This Day in North Carolina History

“Big Hugh” Bennett, the “Father of Soil Conservation”

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 01:00

On April 27, 1935, Hugh Hammond Bennett of Anson County became director of the Soil Conservation Service, a position he held until his retirement in 1952.  “Big Hugh,” as he came to be known, grew up in the drainage basin of the Pee Dee River and became aware of the woeful effects of soil erosion at an early age. He is widely credited with selling the benefits of soil conservation to a dubious public.

The solution to the nation’s agricultural problems, according to Bennett, was preservation of the topsoil, accomplished by means of terracing, cover and strip cropping, contour plowing, grassed waterways and crop rotation, among other methods.  The “Dust Bowl” which devastated the American prairie lands in the mid-1930s increased the urgency of his work.  Widely respected for his expertise, Bennett advised on projects in Alaska, Brazil, Cuba and South Africa, among other places.

For 50 years, Bennett worked with the federal Department of Agriculture, rising to the leadership role in the Soil Conservation Service. In his native Anson, he established the Brown Creek Soil Conservation District in 1937. It was the first organization of its kind in the nation. Today those who continue the work to preserve the soil honor Bennett as the “father of soil conservation.”

Baseball Hall of Famer Enos “Country” Slaughter of Roxboro

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 01:00

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On April 27, 1916, Hall of Fame baseball player Enos Slaughter was born near Roxboro to a farm family.

As a child, Slaughter honed his strength and skill with farm work, hunting rabbits with rocks and playing sports. He also began to develop a lifelong passion for baseball by watching Durham Bulls games. Slaughter began his pro career with a St. Louis Cardinals farm team, the Martinsville Redbirds, and it was while playing with the Virginia team that his tireless hustle earned him the nickname “Country.”

 

Slaughter entered the majors with the Cardinals in 1938, and stayed with them until 1953. He went on to play for a number of other teams including the New York Yankees, seeing five World Series and ten All-Star Games during his career. At various times he led the National League in triples, double plays by an outfielder and RBIs.

Though a standout player in many respects, Slaughter saw his reputation marred by his racial attitudes. In 1947, he tried to get Cardinal players to strike in protest of Jackie Robinson’s presence on the Dodger’s roster. Though the strike attempt failed, Slaughter intentionally spiked Robinson in a later game.

Slaughter retired from baseball in 1959, but managed a few minor league teams and coached briefly at Duke. He died in 2002.

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Benjamin Duke and the “Dukes of Durham”

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 01:00

On April 27, 1855,Benjamin N. Duke was born on the Duke family farm north of Durham.

Often sickly as a child, Duke didn’t let his health get in the way of helping with the family tobacco business that began shortly after the end of the Civil War. He became a partner in the business when it was incorporated in 1878, and became treasurer of the American Tobacco Company in 1890 when the Duke organization became part of that enterprise.

Duke was the primary member of the family engaged in setting up Erwin Mills, the Dukes’ foray into textiles, and he went onto to serve as president of a number of the family’s other holdings.

Not as able a businessman as his brother Buck, Duke took to managing his family’s philanthropic efforts after working with Buck to found what is now Duke Energy. After his father financed what would become Duke University, Ben helped steer the school through its early days and was the primary link between the university and the family.

Ill during most of the last two decades of his life, Duke gave large portions of his fortune to his wife and children before dying in 1929.

Duke Homestead State Historic Site interprets the early home, factories and farm where Duke family first grew and processed tobacco.

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The First of the Roanoke Colonies

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 01:00

On April 27, 1584, Captains Arthur Barlowe and Philip Amadas sailed from the west coast of England in two ships “well furnished with men and victuals” to begin a four-month exploration of the New World.

The expedition was the first English exploration of Roanoke Island and was commissioned by Sir Walter Raleigh. The report which Barlowe produced on the expedition was written for Raleigh’s benefit.

After sailing through the Caribbean via the Canary Islands, the group arrived in present-day North Carolina in July 1584. First landing somewhere between Ocracoke Island and the Oregon Inlet, the party made their way to Roanoke Island in smaller boats.

The expedition developed friendly relationships with Native Americans through trade, gift exchanges and a mutual hospitality. The goodwill fostered between the groups led the Algonquian Indians Manteo and Wanchese to return to England with the group when they departed toward the end of the year.

The wealth of information provided by Amadas and Barlowe and the fascination with Manteo and Wanchese in England helped encourage Raleigh in his plans to colonize North America.

