William
Abels


WILLIAM ABELS was born in Pennsylvania around 1839 to Andrew and Sarah Abels. His family was living in Wilmington in 1850. After leaving Wilmington they moved around the country, residing at times in Camden, Philadelphia, Delaware, and Mobile, Alabama. William Abels began working with volunteer fire companies in around 1853.

When the 1860 Census was taken, his parents had moved to North Camden. William Abels was then working on a farm in Delaware. It does not appear that he served in the Civil War. He married and came to New Jersey in the 1860s, and joined the Weccacoe Fire Company No. 2.

On June 7, 1866 Camden's City Council enacted an ordinance reorganizing the volunteer fire service to improve efficiency in operations. This ordinance provided for increased compensation to the fire companies (Weccacoe and Independence got $800 per annum to be paid quarterly, the Weccacoe and Shiffler Hose companies and the United States Fire Company received $200 annually). The volunteer fire companies were also directed to select a

Chief Fire Marshal and three Assistant Marshals, one from each district. The selections were subject to approval by Council. The new department was called "The Fire Department of the City of Camden". In protest of this ordinance the New Jersey Fire Company No.4 withdrew from the new, organized volunteer department.

James W. Ayers of the Weccacoe Engine Company No. 2 was elected Chief Marshal and served until 1868 when he was succeeded by Wesley P. Murray of the Weccacoe Hose Company No.2. Murray was aided by Assistant Engineers William Abels, First District; Simeon H. Long, Second District; and Charles H. Knox, Third District. Both Ayers and Murray were well organized and popular with the volunteers. For this reason the New Jersey Fire Company No.4 petitioned City Council to be readmitted to the volunteer department. Although the petition was supported by all the fire companies, it was rejected by the Council which had already sold the New Jersey apparatus on June 13, 1866 for $100.

Late in 1867 three major fires occurred in the city. The first, on the afternoon of Wednesday, November 20 about 3 P.M. destroyed the Third Street Methodist Episcopal Church located above Bridge Avenue. This disastrous blaze was one of the largest fires in the history of the City destroying five dwellings and seriously damaging several others while leaving the church in ruins. A roof fire was discovered on the south side of the church; the cause believed to be a defective flue but some said it was a spark from a passing locomotive. A stiff southwest breeze quickly spread the flames, overwhelming all efforts by the firemen. Chief Ayers summoned assistance from several Philadelphia volunteer companies as Camden's fire fighters turned their efforts toward saving exposures. These efforts were greatly hampered by an inadequate water supply. The dwellings at 229, 231 and 233 Taylor Avenue burned to the ground while 227 sustained heavy damage to the roof and top floor. Properties at #9 and #11 South Third Street also were damaged as flying embers ignited their roofs. A dwelling at #13 South Third Street was heavily damaged by the flames. Only due to the valiant efforts of the combined fire forces was the conflagration halted late that night. Both Chief Ayers and Captain Wesley P. Murray were commended for their judgment and action while directing firefighting efforts. Citizens felt that if the water supply had been better the: efforts of the firemen would have contained the blaze much earlier.

Nearly a month later the second blaze occurred; the Nickel Works, owned by Wharton and Fleightman and located in the block bounded by York, State Tenth Streets and Cooper's Creek. The fire started about 6 P.M. on Sunday: the 15th, when the dryers in the drying house overheated. A total effort by the Independence and Weccacoe steam engines, the United States ladder company and the hose companies of the department contained the fire to the original 40 by 50 foot building. A good water supply from the creek nearby and a quick response by fire companies contained the spread of fire resulting in only minor damage to several surrounding buildings.

Eight days later, on December 23, 1867 the Camden Rolling Mills Company was severely damaged by fire. The mill was one of the city's largest industries and stood at the head of Third Street on the Delaware River. The blaze began in the machine shop when a cinder was thrown from one of the puddling furnaces. Flames spread rapidly through the wood frame building that covered almost an acre of ground. A prompt response and assistance from Philadelphia enabled fire fighters to save the other buildings in the complex. 

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This ornately decorated presentation speaking trumpet is inscribed "Presented to W.P. Murray by the members of the Weccacoe Hose Co. No.2 of Camden, N.J." Wesley P. Murray served as Chief Marshal of the Fire Department of the City of Camden (volunteer) during] 868 and] 869. He was a highly regarded member of the Weccacoe Hose Company No.2 and was most likely presented this fine specimen at that time. Courtesy of the Independent Fire Company, Maple Shade, New Jersey.

