September in Florida Still Means Big Events

Labor Day may mean the end of summer in Florida, but it doesn’t mean Florida towns will wait for the snowbirds and big cash tourists to return in winter.  September is a good time in Florida.…

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September in Florida Still Means Big Events

Labor Day may mean the end of summer in Florida, but it doesn’t mean Florida towns will wait for the snowbirds and big cash tourists to return in winter.  September is a good time in Florida.  With school back everywhere, the beaches and most tourist attractions are less crowded.  And the water is still very warm.

September events are usual more casual and catering to Floridians.  Here are my favorite September events.

West Palm Beach has decided to jam three marine-oriented events together September 23-25 at the huge South Florida Fairgrounds on Southern Boulevard.  For just ten dollars you can see the South Florida Boat Show, the 8th Annual Marine Flea Market and Seafood Festival, and the Marine and Wildlife Art Festival and Craft Show.

FLORIDA TRAVELER nautical-flea-market

You don’t have to like boats.  You can eat plates of seafood, shop for Christmas gifts, and see some of Florida’s greatest wildlife artists at work.

Florida is also celebrating its cowboy and Indian heritage with two great cultural events.  On September 26 at Miami’s Miccosukee Resort, Florida’s local tribe celebrate the American Indian Day Festival with music and dance, a fashion show, airboat rides, tribal crafts and arts, and even a little alligator wrestling.   The event is free since it is designed to show Floridians the traditions and heritage of Florida’s Indian population.


From September 30 to October 1, the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee hosts the Ranch Rodeo and Cowboy Festival which not only displays the cattle ranching life, but also demonstrates ranch horse skills and the use of cow dogs on the Florida open range.  It is a competition that will be attractive to horse and dog lovers.  The festival ends with a big steak festival.

FLORIDATRAVELER cowdog competition

This weekend (September 3-5) the Greek community of Tarpon Springs has their Sponge Docks Arts and Crafts Festival.  What I love about this diverse shopping spree is it is surrounded by incredible Greek restaurants and bakeries.  You might want to visit the sponge museum or take a replicated sponge boat trip down the river for a sponge fishing exhibition.

FLORIDATRAVELER sponge-docks-arts-crafts-festival

The week of September 12 is the 27th Annual Lobster Festival and Tournament at the Schooner’s Last Local Beach Club in Panama City.  The Spring party goers have been replaced with tons of lobster fresh from the Gulf of Mexico.  The 17th Annual Sand Sculpture Contest is one of the largest and best in the Sunshine State.

FLORIDATRAVELER panamacity schooners

Saint Augustine celebrates its long-time Spanish roots September 8 through 11 with the Spanish Wine Festival, where it seems every local restaurant pairs Spanish wines with seafood and caviar.  There is a very competitive super soaker team battle where red wine has replaced   water as a weapon of choice.  I guess it is good to be shot in the mouth in that contest.

For those who like to attend real sporting events that are unique to Florida, I would visit Sugden Regional Park in Naples September 20 to 25 when the Professional Watercross World Championships are being held.  You will not believe what top notch pro and amateur personal watercraft racers can do with their boats.  There are sport, runabout, and ski divisions and this year’s world champions will be crowded.  CBS Sports will be filming for an October 16 showing.


Lastly, if you idea of a Sunday afternoon is a family athletic oating you might like the 27th Annual Endless Summer Watermelon Ride September 11th in Fernandina Beach at the Atlantic Avenue Recreation Center.  You can choose distances from 21 to 103 miles on a beautifl coastal bicycle ride along the tree-lined streets through Amelia Island to Talbot Island State Park.

The North Florida Bike Club has pre-race facilities, food and drink stops, and fully mapped and escorted bike routes.  It is one of the fun family events in Northeast Florida.   All of these events can be looked up online for more details.

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Seven Women Who Changed Florida History

One hundred years ago Florida was the only state in the South with less than one million residents, but things would soon change in every aspect of society in Florida.  Many people played major roles in Florida history – here are seven women who helped change Florida history.

Julia DeForest Sturtevant Tuttle (1848-1898) is the only woman in United States history, who is viewed as the founder of a major American metropolis.  After the death of her husband, Mrs. Tuttle invested in real estate  along the Miami River at a time when it was a wilderness of scattered farms.