Barlowe’s report of the expedition describes the region and people in vivid, admiring detail. John White, a member of the mission who would be the governor of the ill-fated “Lost Colony,” added pictures of the Native Americans as well. A phrase describing North Carolina’s soil captures the spirit of the document well:

the most plentifull, sweete, fruitfull and wholesome of all the worlde.

The text was ultimately published in The Principall Navigations, Voiages, and Discoveries of the English Nation, by Richard Hakluyt, who used Barlowe’s admiring words to help encourage colonization.

Visit: Roanoke Island Festival Park and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, both in Manteo, interpret this rich part of our state’s history.

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Edward R. Murrow, Legendary Journalist

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 01:00

On April 25, 1908, famed CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow was born in Greensboro.

Though their ties to the area were strong, the Murrow family moved to Washington state while Edward was still young. There Murrow enrolled at Washington State College, where he had the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C., as president of the National Student Federation.

In 1935, Murrow became “director of talks” for CBS Radio. With tensions mounting  in Europe, he was dispatched to Europe two years later. Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938 began Murrow’s rise to fame. His broadcasts during the Battle of Britain, beginning each evening with “This is London,” are legendary.

In 1951, Murrow began the series See It Now. His signature on that series was his sign-off: “Good night and good luck.” Perhaps the most noted episode of the program came in March 1954 when Murrow took on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. The program is credited with significantly contributing to McCarthy’s downfall.

 

 

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Endor Ironworks Saved from the Forces of Nature

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 01:00

On April 25, 1862, the Endor Iron Company was chartered. Two months later investors purchased the Deep River plantation of Alexander McIver and constructed a smelting furnace on it.

It is likely that the furnace supplied the Confederate arsenal at Fayetteville in addition to small nearby arms factories. The ironworks changed hands twice before a Maryland manufacturer purchased Endor and, with a local partner, invested heavily in the operation. By 1872, their Cape Fear Iron and Steel Company was one of the South’s largest and best equipped iron furnaces.

Two years later, it was determined that local mineral deposits were smaller than had first been thought and by 1876, the company had ceased operation. Though most of the machinery was dismantled and removed, the furnace continued operating until 1896 on a smaller scale, serving only local manufacturers.

With cooperation from the Triangle Land Conservancy and the financial support of the nonprofit Railroad House Historical Association, the original structure is now being prepared for stabilization and ultimately restoration, with plans for greater public access and appreciation of this important chapter of North Carolina industrial history.

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Meadowlark Lemon, Basketball’s Court Jester

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 01:00

On April 25, 1932, Meadow Lemon III was born in Lexington County, South Carolina. He moved to Wilmington at age 6.

A fan of basketball from an early age, Lemon used to tell the story that his first basketball ensemble was a hoop made from an onion sack and a coat hanger with a Carnation milk can as a ball. After seeing the famed Harlem Globetrotters in a movie theater newsreel, he ran home to tell his father that he planned to join the team. In 1954, he did just that.

Lemon changed his name to Meadowlark in the late 1950s, but he was also widely known as the “Clown Prince of Basketball.” Though a slick player with phenomenal ball-handling skills and a long-distance hook shot that rarely missed the hoop, it was his cheeky comedy on the court that propelled him into the spotlight.

The best-known Globetrotter, Lemon became a television star, portraying himself in television shows like Gilligan’s Island and in cartoons including Scooby Doo.

Lemon retired from the Globetrotters in 1979, became an ordained minister in 1986 and established Meadowlark Lemon Ministries in 1994.

Inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1975 and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 200, Lemon died in 2015.

Visit: Meadowlark Lemon’s Globetrotters uniform is among the hundreds of sports-related artifacts on view at the N.C. Museum of History’s North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame exhibit.

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Malcolm McLean, Containerization Innovator

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 01:00

On April 26, 1956, at the port of Newark, New Jersey, Malcolm McLean watched as a giant crane swung his newly invented shipping containers onto a ship. As the ship steamed off toward Houston, Texas, the era of container shipping had begun.

Born in 1914 in Robeson County, McLean rose from humble roots to build a business empire. He began by driving a truck as a teenager and owned one of America’s largest transportation companies by the time he was in his mid-30s.

He had the idea for a shipping container as early as 1937, when he was still driving his own truck. He had been sitting for a whole day at a New Jersey port waiting for workers to unload his truck and put the goods on a ship, and wondered why there wasn’t a truck-trailer that could be lifted onto a ship or onto railroad wheels without anyone touching the contents.