The Good Intent Steam Fire Engine Company and the William Penn Hose Company were the first Philadelphia companies to arrive on the scene to aid the Camden fire fighters. Steamers from the Mechanic, Philadelphia and Fame Fire Companies subsequently arrived and were followed by additional hose and hook & ladder companies. Good Intent's steamer had to pass through a section of the burning building to reach a wharf from which to supply much needed water to combat the blaze. While doing so, it became jammed between a pair of shears. Fire fighters were successful in freeing the apparatus but not before the horses were badly singed.

Lost in the fire were seven puddling furnaces, four heating furnaces, one scrap furnace, twenty-two boilers, six steam powered drive engines, thirty-­two nail machines, three trains of bar rollers and other machinery and stock.

After the Nickel Works fire in 1867 another, more destructive blaze occurred at the complex on Sunday night, July 12, 1868. Flames were discovered in the southwest corner of the main building and as firemen arrived, the fire was extending to several nearby occupied dwellings and to the roof of the mill's power house. Fire fighters placed their apparatus effectively and were able to darken the flames on the power house roof and contain the blaze. The original fire building and the homes were destroyed. Damage was estimated at $30,000 to $40,000, far more than the $10,000 damage estimate of the earlier fire. Firemen had to contend with high temperatures and humidity as well as the heat from the blaze while quelling this mid-summer fire.

Still another destructive fire occurred less than a week later. About 5 P.M. the following Saturday, July 18, flames were discovered coming from the engine room of Goldey & Cohn's large box factory on Taylor Avenue. Flames spread through the building, feeding on the highly combustible stock. The entire building was soon engulfed in fire as was the late R.H. Middleton's brick stable. A brisk southwest wind carried the flames across Taylor Avenue to the company's lumber pile and onward to Middleton's warerooms at #7 South Second Street and also his two and one-half story frame dwelling at #5 South Second Street.

Chief Engineer Ayers realized that additional help was needed and telegraphed Chief McClusker of Philadelphia for assistance. The blaze was already threatening to consume the most densely populated and most valuable section of the City. Chief McClusker responded with steamers from the Vigilant and Hibernia Fire Companies, the Fairmount, Lafayette, Neptune, America and Diligent Hose Companies and the Empire Hook & Ladder Company.

 As the firemen placed the steamers along the Delaware River and laid their hose lines, the fire spread to the Ware & Marshall meat and provision store, a two story brick property at #3 South Second Street and to a two and one-half story brick dwelling at #1 South Second Street (owned by Joab Scull and occupied by Charles Armstrong). These buildings were destroyed as was Joab Scull's wood frame grocery store on the southwest corner of Second and Federal Streets and an adjacent three story brick dwelling (also owned by Scull but occupied by Mr. Goldey).

The fire continued to spread destroying Mr. Test's frame drugstore and extending to the home of James M. Cassady, Esquire's house at 128 Federal Street. Firemen were successful in saving Cassady's residence from complete destruction. Although the property sustained heavy water damage, only the rear of the building was destroyed. The fire fighters continued their determined stand against the oncoming flames and were able to save the property of the late Samuel McLain which adjoined Cassady's residence.

Conrad Hoell's saloon at the corner of Second and Federal Streets and the adjoining building occupied by L.G. Peterson ignited several times, but the flames were quenched by what the West Jersey Press called the "superhuman exertions" of the fire fighters.

 Several firemen were overcome by the intense heat, including Captain Wesley P. Murray and Joseph Flanigan of the Weccacoe Hose and Robert S. Bender, Thomas McCowan and Thomas Allibone of the Independence Steam Engine. These men had to be removed from the scene.

Combined losses exceeding $54,000 were reported as a result of this devastating conflagration. Chief Engineer Ayers praised the efforts of his men and the good work done by Chief McClusker and his forces from Philadelphia. The grateful citizens joined in this praise.

