The Great Grasshopper Raid

A variety of grasshopper plague related news spanning from 1819 through 1948, some of it reporting on the devastation, some explaining the methods used to try to limit the damage, mixed in with quite a bit of grasshopper humor that was published as well.

The Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Sep 1, 1819

GRASSHOPPERS. — In the Southern and Western portions of this State the grasshoppers are doing considerable damage, already, to the crops, and the people are becoming discouraged with the present prospects. A gentleman from the Southwestern part of the State, informs us that the ground is completely covered with them, and still they come, not by the “hundred thousand more,” but by the millions. Emigration of this kind is not desired in Iowa.

Cedar Falls Gazette (Cedar Falls, Iowa) May 29 1868

Grasshoppers in the West.

EDITOR GAZETTE. — The old saying that “pestilence and famine follow war” is likely to be verified in our own country from present appearances on our Western frontier. I refer to the grasshopper plague, which is becoming a sad reality, as many of the farmers of Western Iowa are beginning to realize to their sorrow. — Living as I do in the border of what is known as the “grasshopper district,” (Boone County) and having had opportunities to post myself as to their movements and workings, I wish to say a few words to your readers, all of whom are directly interested in this subject.

During the month of August, 1867, millions of grasshoppers inhabiting the plains and Rocky Mountains took up a line of march across the continent, and by the middle of September reached from a point in Minnesota to the half of Mexico, covering the Western half of Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana, and the entire States of Nebraska, Kansas and Texas, also including Dacotah and Indian Territories and extending into Mexico. Much damage was done to crops last fall and millions of eggs were deposited for this years’ crop; and while in the colder regions the old “hopper cusses” perished with the severe winter, in the Southern climes not only the young crop, is now on hand, but the old ones still live to curse the country with their presence. In Arkansas the woods have been burnt this spring to destroy the plague and thus save the crops, but to little purpose.

The best information I can get from Western Iowa is that crops are being destroyed in many places totally and in other localities only partially as yet. Many pieces of wheat in Boone County, west of the Des Moines River are being plowed up, while others are completely destroyed, so much so that there is not a vestige of wheat left to show that then days since the prospect was good for a fair crop. The corn crop has also been attacked and on many farms entirely destroyed. Some farmers replant but others prefer to save what corn they have, considering it useless to throw it away by planting, as there is as yet no prospect fro a better state of affairs. The grasshoppers at present vary in size, from one-sixteenth of an inch to two inches in length, all of whom are busily engaged in destroying everything green in their reach.

Some idea may be obtained of their number by a little circumstance which occurred on the C.& N.W.R.R., near the Des Moines River a few days since, and lest some of your readers may question the truth of the statement, I will refer them for particulars to the officers of that company in charge of the Western Iowa Division. An engine started out of Moingonn with three empty cars, bound for one of the many coal mines in that valley. A little distance from town the train run into a mass of grasshoppers which so completely soaped the track that it was impossible to proceed. Backing up they started again and was again brought to a halt. This time they could neither go ahead or back and another engine was sent to their relief.

I see nothing to save the crops of that country. Should the hoppers cease work now, Western Iowa may average a half crop, but it is doubtful while the prospect is that they will continue their work for weeks yet, perhaps all summer, in which case, crops must be an entire failure throughout the grasshopper district.

The question has been asked me many times in this city, was to the course the hoppers will take at the close of the season. Of course no one can answer that question, but the supposition is that as they always travel with the wind, of necessity, and as the prevailing winds in the Western States are from the Southwest and West, they will probably continue their course easterly. We would of course much prefer that they take themselves back to the wilds of the rugged mountains, where

Lo, the poor Indian, whose untutored squaw,
Sees bliss in grasshoppers and devours them raw.

Should the farmers of Black Hawk County look up some day to see millions of insects fill the air as high as the sight can penetrate, so that the heavens shall present the appearance of a heavy fall of snow, they may calculate that one of the worst plagues of Egypt is upon them and that it will be more profitable next year to raise chickens than wheat.

Cedar Falls Gazette (Cedar Falls, Iowa) Jun 19, 1868

The grasshoppers have invaded Utah, and the consequence is the invention by a Mormon of a “two-horse grasshopper smasher.”