While the story she sent railroad baron Henry Flagler a bouquet of orange blossoms and oranges after a North Florida freeze is a romantic myth, it is no fiction that Julia Tuttle pressured Flagler with land at the mouth of the Miami River and convinced him to extend his railroad.  By the time the trains reached Miami, the settlement was a booming town.

No one has meant more to the development of Florida literature and culture than Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953) whose Pulizer Prize The Yearling and autobiographic Cross Creek inspired a generation of Florida authors.  Today her farm at Cross Creek, south of Gainesville, is a major literary attraction for tourists and natives.

FLORIDATRAVELER marjorie rawlings

Outside of Florida Mary McLeod Bethune is best remembered as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s national adviser, but in the Sunshine State she is viewed as the woman who started a college for African-American women in Daytona Beach,. The school merged it with a male college, and she served as College President  for over twenty years, at a time few women headed coed colleges.  Her house and grave-site in Daytona Beach are visited  by educators across the globe.

floridatraveler MARY BETHUNE

May Mann Jennings (1872-1963) was the wife of Florida Governor William S. Jennings, but more importantly used her status to improve women’s suffrage, educational funding, historic preservation, prison reform, and child welfare.  She started the Florida League of Women Voters and pioneered the start of the Florida Park Service.  She was a Victorian women whose civic career lasted seventy years.


Zora Neale Hurston put the African-American town of Eatonville on the map with her award-winning Their Eyes Were Watching God and her autobiographic Dust Tracks. Besides four novels and hundreds of short stories, she was a folklorist for the PWA in Florida, capturing the culture of African-Americans in a more rural era.


No one talks about the Florida environment very long without mentioning Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890-1998), who fighting for the survival of the Everglades at age 108.  He book The Everglades: River of Grass is one of the most noted non-fiction works in Florida literature.  Her house at 3744 Stewart Avenue in the Coconut Grove is a National Landmark.

FLORIDATRAVELER marjorie s douglas

Jacqueline Cochran (1910-1980) was a major aviator who pressured the military into accepting women into the field of aviation.  She was the first woman to break the sound barrier; the first to fly bombers across the Atlantic; and the first civilian women to win the Distinguished Service Award.  She once held more speed, altitude, and distance records than any other pilot in the world, male or female.

FLORIDATRAVELER jacqueline cochran

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New Hotel Boom Hits South Florida

Florida has 370,000 hotel rooms in 16,374 hotels.  It is the only state that is covered by three AAA travel guides.

Despite these statistics the Great Recession slowed down new hotel construction particularly outside South Florida.  Today huge hotel projects are springing up from Pensacola to Jacksonville to Key West, many of them much needed boosts to tourist locations that have not seen much new facilities or seen older hotels converted to more profitable condominiums.

South Beach still leads the way with many older buildings being totally redone.  A great lower priced option in the Lincoln Road area is Haddon Hall or “The Hall”, the first Joie de Vivre East Coast boutique hotel.

Floridatraveler THE HALL

 Designed by Robert McKinley with a little white Art Deco, some Rio and some Caribbean, The Hall has just 163 rooms and an unusual 1.4 acre playground, uncommon for crowded South Beach.

Up in Hollywood Melia Hotels has opened the Melia Costa Hollywood Beach Resort, a six story condo hotel with five restaurants, a spa, a rooftop infinity pool, and 304 rooms. The hotel will impact a area of slow beachfront growth.


Even the Florida Keys is undergoing a wave of new resorts.  The Playa Largo Rsort, a Marriott Autograph hotel, is the first hotel in the Key Largo area in two decades.

The 155 room resort is spread across 14 acres of prime real estate and features bi-level cottages, three restaurants, a secluded white beach, and a real island feel.

floridatraveler PLAYO LARGO resort

Key West has several new hotels but a great choice for families who don’t want to be surrounded by the noise of Duval Street might want to head to the quiet side of the island to The Gates Hotel.  The modern, minimalist resort features the poolside Rum Row Bar with its own rum distillery and the funky Blind Pigs tapas restaurant.

floridatraveler the gates key west

With its 119,800 hotel rooms, second only to Las Vegas, Orlando continues to sprout new hotels like weeds.  The big resort guys have opposite extremes.  Universal Studios is building a second family resort with Loews Sapphire Falls Resort.