On the afternoon of Monday; September 14, 1868 about 2 P.M. Camden's volunteers along with others from Philadelphia were called to an inferno at the Washington Manufacturing Company in Gloucester City. This huge blaze caused a half million dollars in losses and destroyed hose belonging to the Weccacoe and Shiffler Hose Companies of Camden. Both companies received compensation for the damaged hose from the owners of the manufacturing firm.   

THE INCEPTION OF THE PAID DEPARTMENT

Rivalry and frequent insubordination in the volunteer department led to its demise. An example of these problems can be found in an article in the West Jersey Press on September 23, 1868:

"The discordant elements belonging to the Independence and Shiffler fire companies have found a common ground of compromise and settled upon it as we learned from Chief Murray. Hereafter, we are to have no more bricks and paving stones flying around loose. Let us have peace, long and enduring."

As a case in point, someone had cut the Independence Fire Company's hose during the Nickel Works fire and a $50.00 reward had been offered for the identity of the culprit(s).

Still, the citizens supported their volunteers and vehemently opposed the creation of a paid department. The community-at-large was proud of the service rendered to them by the volunteers and leery of the costs involved to create and maintain a paid force. The proposed downsizing of the department to only five pieces of apparatus and forty-one members was another cause for concern. Numerous meetings were held and many articles appeared in news­papers expressing concerns about, and opposition to, the paid department.

This early photo shows the devastation which resulted from the disastrous blaze at the United States Hotel in Cape May. The fire occurred on 8-31-1869. Courtesy of the Greater Cape May Historical Society.

Had the smaller paid department existed on August 31, 1869, Camden would not have been able to provide the much needed manpower and equipment to Cape May, New Jersey. On that day a conflagration threatened this shore resort at New Jersey's southern most tip. An urgent call was received from the City of Cape May during the early morning hours.

A huge blaze, involving the famous United States Hotel and many other hotels, businesses and residences was burning out of control. Chief Murray dispatched the Shiffler and Independence steamers with 2000 feet of hose, the hook and ladder from the United States Fire Company, and manpower with apparatus from both the Weccacoe Engine and Hose companies to the Cape May fire. These units from Camden were sent 90 miles by special train where they "rendered gallant and efficient service in extinguishing the raging flames". Camden's citizens were proud that they could provide valuable service to neighbors in need, yet maintain adequate fire protection at home. This was something the proposed, much smaller paid department would not have been able to do.

Despite opposition, on September 2, 1869 City Council enacted a municipal ordinance creating a paid fire department. It provided for the annual appointment of five Fire Commissioners, one Chief Marshal (Chief of Department) and two Assistant Marshals. The City was also divided into two fire districts. The boundary line ran east and west, starting at Bridge Avenue and following the tracks of the Camden and Amboy Railroad to the city limits. District 1 was south of this line and District 2 was north. The commissioners also appointed the firemen who were scheduled to work six 24 hour tours per week. William Abels, from the Weccacoe Hose Company No. 2 was appointed Chief Marshal with William W. Mines, from the Independence Fire Company No. 3 as Assistant Marshal for the 1st District, and William H. Shearman as the Assistant Marshal for the 2nd District. Abels had served with the volunteer fire departments of Philadelphia, Mobile, Alabama and Camden for sixteen years prior to his appointment as Chief of the paid force.

The Camden Fire Departments personnel roster, recorded when the department went into service, states that William Abels then lived at 218 Cooper Street, and that his previous occupation was that of a currier. A currier is a specialist in the leather processing industry. After the tanning process, the currier applies techniques of dressing, finishing and coloring to the tanned hide to make it strong, flexible and waterproof. The leather is stretched and burnished to produce a uniform thickness and suppleness, and dyeing and other chemical finishes give the leather its desired color. After currying, the leather is then ready to pass to the fashioning trades such as saddlery, bridlery, shoemaking and glovemaking.

On the morning of November 9, 1869 a fire destroyed nine frame dwellings at Cooper's Point. Many of the occupants narrowly escaped death as flames spread rapidly. One resident, Mr. Elliot, was badly burned as were two of his children. His wife and mother were injured while escaping the flames. The steamer of the Weccacoe Hose Company overheated due to lack of water in the boiler and had to shut down. Steamers from the Weccacoe Engine Company and Shiffler supplied the hose streams that battled the blaze. An adjacent lumber yard owned by Perry & Packer was spared due to the efforts of firemen.