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Jul 15, 1871

EVERYTHING EATEN. — A gentleman who recently passed over the Sioux City & St. Paul road says that the grasshoppers have eaten thousands of the settlers in Minnesota out of house and home, and he saw men with their families at the stations begging to be passed to St. Paul so that they might work and earn something to live upon.

Cedar Falls Gazette (Cedar Falls, Iowa) Jun 12, 1874

The Grasshopper.

Letters from one old townsman, Joe Wells, to his friends here, state that the grasshoppers are making a clean sweep in his vicinity in Palo Alto County. Joe has charge of some 400 acres of land the crops upon which were entirely destroyed last year; but with dogged perseverance he determined to “grin and bear it,” and this spring once more seeded the entire area only to see the pests return in such myriads as to sweep the ground clear of the last vestige of vegetation. This is a hard blow and visits upon him the entire loss of two years hard labor and upon A.A. Wells, who owns the land, a cash expenditure of nearly $2,00, without a dime’s return.

If riches don’t “take to themselves wings” in this case, it’s because grasshoppers can’t fly.

Another person writing from the afflicted country, says “it has been ascertained by careful count that this entire prairie was planted with grasshoppers eggs or in average of 1800 to the square foot, and most of the d____d things hatched twins — the rest triplets.” They have appeared in large numbers as far east as the country between Clarion and the Boone River, and our people need not be surprised to receive a visitation from the festive hopper as soon as he has tarried long enough for his wings &c. to grow. — Iowa Falls Sentinel

Cedar Falls Gazette (Cedar Falls, Iowa) Jun 19, 1874

Grasshopper Devastation (Image from http://www.soonerfans.com)

How the farmers of Wright county, Iowa drove away the  grasshoppers is revealed by the local papers The crops in that county were abundant, and the anxious husbandmen were in hopes that these destructive pests would not appear until after the harvest. At once they came, however, in clouds that darkened the sun. By a preconcerted plan, the farmers set fire to piles of dry straw on the borders of wheat fields, and smothered the blaze with green hay. That caused volumes of smoke to roll over the fields. The grasshoppers didn’t relish the procedure at all. They rose with such a multitudinous hum of wings as to deepen into a roar like distant thunder, and fled the country. In that way the Wright county farmers have a fair prospect of saving their crops.

The Fitchburg Sentinel (Fitchburg, Massachusetts) Aug 4, 1874

Image from Wikinews

The Destructive Grass(w)hopper.

The editor of the Bucyrus Forum has been visiting in the west, and thus writes of the grasshopper pest:

Some forty miles west of Omaha we commenced seeing the ravages of the grasshoppers. We are fully warranted in saying that the half has never been told concerning the wide spread destruction of these insects. It cannot be told. When we assure our readers from actual observation  that we have seen hundreds of thousands of acres of corn that have been literally eaten up by them, we still fall short of the facts.

To particularize: These grasshoppers, which are smaller, blacker and more fierce than the varieties usually seen in Ohio, are so numerous that they resemble a dark cloud slowly moving over the prairie. They are migrators and do not remain long in one place, for the best of reasons — they leave no green thing on which to subsist. Corn, buckwheat, fruit, garden vegetables, leaves of trees and bushes, all are stripped. They attack a corn field of two or three hundred acres, in the morning, and before “high noon” not an ear, tassel or blade is left to tell the tale. Often the stocks are eaten down to within fifteen inches of the soil in which they grew. Frequently strings of grasshoppers from twelve to fifteen inches in length, may be seen hanging on the same ear of corn. It is no uncommon sight to see them two inches deep on the ground. In half an hour they eat all the paint from a Buckeye Reaper and Mower. The only exception we found they made on the farms was sorghum or Chinese sugar cane, which probably contained too much saccharine matter for their delicate appetites.

When crossing Railroads they frequently stop the trains, the unctious matter of their bodies when crushed on the rails, causing the wheels of the locomotives to revolve with the rapidity of lightning without making any progress. From the point where we first observed their ravages to Kearney, we did not see a single field that contained an ear of corn. That unfortunate country is as bare and destitute as if it had been swept by one of the historic prairie fires. The effect may be better imagined than described. We saw dozens of families returning in their covered wagons to their friends in the different states. Many are unable to return.