Walt Disney’s new super-resort is the very upscale Four Seasons Resort hidden on the property from all the parks and congestion.  The 444 room golf course style resort has high cost restaurants: the Italian Ravello, the Spanish style Capa, and the clubhouse Planca.

floridatraveler four-seasons-orlando-

But don’t worry if this is a place just for adults.  Mickey and Company find the place at breakfast time and the five acre Explorer Island with its lazy river is the largest poolside recreation area at WDW.  Instead of crowded Disney buses, guests here take plush motor coaches to the parks.

All across Florida new hotels are changing the waterfront of older hotels.  In Panama City a large Spring Hill Suites by Marriott is filling a hole by the Bay County Pier on Front Beach Road.   At Daytona Beach the 29-story condo Hard Rock Hotel at 777 Atlantic Avenue will be a monster of an addition.

Even Clearwater Beach, where many hotels became condos, there are new places like the Opal Sands Resort, with its 230 rooms with full Gulf of Mexico views, and the new Hampton Inn and Suites.

Look up these hotels if you’re heading that way in Florida

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The Story of Florida Starts With Two Myths

The first thing any Florida school child learns about their home state is probably:

 While searching for the Fountain of Youth, Ponce de Leon discovered Florida.

That’s not just a myth.  It is a Double Myth!  Here is the real story about the guy who starts the Florida chapter (the longest chapter) in the history of the United States.

floridatraveler PONCE DE LEON

In 1513 Ponce de Leon and most of the educated navigators of the Caribbean knew of the existence of a huge chunk of real estate above Cuba.  Whether it was an island or connected to the North American mainland was not known for certain and that was the key fact.

The 1502 Portuguese map known as the Cantino map shows not just Florida but a slice of the Southeastern Atlantic coastline.

FLORIDATRAVELER 1502 Cantino_Map_-_North_America

The Western Part of the 1502 Cantino map clearly shows Florida

  The 1511 map made by Italian born historian for Spain Peter Martyr map clearly shows Florida and its relationship to other Spanish colonies.  Did Ponce de Leon known about these maps?  While I am sure he never saw them, as a key administrator for the Spanish Government and a man thirsting for information about unoccupied lands, Ponce de Leon certainly heard stories about Florida from Cuban fishermen and slave hunters, the probably first visitors to Florida.


Peter Martyr’s 1511 map was made for Spain

So why did Ponce de Leon journey to Florida?  Surprisingly not for the reasons you might expect – gold, health, religion.

Ponce de Leon came from a well-known but modest Spanish family and sought his fame as a soldier like his heroic grandfather.  The defeat of the Moors ended this opportunity but the Columbus discovery of the New World in 1492, offered a new challenge.  His friends in high places got him a position on Columbus’ second voyage.

King Ferdinand, thinking Columbus had just reached islands off the coast of Asia, gave the Italian explorer and his heir’s ownership of all lands Columbus discovered.  Spain ignored this contract when placed their people into positions of exploration.

floridatraveler PONCE DE LEON HOUSE

This Dominican Republic plantation house was owned by Ponce de Leon

In 1508 Sir Ponce de Leon was sent by the Spanish Crown to conquer the Taino Indians of Puerto Rico and establish a colony of which Ponce would be first Governor.  He was rich in lands, powerful in influence in Madrid, happily married,  and in fine health, when Ponce de Leon’s world would change.

The Spanish High Court ruled that Puerto Rico and other islands discovered by Christopher Columbus were the domain of the Columbus family and Ponce de Leon was unceremoniously removed from office by Diego Columbus.

floridatraveler Diego_Colombus

Diego Columbus and Ponce de Leon were not friends

Ponce de Leon sought redemption and Florida was the solution.  The strange peninsular had not been explored by Columbus and if it were not an island, which most sailors thought was the case due to the Florida Straits and ocean flows, then Ponce de Leon could be made Governor by the Spanish King.