On November 10, 1869 City Council purchased the Independence Firehouse, the three-story brick building at 409 Pine Street, for $4500. The building was designated to serve as quarters for Engine Company 1 and the 1st District. On October 29, 1869 City Council authorized construction of a two-story brick building on the northwest corner of Fifth and Arch Streets as quarters for the 2nd District. On November 25th the Fire Commissioners signed a contract with M.N. Dubois in the amount of $3100 to erect this structure. The 2nd District would share these quarters with Engine Company 2 and the Hook & Ladder Company and the facility would also serve as department headquarters for the new paid force. The original contract remains part of the Camden County Historical Society collection. 

Engine Company 2 with 1869 Silsby Hose Cart. Photo Circa 1890. Note badges upon derby hats worn by Fire Fighters.  

Two Amoskeag second class, double pump, straight frame steam engines were purchased at a cost of $4250 each. Two Silsby two wheel hose carts, each of which carried 1000 feet of hose, were another $550 each and the hook & ladder, built by Schanz and Brother of Philadelphia was $900. Each engine company received a steam engine and hose cart. Amoskeag serial #318 went to Engine Company 1, and serial #319 to Engine Company 2. The Fire Commission also secured the services of the Weccacoe and Independence steamers in case of fire prior to delivery of the new apparatus. Alfred McCully of Camden made the harnesses for the horses. Camden's Twoes & Jones made the overcoats for the new firemen and a Mr. Morley, also of Camden, supplied the caps and belts which were manufactured by the Migeod Company of Philadelphia. The new members were also issued badges.

This is the earliest known photo of fire headquarters on the northwest corner of Fifth and Arch Streets. Originally built in 1869, the building shows signs of wear some twenty years later. Note the weathervane shaped like a fireman's speaking trumpet atop the tower. Also, the fire alarm bell is pictured to the left of the telegraph pole above the rooftop. The bell was removed from the building once the fire alarm telegraph system was expanded and in good working order.  

 

This maker's plate once was attached to a harness made by A. McCully & Sons, 22 Market Street, Camden, New Jersey. This firm provided the first harnesses for the paid fire department in 1869.  

Badges worn by the marshals, engineers, stokers and engine drivers bore the initial letter of their respective positions and their district number. The tillerman and his driver used the number "3" to accompany their initial letter. The extra men of the 1st District were assigned badges 1-10; 2nd District badges were numbered 11-20 and the extra men of the hook & ladder wore numbers 21-30.

Although the Fire Commission intended to begin operation of the paid department on November 20, 1869, the companies did not actually enter service until December 7th at 6 P.M. because the new apparatus and buildings were not ready. The new apparatus was not tried (tested) until December 9th.

The new members of the paid force were:            

Engine Company 1

George Rudolph Tenner, Engineer; William H.H. Clark, Driver;
Thomas McLaughlin, Stoker

Extra Men (call members)

Thomas Allibone           

Badge #1

William Deitz               

Badge #2

George Horneff  

Badge #3

John J. Brown        

Badge #4

William A.H. White            

Badge #5

James Sutton    

Badge #6

Cornelius M. Brown    

Badge #7

Alexander Peacock    

Badge #8

Samuel Buzine 

Badge #9

Jesse Chew 

Badge #10


The first style of breast badge worn by members of the career department in the City of Camden. 1869. (Courtesy of the C.C.H.S. Collection).

 


Engine Company 2

William J. Ross, Engineer; George Liebecke, Driver; William T.G. Young Sr., Stoker

Extra Men

Isaac Middleton 

Badge #11

Samuel Patton 

Badge #12

Elwood Cline

Badge #13

George W. Bates 

Badge #14

Robert Pine

Badge #15

Theodore Zimmerman

Badge #16 

Benjamin H. Connelly

Badge #17 

Richard Houghtaling 

Badge #18 

Abraham Bradshaw 

Badge #19 

Richard Githens (does not appear in CFD roll book)

John Graham

Badge #20


Hook & Ladder Company

Edward J. Dodamead, Tillerman; Frank Jones, Driver

Extra Men

Charles Baldwin 

Badge #21

Charles G. Zimmerman 

Badge #22

John Durkin 

Badge #23

William C. Lee 

Badge #24

James M. Lane 

Badge #25

James Cassidy 

Badge #26

Robert S. Bender   

Badge #27

Thomas McCowan   

Badge #28

Howard Lee                             

Badge #29

Abraham Lower             

Badge #30

 Charles G. Zimmerman was the brother-in-law of Chief Abels, married to the Chief's sister Keturah. Charles G. Zimmerman's brother Theodore Zimmerman also was a charter member, serving with Engine Company 2.