We learned that aid would be given out of the State Treasuries of Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri to alleviate the sufferings, and to prevent the general exodus of emigrants out of these States to their kindred and friends. Thousands of these people are in a most deplorable condition. Comforted a few days ago with the thought of a large and profitable crop with which to make payments on their land and supply themselves with the necessaries of life, they now find themselves destitute, far from “Home” and among strangers equally as unfortunate as themselves. As we saw the settled look of despondency sitting on the brows of the hard-working, callous-handed men of toil, and their wives and children whose eyes were red with weeping, we thought the original characters of Longfellow’s pathetic lines had re-appeared:

“Hungry is the air around them,
Hungry is the sky above them.
And the hungry stars in heaven,
Like the eyes of the wolves glare at them.”

It is generally believed here by those whose experience and judgment pass for authority that the grasshopper scourge will be short lived. We trust so. The weevil, chintz, and Colorado bug have had their day and are now but little feared.

The Ohio Democrat (New Philadelphia, Ohio) Oct 2, 1874

Congressman Orr, of this State, has secured the passage of a bill through the House allowing homestead and pre-emption settlers in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Kansas, whose crops were destroyed or injured by grasshoppers in 1874, to leave and be absent from their lands till May, 1876, without prejudice to their rights. This is eminently just.

Cedar Falls Gazette (Cedar Falls, Iowa) Dec 18, 1874

KANSAS CITY, May 27. Rain has been falling here in torrents for the past twenty-four hours. It is reported to be general throughout the country. Some damage has been done to fences, railroads and crops. Great numbers of grasshoppers have been destroyed by the flood, as the Missouri river opposite the city is black with them, and it is thought the bulk of the insects in this vicinity have been destroyed. The feeling of dread is rapidly giving way to one of rejoicing, and Governor Hardin will doubtless be called on to issue a proclamation of thanksgiving instead of one for fasting and prayer.

Decatur Daily Republican (Decatur, Illinois) May 28, 1875

Mr. Grasshopper.

He laughs best who laughs last, says the proverb. The agile grasshopper of the western plains may find before he gets through this season’s business that he has carried his conquest too far and made himself an article of Western food, to the peril of all future generations of grasshoppers.

Some days ago the telegraph brought news that a grasshopper dinner had been eaten and relished by an adventurous party of gourmands at Warrensburgh, Missouri. Still later comes the report of another similar feast prepared with great care and critically enjoyed by a select company, including not only the leading local epicures, but several scientific gentlemen, among whom was Prof. Riley, the State entomologist. A bushel or more of “hoppers” were scooped up in an adjacent meadow and a talented cook especially engaged for the purpose brought them to the gridiron. They were stewed into soup, broiled crisp and dainty as smelts; they were fried in the omnipresent grease of the frontier, and baked in mass with curry and “champignons,” and in all these forms were pronounced delicious.

John the Baptist, who ate locusts and wild honey in the wilderness, was accused of riotous living. If this sort of thing goes on for a time it will be useless for the grasshopper sufferers of the far West to work up much sympathy in other States, or gather future subscriptions for food. Simply let them corral the insouciant hopper in their fields, bake him, broil him, and serve him up on toast; let them salt him down in barrels for winter use, and bid gaunt-eyed famine defiance. If the locusts insist upon eating up everything, let them be taught that there are two kinds of creatures who can play at that game.

The Ohio Democrat (New Philadelphia, Ohio)Jun 24, 1875

The farmers in Missouri and Kansas are elated at the discovery of a new kind of buffalo grass springing up in sections devastated by the grasshoppers. The crops in both States are represented to be in a promising condition.

The Fitchburg Sentinel (Fitchburg, Massachusetts) Jul 12, 1875

GRASSHOPPERS have been a burden so long that it is a relief to know that a use has been found for them at last. Some French fishermen, who were lately out of sardine bait, discovered that grasshoppers dried and pounded were just the thing; and hundreds of bags filled with the festive ‘hopper are being imported into France for fish bait. Here, in future, may be found an employment for our home-made ‘hoppers. We cannot all eat them, like Prof. Riley and his brother scientists, and the next best use is to make them provide us with something we can eat.

Globe Democrat.