On April 3, 1513, Ponce de Leon arrived off the Atlantic Coast of Florida and started the history of my state.   He would sail along both coasts to verify its status as a peninsular attached to North America.

floridatraveler PONCE DE LEON route

We can not verify exactly where he touched Florida and Florida towns have fought over the locations ever since.  One thing is certain.  Thanks to Ponce’s ship logs and writings as a politician and as an explorer – he did not even mention the story of the Fountain of Youth.  It was not even a public issue to him.

floridatraveler PONCE ON SPANISH STAMP

In all fairness to myth writers, I must note that Ponce de Leon’s boss – King Ferdinand of Spain – was aging and believed in the Fountain of Youth.  So if Ponce ever found it, he would certain ship a few barrels back to Spain.


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Pass-a-Grille: The Original Tampa Bay Beach Town

PASS-A-GRILLE BEACH, the Southernmost of Pinellas County’s barrier beaches, was the first beach community on the Gulf of Mexico to develop as a weekend residential spot for successful Tampa and St. Petersburg residents. Originally, home to fishermen, homesteaders, and lumber men like Zephaniah Phillips, the island opened up when Roy S. Hanna and Tampa cigar magnate Selwyn Morey started in the 1880’s to develop lots for houses and hotels and a ferry service.  The completion of a bridge from the mainland came twenty years later.

James H. Forquer, manager of St. Petersburg’s Detroit Hotel, set up a floating hotel for excursionists and in 1898 George Henri Lizotte, a French travel agent for Thomas Cook Company, opened the first permanent hotel.


Merged with St. Petersburg Beach since 1957, Pass-A-Grille maintains its arty and bohemian life style, in part, because the village is but one block wide and 31 blocks long. There are restaurants on the Intracoastal Waterway and the Gulf of Mexico.

WHERE TO START: The island is ideal for walkers if you PARK AT THE SOUTH END OF GULF WAY by the beach. DRIVERS would appreciate the weekdays when you can loop around the narrow roads.

DRIVE EAST ON FIRST AVENUE toward Pass-A-Grille Channel to see how condos and apartments now block the point. Only 103 First Avenue, a two story frame with an old metal stove chimney is an early house. (1) LANDS END is a cottage colony at the very tip of Pass-A-Grille with a view toward the mouth of Tampa Bay. The island to the south is Fort DeSoto Park.

TURN LEFT (north) ON GULF and PASS SECOND AVENUE. On your left are four early 1920’s cottages: (2) 200 Pass-A-Grillea fine 2 1/2- story frame structure with a large front porch.

TURN LEFT ON THIRD AVENUE. All the cottages on your left predate 1925, including the (3) DR. EDMUND MELVILE HOUSE(1906), 104 Third Avenue, a two story that was moved from the Point to make way for apartments. At 110 Third Avenue was the (4)THOMAS WATSON COTTAGE SITE, the winter home of Thomas Watson, co-inventor of the telephone.

FLORIDATRAVELER 103 12th avenue 1923 2 story

1923 Cottage With In-Law Apt at 103 12th Avenue


On your left is the (5) HOTEL CASTLE (1906) one of the older beach establishments and an unusual style of a beach colony. On your right is the (6) FIRST SCHOOLHOUSE (1912) , 105 Fourth Avenue, a one room school, now a residence. Across the street lived William Staub, editor of the St. Petersburg Times (111 Fourth) .

At the end of the block on the right is the (7) HAROLD McPHERSON HOUSE (1903), 308 Pass-A-Grille, once an old fish camp, now a large frame house.


The next four houses on your left are fine older homes. The first one is the (8) WALDRON HOUSE (1910), 400 Pass-A-Grille, with a wonderful stone fence and cement yard.

TURN LEFT ON FIFTH AVENUE where old cottages line both sides. The first house on your left is the (9) CAPTAIN RANDON MILES HOUSE (1900), 102 Fifth Avenue, one of the island’s oldest, complete with fluted chimney. The last house on the left is the (11) JAMES SIMMONS HOUSE (1911), 108 Fifth Avenue, a big waterfront owned by the New York Congressman.  Babe Ruth was wintered here in a long gone cottage.