The success of his 1956 endeavor lead to a company called SeaLand, now a part of Maersk. By the mid-1960s, McLean’s SeaLand had built container-handling facilities in many U.S. ports and, after the company’s technology was used by the government during the Vietnam War, it spread throughout the world.

He died in 2011 in New York City.

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The Marines of Montford Point

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 01:00

On April 26, 1942, the United States Marine Corps opened Montford Point at Camp Lejeune, specifically for the training of African American recruits.

Before President Harry Truman’s 1948 executive order that ended segregation in the armed forces, blacks who served did so in segregated units, like the one at Montford Point. In the era of strict segregation, interaction between white and black Marines during training was practically nonexistent.

The larger base, Camp Lejeune, had been established one year earlier as part of mobilization for World War II.  Shortly after that time, the Corps constructed barracks and support facilities including a chapel, mess hall, steam plant and recreational area on the 1,600-acre peninsula that became Montford Point.

More than 19,000 black Marines served in World War II, all in units trained at Montford Point. Among the units organized there were the 51st and 52ndDefense Battalions, which were dispatched to the Pacific but saw no combat action, and 11 ammunition and 51 depot companies that did see action.

The 51st Battalion Band, led by musician Bobby Troup, lent to the sense of esprit de corps.

The facility became obsolete after Navy Secretary Francis Matthews ordered the end of racial division in the Navy and Marines in June 1949.

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Herring and Devane’s Gun and Bayonet Factory

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 01:00

On April 24, 1776, prominent patriots Richard Herring and John Devane founded a gun factory on the Black River north of Wilmington in what’s now Sampson County.

Money to build the factory, buy some of the initial materials needed and pay the workers was provided by the colonial government. The 1,000 British pounds the government allocated would be worth about $40,000 in today’s money. Records indicate that the factory produced simple muskets with 3-foot, 8-inch barrels and one-and-a-half-foot-long bayonets.

Documents from the period indicate that the objective was to produce guns at a cost of no more than five pounds apiece. The bayonets were to include a “trumpet mouthed” loop at one end. The point of the factory was to ensure a well-armed local militia.

The factory made about 100 muskets and a few rifles and smooth-bore guns before being destroyed by forces loyal to the Crown. Five other gun factories, located in and around New Bern, Edenton, Halifax, Hillsborough and Salisbury, operated during the Revolutionary period.

Learn more about the arms the average soldier carried during the Revolutionary War on NCpedia.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

L. L. Polk, Agricultural Reformer

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 01:00

On April 24, 1837, Leonidas LaFayette Polk, founder of The Progressive Farmer and president of the National Farmers’ Alliance, was born in Anson County.

Polk attended Davidson College and served in the Confederate army before advocating for farmers’ rights. In 1877, he was named the state’s first agriculture commissioner by Gov. Zebulon B. Vance.

After founding The Progressive Farmer, one of the nation’s oldest and most widely read agricultural periodicals in 1886, Polk used the publication to promote the creation of a land grant university, separate from the University of North Carolina. In1889, his vision became a reality when what is now N.C. State opened. He also used the Farmer to advocate for the creation what is now Meredith College, founded in 1891.

After helping found the Farmers’ Alliance in North Carolina and assuming a high position in it, Polk became a leader of the new Populist Party, which soon gained strength in the South and the West. He quickly became the Populists’ presidential nominee, but died in June 1892 before the general election.

In 1995, Polk’s house, a two-story gingerbread Gothic structure, was purchased by the Leonidas L. Polk House Foundation and moved to its present location on North Blount Street in Raleigh.

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Salt Works Established to Support Revolutionary War Effort

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 01:00

On April 24, 1776, North Carolina’s Provincial Congress ordered that a salt works be established in the colony for Revolutionary War use.

Before the war, North Carolina and other southern colonies had relied largely on salt imported from Great Britain to preserve their meats, flavor their foods and feed their livestock. It was a vital commodity. At the war’s outbreak in 1775, Great Britain had severed all trade with the fledgling American government, causing fear of a salt shortage. To ensure availability, the Provincial Congress initially set price caps on salt, rationed the existing supply and offered bounties to encourage its manufacture.

Not until April 1776, when the colonial government authorized four men to spend up to 2,000 pounds of public funds to establish a salt works, did work begin. Robert Williams and Richard Blackledge, both began salt works near Beaufort that spring. Williams’ operation at Gallant’s Point, which used solar evaporation, soon failed. But Blackledge’s plant on Core Creek succeeded, using a furnace to boil saltwater in iron pans until the water evaporated and only the salt remained. Although Blackledge died in 1777, his salt works continued to operate throughout the Revolutionary War.