Decatur Daily Republican (Decatur, Illinois) Apr 14, 1876

Grasshopper Trapper

Image from The Plague of 1875 in the Longmont Ledger.

A New Discovery.

An Iowa man had discovered that the very best of machine oil can be made out of grasshoppers, at a cost only from fifty cents to a dollar per barrel. If such machine oil will only stop the squeaking of ‘machine’ politics it will be worth five dollars per barrel at least. And if the grasshopper can be made into oil, why not that oil into butter better than oleomargarine; and if into oleomargarine, why not, by subtle chemical processes, into creamy butter to fatten the white loaves and lard the tender steaks of the provident. Hoppergrass butter is not an impossible extract or compound, if it be proven that oil can be fried or pressed from their bodies; and the song of “When the cows come lowing home” will be superceded by “When the locusts have gone to roost, Phoebe!”

If in the economy of nature even the perturbing flea has utility, surely the grasshopper, whose demoralizing super abundance afflicts the sad farmer of the West with countless agitations may be converted, by schemes of science, into lubricating food, or at least into anointments for the hair and shoes, and for the neater and better appropriation of an insect plague. Of course such discoveries weaken the work of the Grasshopper Commission; but we trust that the Iowa man will continue to rack his brain and the grasshopper until both shall bring “peace to troubled waters,” and oil to the ways up which “”Hope springs eternal” in the human breast.

Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada) Apr 21, 1877

Image from The Grasshopper Plague of 1874 on the Kansas State Historical Society website.

Character and Habits of the Grasshopper.

[From the Faribault Republican]

We have received a circular from the publishers of the New York Graphic asking us for information as to the character, habits, movements and depredations of the locusts of the West, to be embodied in an illustrated supplement they are about to issue. We much dislike to disappoint any one who appeals to us in a candid spirit for information, and we therefore, cheerfully contribute from our abundance:

1. As to the character of the grasshopper, it is bad. Like the deadbeat that he is, he eats his landlord out of house and home and then skips. He is a thief, poacher, robber, glutton and an unmitigated nuisance.

2. The grasshopper has three habits which it adheres to faithfully. In fact, if anything is the creature of habit it is the grasshopper. The first is to hatch under any circumstances; this is a point of honor and duty that it faithfully observes. The second is to eat and eat continuously. From the rising of the sun until the going down thereof it crams its abdomen with victuals, and its digestion is equal to its appetite. It always eats at the first table, for it clears it so clean that there is no chance for a second. Its third habit is to lay eggs, and all the time not devoted to eating is improved in this recreation. How many eggs a well-developed, healthy grasshopper will lay has never been accurately stated, but the Government has a lightning calculator now at work upon the problem.

3. With respect to its movements we are enabled to state that it moves frequently and takes all its baggage with it except the aforesaid eggs. It moves hastily, “gets up and gets,” so to speak, on very short notice and the simple provocation of lack of sustenance. No habit of the grasshopper excites so much interest in the farmer as its movement, and the interest is concentrated in the point whether the ‘hopper is moving towards or away from his farm.

4. His depredations: This is a profound mathematical problem, of which the total number of grasshoppers, the amount each will consume on the average per day, their rate of progress and the amount of forage to be found in the counties where they stop, are essential elements in the calculation. We would respectfully refer the Graphic to the Government commission for information upon this branch of its inquiry.

Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada) May 23, 1877

The grasshoppers were at one time pretty thick this year in Richardson county, Nebraska, so the farmers set seven hundred grasshopper machines in motion, and they have succeeded in scooping up 2,800 bushels of lively insects. One set of laborers in Nomah also cleaned up 150 bushels. This shows that the farmers are turning the tables on the ‘hoppers and are gathering them in instead of allowing them to gather the crops. It also shows that the farmers can do much towards saving their crops, it they only try.

The Helena Independent (Helena, Montana) Jul 26, 1877

Image from the  Rural Missouri website’s article: Louses & Locusts.

Grasshopper Eggs.

Mr. Cunningham showed a GAZETTE reporter a small box of earth yesterday which was taken from his ranch in Sierra Valley. In it were myriads of grasshopper eggs. There seemed as much eggs as earth, and the roots of several bunches of grass were thickly imbedded with them. The eggs are of a brownish white in appearance, and about a quarter of an inch in length. Mr. Cunningham said the box of earth shown was a fair sample of all the soil in Sierra Valley, every yard of it permeated with millions of the larvae. Unless the insects migrate after hatching, every green thing in the valley is doomed.

Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada) Apr 23, 1879

Grasshopper Sparrow

Image from the World News website.

A VALUABLE BIRD.

The great grasshopper raid upon Nebraska and Kansas a few years ago led to the better protection of birds, particularly quail. Previous to that time both sportsmen and professional hunters from all the cities of the Union took a yearly hunt and the slaughter of quails, ducks and turkeys was almost incredible. Tons upon tons were shipped into Chicago and St. Louis and even New York and Philadelphia. The result was, the grasshoppers had their own way and multiplied exceedingly. The quail is particularly fond of both grasshoppers and their eggs, and where they are at all numerous the destruction is enormous.

They are besides a valuable article of food and add not only to the dainty table of the rich, but help to fill the poor man’s pot as well. In addition to these uses the quail is a game bird of the first order and commands the skill of both man and dog in its capture.

We publish a column of letters from the Chicago Field on the migratory quail of southern Europe, which we hope may prove both interesting and profitable under the present circumstances. We very much fear that the Truckee meadows are doomed to be overrun in 1880 to some extent, and in 1881 and 1882, very seriously by the grasshopper.

We do not expect that any addition to the stock of birds in Nevada and eastern California could be made in time to serve in the crisis, but they will get a good hold and be a great help in future years. They will flourish and increase beyond all doubt.

Reno Evening Gazette (Reno., Nevada) Jun 2, 1879

In view of the threatened invasion of Kansas by the grasshoppers next year, it is comforting to reflect that the country is swarming with English sparrows, which were imported especially to eat grasshoppers.

Atchison Daily Globe ( Atchison, Kansas) Aug 2, 1885

Grasshoppers Colorado Springs 1899

Image posted by FuzzyTomCAt

A SHOWER OF GRASSHOPPERS.

HELENA, ARK., November 20. — About 4:30 o’clock last evening this place was visited with a shower of grasshoppers that proved an astonishing feature to the oldest inhabitants, as such a thing had never been seen here before. As they fell on the houses it sounded like a heavy shower of rain. All the stores and houses had to be closed to keep the insects out. The negroes were badly frightened, and most of them claim that it is a bad omen. A cold wave struck the town early last evening and brought the grasshoppers with it. It is very fortunate that this incident did not happen earlier in the fall, as it would have proved very destructive to the crops.

Atchison Daily Globe (Atchison, Kansas) Nov 21, 1885

Image from Family Tree Magazine.

Grasshoppers in Indiana.

DECATUR, Ind., May 15. — Grasshoppers have appeared in this (Adams) county in vast numbers. Never in the history of this section have these pests been seen in such great numbers. Recently a farmer brought in a large farm basket filled with grasshoppers, which he shipped to Chicago and for which he received the rate of $8 a bushel.

Conjecture is rife in this city as to what the purchaser intends to do with the hoppers. As they were sent near the Board of Trade building some conclude the pests are to be used to influence the market in cereals. It will  doubtless be a grasshopper year in this section.

The Daily Review (Decatur, Illinois) May 16, 1886

Grasshoppers’ Foe.

Minneapolis, Minn. — A cricket in the field is worth two on the hearth. His once doleful fiddling now is music to the ear of the farmer of the northwest. So doubtless muses M.P. Somers, grasshopper expert for the state department of entomology, after a summer-long investigation in the grasshopper infested districts of Minnesota and the Red river valley. The cricket is declared by Mr. Somers to have an insatiable appetite for grasshopper eggs and is eating them by the millions.

Sheboygan Press (Sheboygan, Wisconsin) Sep 27 1911

GRASSHOPPERS MOVING AT MILE-A-DAY SPEED

WILLOWS, Cal., Jun 29. — (By International News Service.) — Moving forward at the rate of a mile a day, an immense swarm of grasshoppers is now near Artois and moving eastward toward the Orland irrigation project. Farmhouse porches have been covered to a depth of nearly a foot by the insects, which are the small species.

Grasshopper plagues in other sections of northern California have also been reported.