TURN RIGHT ON GULF and right on SIXTH AVENUE. This entire block is mostly 1920’s cottages. The last house on the left stands where Zephaniah Phillips  built his saw mill in 1884.


The first house on your left is the (11) AMELIA WILLIAMS HOUSE (l9l9), 612 Pass-A-Grille. At 608 Pass-A-Grille is the (12)ZEPHANIAH PHILLIPS HOUSE (1886), probably the oldest home on the island. On your right is the 1917 (13) V. K. OUTLANDS HOUSE (1917), home of a noted poet, batter known locally as the “Cat Woman.” Here and at 702 Pass-A-Grille were located the Old Spanish Fishing Ranchos in the 1880’s.

FLORIDATRAVELER 702 PassAGRille 2.3 million

Selling at $2 Million is 1925 house at 702 Pass-A-Grille

At 102 Seventh Avenue is the (14) GEORGE GRANGER HOUSE (1901), one of the five oldest beach cottages in Pinellas.

TURN RIGHT ON GULF WAY and RIGHT ON EIGHTH AVENUE, downtown Pass-A- Grille.  The two story buildings with their open or enclosed second floor porches give downtown a frontier look except at 111 Eighth, a delightfully tiny pink storefront advertising “psychotherapy.” A block away is the towering HURRICANE RESTAURANT, where people drive for miles for a grouper sandwich and a sunset.

FLORIDATRAVELER Hurricane-Seafood-Restaurant

The Rooftop at Hurricane Restaurant Is A Party Spot

Next door at 107 Eighth Avenue is the (16JOSEPH MERRY BAIT SHOP(l911). The fancy building at 106 Eighth Avenue is the 1913 (17) J. J. DUFFY GROCERY, started by the first Mayor and major developer of this area. The Coin Shop is housed at the (18) CAPTAIN KEN MERRY BUILDING (1936), 105 Eighth Avenue, once the Kay Metz store. At 102 Eighth Avenue was the (19)JAMES MASON HOUSE (1923), one of the earliest hotels.


On your right is the Pass-A-Grille Park. On your left at 808 Pass-A-Grille is the (20) JUDGE L. S. SCHWERDTFEBER HOUSE (JEWETT VILLA)(1908), a big house with three dormers. The Seaside Grille Pavilion across Gulf Way along the public beach continues a tradition started in 1905 by Charles S. Page who opened a beachside snack bar. This postcard of the PASSA-GRILLE HOTEL AND CASINO is dated 1921.

One can’t miss the (21) PASS-A-GRILLE COMMUNITY CHURCH (1911), 115 Tenth Avenue, now a history museum for the Pinellas islands. Stop by and visit the exhibits if the building is open. (22) 105 Tenth Avenue once housed the 1913 Women’s Club but it moved to 2201 PassAGrille Way in 1938.

FLORIDATRAVELER museum passagrille

The Museum Once A Church

At 103 Tenth Avenue is the (23) E. C. KITTRIGHT HOUSE (1903), one of the island’s oldest and moved from downtown. At the end of the block is the 1906 (24) ALPHONSE THAYER HOUSE, 1000 Pass-A-Grille. The art gallery on the back side was the studio of noted artist Ralph McKey.

TURN LEFT ON PASS-A-GRILLE past the 1910 Mac Granger House at 1002 Pass-A-Grille, and TURN LEFT ON ELEVENTH AVENUE. At 109 Eleventh Avenue is the delightful (24) CHARLES BEINERT COTTAGE, (1921), better known as the “Staten Island Cottage.”

FLORIDATRAVELER seacritters on intracoastal

Sea Critters Restaurant Over the Waterway

This ends of the original Pass-A-Grille district. At 113 Twelfth Street is the (25) VASHTI BARLETTE COTTAGE (1918) and at 1202 Pass-A-Grille Way is the (26) HAROLD McPHERSON HOUSE.  Film fans might want to travel north to the yellow cottage at 1805 Pass-A-Grille, the 1927 home of movie actress Norman Talmadge.


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Florida’s Pirate Legacy: Myth or Reality?

Being next to the Great Spanish Gold Fleet routes and the tropical waters of the Caribbean, Floridians love their stories of pirates and buried treasure as much as any region of the United States.  No less than 17 cities celebrate some sort of pirate festival.