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Winston-Salem’s Reynolds Building, 1929

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 01:00

On April 23, 1929, the newly-completed 22-story office building for the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston-Salem was officially opened for business. The public enjoyed access to the retail and commercial shops on the lower levels off the elevator lobby, including a barber shop, restaurant, pharmacy, telegraph office and a railway ticket office.

When the skyscraper opened, the Reynolds Company occupied half of the building, and insurance firms, brokerage firms, attorneys, architects and developers leased the other half of the space.

Reynolds president Bowman Gray, Sr., commissioned New York City architects R. H. Shreve and William F. Lamb to design the dramatic corporate headquarters in the popular Art Deco style. The $2 million limestone faced tower became the tallest building in the South, surpassing the 1923 Jefferson Standard Building in Greensboro.

Shreve and Lamb, with new partner Arthur Harmon, went on to design Manhattan’s Empire State Building, completed in 1931. The two buildings share a sleek, streamlined exterior with a distinctive stepped ziggurat roofline.

Historic rehabilitation of the building for apartments and a hotel is underway.

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Major Depression-Era Loss at Wingate

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 01:00

On April 23, 1932, the Administration Building of what’s now Wingate University was destroyed by fire.

At the time, the building housed the college library and chemistry labs, classrooms, an auditorium and offices. The library, which had more than 5,000 volumes at the time, and the chemistry labs were totally destroyed.

The building was valued at $50,000 and the loss was only partially covered by insurance. Some equipment and furniture in the building was saved, as were the surrounding buildings. The fire began in the boiler room, even though the furnace had not been lit for several days.

Firefighters from Monroe and Marshville tried to save the building but a lack of water pressure and the chemicals from the lab hampered their progress. Another fire that night destroyed the W. A. Chaney building nearby. An investigation into a break-in there led to suspicions that the fire was set on purpose. There were suspicions too, that the Wingate fire was intentionally set, but its cause remain undetermined.

The board of trustees voted quickly to have a new building erected before classes began the next year and began fundraising. Local Baptist churches helped as much as they could in the Depression-strapped times.

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Robert F. Hoke, Victorious at Plymouth, Promoted

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 01:00

On April 23, 1864, Robert Frederick Hoke, then only 27-years-old, became the youngest major general in the Confederate States Army. He was promoted days after leading a successful campaign to recapture Plymouth in Washington County.

Early in April, Brigadier General Hoke and his division had been assigned the task of recapturing Plymouth, and thus reopening the Roanoke River to Confederate operations. Hoke was assigned his own division from the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, which was reinforced with additional troops and assisted by the newly commissioned ironclad, the CSS Albemarle.

Beginning on April 17, Hoke moved his ground troops against the federal garrison at Plymouth, while the Albemarle attacked Union gunboats stationed in the river. After the sinking of the USS Southfield, Hoke was able to besiege the river town and force the Union garrison to surrender on April 20.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis wired a telegram to Hoke to congratulate him for his victory and, within that message, was Hoke’s promotion to Major General. He and his division would finish the war fighting at other North Carolina engagements, including Fort Fisher, Wyse Fork and Bentonville before surrendering in Durham in April 1865, while serving under Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston.

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U.S. Senator Sam J. Ervin, Jr. of Watergate Fame

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 01:00

On April 23, 1985, former U.S. Senator and Watergate Committee chairman Sam J. Ervin, Jr., died of respiratory failure at North Carolina Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem. He was 88.

Born in Morganton, Ervin graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1917 before serving in France during World War I. After earning a law degree from Harvard University in 1922, he returned to his hometown to practice law and, years later, still described himself as an “old country lawyer.”

A Democrat, Ervin won election to three terms in the General Assembly, was appointed to Congress and served on the North Carolina Supreme Court before beginning a 20-year career in the U.S. Senate in 1954. Considered a strict constitutionalist, Ervin defied ideology or party lines. He sat on the committee that censured Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, led filibusters against civil rights laws while simultaneously advocating for civil liberties in the 1960s and opposed the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.

His folksy humor, distinctive accent and Southern charm made “Senator Sam” a national figure during the televised Watergate hearings in 1972-73. Ervin retired in 1974 and again returned to his hometown, where he wrote three books and continued to practice law.