Billings Gazette (Billings, Montana) Jun 30, 1919

Now for something scientific:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 9. (AP) — An elaborate process so intricate that nature alone can guide it to perfection, is credited for the survival of American agriculture.

The tremendous scheme, revealed by Dr. N.A. Cobb, federal chief nematologist, is built around the subtle function of the Mermis subnigrescens, commonly called the hairworm. Years of study and investigation have convinced Dr. Cobb and his associates, whose work has been assisted by approximately 150 of the nation’s foremost zoologists and entemologists, that grasshoppers, in limitless hordes and a thousand species, would devour practically every farm crop but for hairworm parasitization.

An avaricious enemy, the nema enters the grasshopper’s body when it swallows eggs of the hairworm, matures there, and bores its way out. The grasshopper dies from the wound.

Every Detail

Nature has perfectly correlated every detail. The nematizing process is as ruthless and deliberate as premeditated murder. Instinct forces the grasshopper to feed several inches from the ground, on the exposed surface of plant leaves. To make sure the victim is trapped, the female hairworm is so constituted that she cannot lay eggs in a shadow. Emerging from the ground in the spring, she ascends to a position well lighted by the sun, irrevocably the spot on which grasshoppers feed.

An overdose of eggs would cause premature death for the grasshopper. It must live until the nematode has reached an adult stage, and nature makes it her business to see that is does. Twenty eggs may be deposited in one place, but each egg is equipped with polar filaments that become entangled with the “fur” of young leaf hairs. As the leaf grows and the hairs spread apart, the eggs become sufficiently scattered to keep the grasshopper from getting more than two or three eggs during the entire feeding season.

The contents of a grasshopper’s alimentary canal are eliminated approximately once every hour. IN that time the hairworm larvae must work from the egg into cavities of the victim’s body, there to thrive on the food it has digested. Again nature is prepared. The equatorial region of the nema egg is composed of a substance soluable in less than an hour.

Color Scheme

An even more astounding circumstance, leading scientists to believe environment may be responsible for determination of sex, enters nature’s colorful scheme. Female hairworms, growing from half an inch to six inches in length in six weeks, usually are many times larger than male nemas. Whether it is because of limited room to develop in the grasshopper’s body or because of insufficient food supply, the hairworms, regardless of the sex propensity in the larvae, always become male when a large number of eggs are swallowed and as invariably are females when the number is limited.

In every case, Dr. Cobb says, a parasitized grasshopper immediately becomes sterile. Tests have shown that fields attacked by nematized grasshoppers are free of the pests in following years or until uninfested grasshoppers from adjacent territory invade them. That, he says, explains “grasshopper waves” in this country.

The Evening Huronite (Huron, South Dakota) Dec 9, 1927

Watertown Sieged By G’hoppers

Watertown  (AP) –Clouds of grasshoppers invaded Watertown and the surrounding countryside over the weekend and yesterday began attacking corn and vegetable crops.
The invaders rode on the waves of Lake Ontario in the Chaumont area Sunday, swarmed over the beaches, docks and summer cottages, driving vacationers indoors.

Farm Bureau officials here said the insects already are making inroads on crops, but that damage so far in not extensive. It is the worst grasshopper invasion in ten years, officials said.

The base of operations for the grasshoppers’ is not known, but the Farm Bureau said they were larger than recently hatched insects, and therefore probably are not local products.

This belief was strengthened by reports from Chaumont that large patches of the pests were seen floating in from the lake. When they reached shore they swarmed inland.

The city of Watertown was less attacked than rural areas of Jefferson County, but thousands descended upon the city, especially on the golf course.

The Farm Bureau notified farmers that poison bait made of wheat bran, molasses and arsenic is the only safe way to halt the pests. A sufficiently strong concentration of DDT would harm crops also, the bureau.  [said?]

Oneonta Star (Oneonta, New York) Aug 24, 1948

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One Response to “The Great Grasshopper Raid”

  1. Joseph E. Baker: Coloring the Editorial Pages of the Oakland Tribune « YesterYear Once More Says:

    […] in the Lowlands, Low,” by a rival newspaper editor, while searching for articles about grasshoppers. Fortunately, I was also able to find the poem being referenced. After noticing Mr. Baker’s […]

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