An Essay on Giles F. Yates
An Essay on Giles F. Yates

by M.I. Francis I. Karwowski, Past Grand Illustrious Master, Cryptic Council. Printed with his permission.

“I would fain have you believe, my dear Brethren that, as a member of the Masonic Institution, if I have had any ambition, it has been to study its science, and to discharge my duties as a faithful Mason, rather than to obtain honors or personal benefits of any kind. Self-aggrandizement has never formed any part of my Masonic creed, and all who know me can bear witness that it never has of my practice.” – Giles Fonda Yates

If the names of Thomas Smith Webb, Jeremy Cross, Albert Pike, Albert Mackey, Robert Macoy, Henry Coil, William Hutchinson and other preeminent authors’ names are mentioned, they reflect a universal recognition. When the name of Giles Fonda Yates is cited, there is a puzzling air of mystery associated with the name.

For those who are unsure of this forgotten Masonic Scholar, this essay will attest to the fact that he was indeed an important Masonic Scholar equal to, if not exceeding, the rest of the field.

The Minutes of Ineffable Lodge end with the meeting of December 5, 1774, when the "Lodge closed till this Night fortnight"; but the Lodge met for some years thereafter. For some unknown reason the Lodge suspended labor and was revived in 1820 or 1821 by Brother Giles Fonda Yates. The Grand Council of Princes of Jerusalem was also revived and continued active for several years. It exercised the power of issuing Charters. Although it is evident that several of the Albany Brethren received the higher degrees of the Rite, there was no Consistory established until 1824, and what follows is an attempt to gather together material concerning the early history of Albany Sovereign Consistory, Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret. The early history of Albany Sovereign Consistory is intimately connected with that of Brother Giles Fonda Yates.

Giles Fonda Yates, the son of John and Margaret (Fonda) Yates was born in Schenectady on November 8, 1798. He was graduated from Union College in the Class of 1816, with Phi Beta Kappa rank, and later received the degree of Master of Arts. He then entered into the profession of Counsellor-at-Law. He held the office of Surrogate of Schenectady County from 1821-1840. For many years he was the Editor of the Schenectady Democrat and Reflector. He wrote, investigated and preserved many valuable articles on the early history of the city and county which became the foundation for their published history.

It was also during this time that he was responsible for obtaining pensions for county men, who served in the Revolutionary War, representing them and writing to the necessary military entities, thereby establishing the records necessary for the application of pensions. He was very successful in this endeavor.

He was an artist, painting the Old Dutch Church as well as other scenes. He designed Masonic aprons. He was an archaeologist, philosopher and adept in the occult sciences. He indicated the Masonic calendar, as we know it, establishing the dates from the Jewish calendar. He was a prolific author and poet, submitting many articles for publication to Brother Cornelius Moore for the Masonic Review. He had no equal in the science of Masonic archaeology.

When he could no longer sustain himself with legal work in Schenectady, for he never married; he served the Naval Department, eventually leaving the area for New York City, where he died on December 13, 1859. When it was communicated to Doctor Mackey, he wrote:

“The task of writing a sketch of the life of Giles Fonda Yates is accompanied with a feeling of melancholy because it brings to my mind the recollections of years, now passed forever, in which I enjoyed an intimate friendship of that amiable man and zealous Freemason and scholar. His gentle mien won the love, his virtuous life the esteem, and his profound but unobtrusive scholarship the respect of all who knew him.”

Cornelius Moore wrote in the Masonic Review of January 1860, “Giles F. Yates was so modest and quiet a citizen, that out of the circle of Masonic students, but few knew. Most of his life, he was an unambitious member of the bar at Schenectady, faithfully discharging every duty, but valuing more highly some services rendered to Freemasonry, some discovery made in her archives, than all the honors of a successful career in law or politics. At the time of his death, he filled a subordinate office in the Custom House at New York City. There he won no wide spread notoriety. No flags hung at half mast the day he died, no crowd followed his remains to the tomb, no minute guns were fired over his grave; only a few loving hearts bled tears of sacred sorrow when his soul fled from its earthly tenement; but among the ranks of those who receive such honors, few have really deserved the respect and love of their fellow men as fully as Giles F. Yates. He gave his life to Masonry; his mind lived as it were in a continued open lodge; his time, thoughts and talents were freely expended in her service. Yet he asked from her no honors. When the advanced years of Grand Commander G.G.G. Gourgas, in 1851, led to his resignation, the mantle fell upon Yates. He had long filled the second post of duty and dignity in the Northern Jurisdiction of Scotch Masonry. But he became Grand Commander only to resign. It was honor enough for him to love and enjoy Masonry; he asked no other. It was honor enough for him to have revived nearly thirty years before, at Albany, the old Lodge of Perfection which Francken founded there in 1767. It was honor enough for him to have contributed largely to the spread of Masonic literature, and the cultivation of Masonic Jurisprudence."

“ My brethren, happy to have even the poor consolation of paying a just tribute to the memory of men so good and worthy, let us not merely put our altars in mourning. Let us embalm their memories in the sorrow of our hearts, and pay them a juster tribute by emulating their example."

“Blessed be their rest, and long may the acacia bloom upon the sacred earth that covers their remains.”