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Fayetteville Arsenal Surrendered, 1861

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 01:00

On April 22, 1861, the U.S. Arsenal at Fayetteville surrendered to a force of state militia troops roughly a month before North Carolina seceded from the Union.

At the time of the firing on Fort Sumter 10 days earlier, the Fayetteville Arsenal was guarded by a company of the Second U.S. Artillery. On April 22, the U.S. soldiers were confronted with a large force of nearly 1,000 state militia troops reinforced with artillery.

Former Governor Warren Winslow, acting as agent for then Governor John Ellis, negotiated the surrender of the post, which allowed the federal soldiers to leave with their equipment, but forced them to turn over the arsenal’s equipment to the state. By April 27, the Union artillerymen were able to get transportation to Wilmington, and by May 7, the company had arrived at Fort Hamilton in New York City.

During the Civil War, the arsenal manufactured small arms for the Confederacy with machinery shipped there shortly after secession from Harpers Ferry, Va. One of the arsenal’s better-known products was the “Fayetteville Rifle,” a copy of the US 1855 rifle.

Union Major General William T. Sherman captured the arsenal in March 1865, and had the installation destroyed.

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Librarian of Congress Lawrence Mumford of Pitt County

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 01:00

On April 22, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower nominated Lawrence Quincy Mumford for the post of Librarian of Congress. Mumford was the eleventh person to hold the office and the first trained as a professional librarian.

Born near Ayden in Pitt County in December 1903, Mumford began his education in a one-room school house and continued at Duke, where received an M.A. in English in 1928. He earned a B.S. in library science from Columbia the following year.

He worked first at the New York Public Library, where he also did work for the Library of Congress, before moving to the Cleveland Public Library, where he became director in 1950.

Confirmed by the Senate in July 1954, Mumford began his tenure at the Library of Congress under a dark cloud for the institution and its leadership. At his confirmation hearings, Congress expressed dissatisfaction with the library’s increasing public service role as a national library beyond its original mission as Congress’s legislative library.

Despite this and other tensions, Mumford’s 20 years at the Library saw extraordinary growth in its appropriations, completion of the Madison Building, adoption of the first computer-readable format for library catalog records and continued expansion of the its national role.

Mumford retired from the Library in December 1974 and died in Washington, D.C. in August 1982.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Tar Heel Junior Historians Learn, Boost State History

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 01:00

On April 22, 1953, the General Assembly established the Tar Heel Junior Historian Association program to advance the study of North Carolina history in public and private schools.

Administered by the North Carolina Museum of History, the association enrolls about 8,000 students in grades four through eight each year. The highlight of program comes each spring when students gather at a convention in Raleigh to share projects and conduct competitions.

Educators William H. Cartwright and J. C. McLendon were the driving force behind the creation of the program. They studied junior history programs in other states and met with Christopher Crittenden, then director of the state Department of Archives and History to sketch out a plan for the program.

In 1961, the association first issued the Tar Heel Junior Historian magazine, which is still published to this dayThe North Carolina History Quiz, later renamed the Christopher Crittenden State History Quiz, was started in 1976.

When state history as was reintroduced as a separate eighth grade course in 1988, the association’s enrollment increased exponentially, and in 1995, the Tar Heel Junior Historian Gallery opened in the new Museum building in downtown Raleigh, giving the association a permanent space to display student work.

Visit: History in Every Direction: THJHA Discovery Gallery, an exhibit at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh, showcases the most recent winners of THJHA Annual Contests, allowing junior historians to share what they have learned with thousands of annual visitors.

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The Confederate Cabinet Meets in Charlotte

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 01:00

On April 22, 1865, the Confederate Cabinet held the first of a series of meetings in Charlotte to determine their final official actions as an organized government. The Confederate Cabinet began its journey south on April 2 , when Confederate General Robert E. Lee recommended that the Confederate Capitol, Richmond, should be evacuated due to the advance of Lieutenant General U.S. Grant’s Spring Offensive.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his fellow cabinet members traveled first by rail to Greensboro. On April 12, President Davis conferred with Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston and other officials concerning potential surrender negotiations with Major General William T. Sherman. The Cabinet then moved south to Charlotte, and arrived there on April 19.

Davis and his cabinet held their final meetings in the Branch office of the Bank of North Carolina on Tryon Street, which served as the final center of the Confederate government. Faced with the inevitability of defeat, Davis adjourned his government, and planned to escape southwest overland to Mexico, where he could establish a government in exile. On May 10, Davis and his wife, Varina, were captured near Irwinville, Georgia.

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