufactories have never developed to the extent long hoped for--although what factories we have, are of considerable importance to the town.

In short, Madison came into being because its site was selected for the capital, and the city can still say that her present and future largely depend upon her position as such. Time was, when this status was in serious danger; but it may safely be predicted that with the millions here invested by the Commonwealth in the University and other public buildings--all of which would have to be rebuilt elsewhere, were the Capitol removed--Madison will ever continue to be the seat of State government, the political as well as the educational center of Wisconsin.






1. Dr. Draper served as secretary from January, 1854, to January, 1887--thirty-three years; being succeeded by Reuben G. Thwaites, who has since served. The office of librarian was held by Daniel S. Durrie from January, 1856, till his death, August 30, 1892; being succeeded by his former assistant, Isaac S. Bradley, who still holds the office. 2. Madison's postmasters have been as follows: 1837-41, John Catlin; 1841-42, David Brigham; 1842-44, John Catlin; 1844-45, Steptoe Catlin; 1845-49, David Holt, Jr.; 1849-50, James Morrison; 1850-53, Chauncey Abbott; 1853-61, John N. Jones; 1861-81, Elisha W. Keyes; 1881-85, George E. Bryant; 1885-89, Jared C. Gregory; 1889-94, George E. Bryant; 1894-98, James Conklin; March 1, 1898, Elisha W. Keyes, the present incumbent, was appointed. See historical sketch of Madison post-office, in Madison Democrat, Feb. 20, 1898. 3. Mills had the contract for carrying the mail between Madison and Milwaukee; he employed a man to do this work, on horseback, and at first the service was but once a week, but later twice a week. Postmaster Catlin going East for a prolonged visit, his deputy was Franklin Hathaway, the surveyor of the Capitol park. The postoffice itself, Mr. Hathaway says, in a letter to the State Historical Society, "consisted of a small case of pigeon holes, closed by doors, standing on one end of the counter, in the only store then in operation. This was store, saloon and post-office, all in one, and was the lounging place of the [Capitol] workmen, after finishing the day's labor. The building, a one-story frame, was without lath or plaster, * * * and was one of the four buildings then standing; the other three being a log house south of the square, near the bank of the third lake; a large 1 1/2 story frame boarding house and tavern, the entire upper floor being one bare room, with rows of beds under the eaves, on each side, and a passageway through the middle, barely high enough to allow a man to stand erect; and a small frame office, for the use of Commissioner Bird; and these comprised all the improvements of which Madison could then boast." 4. The Madison Public Library was opened May 21, 1875. Eau Claire came second, opening her library in the following October. 5. The public librarians have been as follows:1875 to July, 1877, Miss Virginia C. Robbins; July, 1877, to July, 1878, Miss Jennie M. Field; July, 1878, to July, 1879, Mrs. Laura H. Feuling; July, 1879, to July, 1884, Miss Ella A. Giles; July, 1884, to July, 1889, Miss Minnie M. Oakley; July, 1889, to May, 1893, Miss Sophie M. Lewis; May, 1893, to date, Miss Georgiana R. Hough. 6. The following table shows the growth of Madison since its foundation:

1837 (April 15) - - -3 1854 - - - - - - -5,126
1838 - - - - - - - - 62 1855 - - - - - - 6,863
1840 - - - - - - - - 146 1860 - - - - - - 6,611
1842 - - - - - - - - 172 1865 - - - - - - -9,191
1844 - - - - - - - - 216 1870 - - - - - - -9,176
1846 - - - - - - - - 283 1875 - - - - - -10,093
1847 - - - - - - - - 632 1880 - - - - - -10,324
1850 - - - - - - -1,672 1885 - - - - - -12,064
1851 - - - - - - -2,306 1890 - - - - - -13,426
1852 - - - - - - -2,973 1895 - - - - - -15,590
1853 - - - - - - -4,029

Previous to 1855, the census was taken by local enumerators, for village purposes. Commencing with with that year, the count of years ending in 5 are the result of the State census, and that of years ending in 0 of the federal enumeration. 7. It is recorded in Thwaites's Historical Sketch of Public Schools of Madison, p. 62, that in 1886 the number of teachers was 38, salary paid them. $17,902.57, enrollment "nearly 2,000," and value of school property "about $100,000"--official figures, as are those for 1899, in the text above.



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