Speaking of pirate lunacy – Saint Augustine has two celebrations to honor people who ransacked and raped their community.

In reality Florida was located on the northern edges of the region that was the golden age of piracy between 1630 and 1730.  There was little treasure in Spanish Florida and attacking the gold fleets when it left Havana, fully escorted by warships was suicidal.

FLORIDATRAVELER pirates gold fleet map

Florida Was A good Place To Hide After Getting Treasure

So what Florida pirates are real and what pirates are fakes?   Who was a real Florida pirate? Here are some historical facts:

REAL: Henry Jennings.    Jennings, an 18th century British privateer turned Bahamian pirate, got the biggest payday in Florida pirate history.  Tipped off that the 1715 Spanish treasure fleet crashed off Fort Pierce in a hurricane, Jennings organized three ships and 150 opportunists and attacked the Spanish salvage crews recovering cargo in shallow waters.  Jennings set sail for Jamaica with 350,000 coins taken from the Spanish workers.

FLORIDATRAVELER pirate henry jennings

REAL: Black Caesar I.  Since 30 to 50% of the pirates were Africans, it was not shocking there were two pirates called Black Caesar.  The first, a huge African chieftain who escaped on a sinking slave ship, set up shop at Caesar’s Rock near Elliott Key and built up a crew to attack Florida Keys shipping.  He later joined Blackbeard’s crew and was captured by the British navy in the Carolinas. Records show he was hung in Williamsburg in November of 1718.

FLORIDATRAVELER pirate black caesar

MYTH: Black Caesar II.   The second BC, also known as Henri Caesar, was said to be a Haitian Revolutionary who set up camp in Southwest Florida and later joined Jose Gaspar in attacking Spanish shipping.  It was told he was captured and burned alive in Key West, but no records or documents have been found with match any of his listed achievements.

REAL  BUT NO to Sir John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake. They are officially not pirates since both were served as privateers to Queen Elizabeth, and their attacks on Spanish colonies were promoted by England. During the American Revolution, the US Government turned hundreds of pirates into “privateers” if they attacked British shipping.

REAL to Captain Robert Searle.   In violation of orders from the Governor of Jamaica, Searles attacked the sleeping citizens of Saint Augustine in May of 1668 and seized the Royal coffers with the city payroll.  He killed sixty people and looted the city.  His actions forced the Spanish to construct the present fort in Saint Augustine.  Searle fled to South America with both Spanish and British forces after him.

FLORIDATRAVELER searles invasion

Searles Invades Saint Augustine Every Year

YES  to John “Calico Jack” Rackham and Anne Bonny. This English pirate captain in his calico clothing wed Anne Bonny in New Providence in 1719, stole a Britis sloop, and engaged in pirating along the Southwest Florida coast.  One of his crew was another female pirate Mary Read.


Pirates Calico Jack and Anne Bonny Hit Florida

Calico and Anne “honey-mooned” at Lovers Key near Fort Myers, but the idea having women aboard as bad luck turned true when they were captured. Calico Jack was hung in Jamaica.  Mary died in childbirth, but Anne Bonny escaped the hospital where she said she was pregnant.

No to  José Gaspar.   No mention of Gaspar appears in writing before the early 20th century, and no archival or physical evidence of his existence has ever been found.  Most historians have traced the stories of Gaspar to John Gómez (also known as Juan Gómez and Panther John), a real person who lived in a shack on isolated Panther Key near Marco Island.  The celebrators in Tampa don’t care if their beloved pirate is real or not.

No to Blackbeard (Edward Teach) and Captain Kidd.  Both were real but did their pirating to the North of Florida.

FLORIDATRAVELER pirate luis aury

Luis Aury Took Over Amelia Island

Yes to Luis Aury.   I view this French privateer as Florida’s last real pirate. Allying with Scottish revolutionist Gregor McGregor, Aury took over Amelia Island in Spanish Florida in the name of the Republic of Mexico, but his goal was to establish a separate nation.  Fearing chaos on the frontier, President Monroe intervened to oust Aury’s forces.  When Aury’s ships left Florida, it was the last serious pirate fleet to hit the land.



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