Leather helmet of natural grain believed to have been worn by Fireman Charles Baldwin, Hook & Ladder Company 1 when paid force was organized in 1869. Number 21 at bottom of frontpiece indicates member's badge number. (Courtesy of the Camden County Historical Society Collection.)

 The Board of Fire Commissioners consisted of Rudolphus Bingham, Chairman and Samuel C. Harbert, Richard Perks, Jonathon Kirkbride and Jacob Daubman.

Annual salaries for the members of the paid force were: Chief Marshal, $800; Assistant Marshal, $200; Engineer, $600; Driver, $450; Stoker, $450; Tillerman, $450; Extra Men, $50. All but Extra Men were paid monthly.

Many members of the newly organized paid department were former volunteers and had distinguished themselves as leaders through their dedication and hard work.

This fireman's axe, Circa 1870, was removed from the basement of a building in the City of Camden many years ago. With handle missing, a replacement handle was modeled after the original and crafted by Mr. George Homan, a retired wood shop teacher at Collingswood High School.

As for the long reign of the volunteer fire companies, their era had ended. The Shiffler sold its "Blue Dick" in 1869 to Dr. Schenk for service at his laboratory at Schenk's Station, Pennsylvania (the well known Mandrake Pills were made there). In 1870 Shiffler sold its white hose carriage to a company in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The American Hose Company of Trenton, New Jersey purchased the Shiffler steam engine, had it rebuilt, and the apparatus saw many more years of service. The Shiffler boys traveled to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in November 1870 and pre­sented whatever property remained to their namesakes in that city. The Shiffler Firehouse was sold to Washington Chew who converted it into a tavern. For sev­eral years the tavern was a favorite meeting place for the Shiffler boys.

In October 1869, the Independence sold its newer carriage to the City of Rahway, New Jersey for use by its Washington Fire Company. Two months later, Independence sold its first Amoskeag steamer and old hose carriage with 800 feet of hose to Millville, New Jersey. In May 1871, Millville sold the steamer to the Friendship Engine and Hose Company No.1 of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. The steamer remained in service until 1911 and was scrapped the following year. The Independence Firehouse had been purchased by the City of Camden as quarters for Engine Company 1 of the new department. 

Photo taken 5-20-1871 in front of the Friendship Engine & Hose Company No.1 of Chambersburg, PA. The steam engine on the right has just arrived after being purchased from Millville, N.J. This apparatus was originally purchased by the Independence Fire Company No.3 of Camden in June 1864. It was a class two Amoskeag steamer bearing 

serial No. 92. Independence sold the apparatus to Millville in 1869

In December 1873 Independence offered to sell its second class Gould steam engine to the City for $1200. The engine had cost $5250 when built in 1869. A short time later City Council accepted the offer. Independence disbanded on October 13, 1874 with a membership of sixty men; Edward Gilbert was President. 

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This memorial is dedicated to the deceased members of the Niagara Fire Company of Merchantville, New Jersey. The bell in the center of the memorial once adorned the tower of the Weccacoe Engine Company No. 2 of Camden, New Jersey. The firehouse was located at 517 Plum Street, now Arch Street. The bell has been in the possession of the Niagara Fire Company since 1896 when it was purchased to sound the alarm of fire in Merchantville. Courtesy of the Niagara Fire Company, Merchantville, New Jersey.

The Weccacoe Engine Company sold its Amoskeag to Amsterdam, New York and its firehouse to John Pfeiffer who converted it to a hotel. The company disbanded, as did the United States Fire Company, when the paid department entered service. The bell which hung in the tower of the firehouse was sold to the Niagara Fire Company of Merchantville, New Jersey in 1885. The bell was mounted in that company's tower and, today, remains the property of the Niagara Fire Company. The cost of the bell was $50.00.

The Weccacoe Hose sold its hose carriage and 500 feet of hose to the Western Hose Company of Wilmington, Delaware on December 4, 1869 at which time the Wilmington company changed its name to Weccacoe Hose Company. Camden's Weccacoe Hose sold its steam engine to Brinton & Henderson of Philadelphia in 1870. The fire company had planned to payoff the debt on its new steamer through subscriptions but with the advent of the paid department, this plan went awry. Nevertheless, the members were determined to retire this debt and raised funds until final payment of $14.25 was made on September 8,1883.

In January of 1871 Bordentown, New Jersey purchased a hose cart from the Weccacoe Hose Company No. 2 of Camden and named their newly organized hose company after the Camden Company.

Department records indicate that on Thursday night, December 30, 1869 the paid force responded to its first fire at the R.M. English & Company oil­cloth factory at Cooper's Point. The plant only recently had begun operation. The paid firemen performed admirably under the direction of Chief Marshal William Abels. Although one of the main buildings was destroyed, the fire fighters were able to limit damage to the other buildings. The blaze, which resulted in a loss of $30,000, was thought to have been caused by a defective flue.

The second major fire to confront the new department occurred on Christmas morning, 1870. Fire destroyed St. John's Episcopal Church at Broadway and Royden Streets. The church had once been a floating chapel for seamen on the Delaware River. Within an hour the church burned to the ground. Several years later, in 1892, the new church building would also be destroyed by fire.

City Council and contractor Abraham Lower entered into a contract on May 16, 1870 that called for Lower to erect a brick stable adjoining the quarters of Engine Company 1 at 409 Pine Street. The contract amount was $1650. The original contract remains the property of the Camden County Historical Society.

William Abels was politically active, however, he ran into some legal difficulty in January of 1871 involving a dispute over a glass factory purchased by then Sheriff Randall Morgan.

William Abels served as Chief Marshal until his replacement on September 2, 1871. City Council appointed Robert S. Bender as his successor while the Assistant Marshals remained the same.

William Abels was elected to Camden's City Council in 1878, and was made President of that body in 1880. He served in that capacity for one year. No occupation is given in the 1880 Census records, nor is one given in later City Directory listings. The 1880 Census shows him living at 126 Cooper Street with his wife Sarah and three children- Marie, a teacher, Charles, an artist's student, and Belle, at school. 

By 1884 William Abels had been appointed Postal Inspector. His address was  listed at 105 Penn Street in the 1887-1888 and 1888-1889 City Directories. While his mother and father continued to reside in Camden for many years thereafter, William Abels, his wife and children were not listed in the 1890-1891 City Directories and had apparently left the city. He was in the area in November of 1897 when he took part in a Thanksgiving parade in Stockton, the town that was made up of what is today referred to as East Camden and Cramer Hill.

William Abels passed away on June 17, 1899 at Interlaken, New Jersey, near Asbury Park. After services at the home of his son-in-law, Joseph Sweeten, 104 North 6th Street, William Abels was buried at Colestown Cemetery in Delaware Township (present day Cherry Hill), New Jersey.

Philadelphia Inquirer - March 2, 1869
Samuel Hufty - William Abels - Robert S. Bender
Jacob Daubman - James W. Ayers - Frank B. Holt 

Philadelphia Inquirer - January 9, 1871
Randal Morgan - William Abels - Frank Jones - James M. Cassaday - John Manderfield

Philadelphia Inquirer - March 16, 1878

William Abels - J. Willard Morgan - A.B. Cameron - Crawford Miller - Mr. Knight
John Dialogue Sr. - Elwood Kemble - Dr. John Donges - Frank F. Michellon
Frederick W. Taw - William A. Turner - James E. Hayes - John H. Shultz -
John M. Gray Sr.
Robert S. Bender - William W. Mines - Wilbur F. Rose - H.M. Sharp - Joseph A. Porter


Philadelphia Inquirer - January 14, 1885
...continued...
 

Philadelphia Inquirer - November 26, 1897
Robert Gick - Martin J. Ryan - George Bremen - Millard Daly - Jesse Milby - Samuel N. Johnson
William Abels - Samuel S. Elfreth - J.C.T. Trachsel - Colonel A.H. Troth
Stockton Hose Company - Citizens Fire Company - Rosedale Fire Company
William Penn Fire Hook & Ladder Company

Philadelphia Inquirer - June 21, 1899
 

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