The Ashlar by Allyn Weston & E.W. Jones published in 1860 has this account attributed from the Mirror and Keystone. “This distinguished Mason has gone to his last home. On Thursday, December 15th, there gathered around his coffin, friends who had known and loved him in life, to pay the last tribute of respect which man can pay his fellow. He lived long and well, and died as a Mason should die, in humble trust in the great Master, and in hope of a blissful immortality. There are many, who walked with him, the Mosaic pavement, to regret his loss; none to cast a stigma on his memory. He was emphatically the man to be respected and loved. His kind and gentle temper, his courteous and affable deportment, won the hearts of all who associated with him. The unkind word or harsh rebuke never came from his lips. Conscious himself of the weakness of human nature, as every true man is, he could find something to praise where others were lavish to censure. ‘I am not fit, myself, to judge another,’ were the ready words, when objurgation and reproach came from other lips. The teachings at the altar, to cast the mantle of charity over the erring, had made a deep and abiding impression upon him."

As a Masonic writer, Brother Yates held a high rank. His style was terse and concise, rather calculated to induce in the reader reflection, and elicit mind, than to produce superficial admiration. The short poems which he has left, are remarkably characteristic, in this respect. They are deficient in musical rhythm, but filled with sparkling gems of thought – all his productions show the pen of the scholar, who had drank from the wells of English undefiled. The subjects on which, in later years, especially, he delighted to write, were abstruse, and therefore, not adapted to the capacity of the many. In early years, we believe, he had been a contributor to the light literature of the day, and doubtless excelled, for he possessed a vivid imagination and refined taste.

The Masonic fame of Brother Yates rested principally on his antiquarian knowledge. In this field he had no rival. It was the passion of his later life to dig deep down, and bring up rich ore, which he moulded into massive forms. To Ineffable Masonry, as illustrating the history and philosophy of the Order, developing its symbolism, and thus strengthening its columns, he devoted years of study and research. To his indefatigable industry and patient care, Ineffable Masons, in this section of the country, are indebted for the prominent position they now occupy. He contended for years against what appeared insuperable difficulties, until success crowned his efforts, and the old man’s eyes were blessed with the sight of what his imagination had often pictured, a fitting home for his cherished branch of the Order. He had stood almost alone, quite alone in earnest feeling; he had been called the wild enthusiast; he had been regarded by some (how little they knew the man,) as a disturber of the harmony of Masonry, yet he turned neither to the right or the left, but kept steadily in his path, until wearied, but not disheartened, he reached his goal. He was no disorganizer. The very character of the man forbade it. His love for Masonry, in its antiquity and purity, forbade it. His brilliant intellect comprehended, in all its fullness, and his warm heart felt in all its fervor, the spirit of Masonry. He stood upon the topmost pinnacle of the Temple, and his vision rested on battlement, column, and pavement. He was indeed, a ‘Master of Israel,’ and to the law, not in part, but in whole, did he render obedience.

Had he lived a little longer, he would have left to Ineffable Masonry a rich legacy. He had been gleaning for many years material for a Manual. It would have comprised all that an Ineffable Mason can want; history, philosophy and work. He had prepared to put the matter in shape, when the summons came. He had long before received the ‘token’ that the golden bowl would soon be broken, and that he must be prepared for the coming of the ‘messenger,’ for trouble had pressed heavily upon him, and sickness had weakened his frame; still he hoped and prayed that his life might linger on, until life’s work was completed.

He worked while the day lasted, but the Master saw fit to hasten the shadows of the night, and we fear the designs upon the trestle board will never be completed. None who sat at his feet can wield his pencil.

Brother Yates, in civil life, had held high positions. He was for many years Surrogate of his county (Schenectady), and as Editor of a leading paper, exerted great influence in his district. But he desired to be known as a Mason. "e cared but little for worldly honors. He disliked the glitter of show, and the pomp of fashion. His aim was, what should be the aim of every true man and Mason, a life of truth and virtue. He was not righteous in his own eyes, but God-fearing and God-serving, he passed from time to eternity.”

Giles Fonda Yates was initiated into Morton Lodge #87 in Schenectady on October 23, 1820, receiving the Fellow Craft and Master Mason degrees on October 27, 1820. This was the second Masonic Lodge to be formed in Schenectady. He affiliated with St. George’s Lodge #6 on December 27, 1824. This was the height of the Morgan Era and it was through his efforts that Freemasonry in Schenectady was able to weather the storm. He was Worshipful Master of the Lodge in 1826 & 1827 and again in 1844 & 1845. For 16 years, nine Brothers kept the flame of the Craft alive. He was also a Royal Arch Mason and Knight Templar. He was partly responsible for the repairing the great schism of the Grand Lodge of New York.

It is not known when he received the Scottish Rite Degrees, but it must have been during 1820 or 1821, for in the Minutes of Ineffable Lodge of Perfection of January 31, 1822, he is recorded as Senior Grand Warden, and on November 11, 1823, he was elected Sublime Grand Master.

But one of the most important events that he was responsible for was the establishment of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite in the Northern Jurisdiction.

The Supreme Council at Charleston chartered the Consistory at Albany on November 16, 1824, with the title of "The Consistory of Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret for the State of New York," and Illustrious Giles Fonda Yates was named as the first Sovereign of Sovereigns. It was instituted either later in the fall of 1824 or in 1825 by Illustrious John Barker, General Agent of the Charleston Supreme Council. The Southern Supreme Council then transferred the Consistory to the jurisdiction of the Northern Supreme Council at New York City on March 22, 1827.

You might ask why we bother to delve into the life of Giles Fonda Yates given his importance in the Scottish Rite. We must remember that the Sublime Degrees of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite also included the degrees of Royal Master and Select Master. And according to Companion Mackey were originally “they of right belong to the Supreme Council of the 33rd degree, Ancient Accepted Scotch Rite, and the claim to them has never been abandoned by that body. The degrees continue to be conferred by Inspectors, and, in fact can only be legally obtained in our jurisdiction from such authority” This is the link that connects the Cryptic Rite and the Scottish Rite.

The degrees were probably conferred in the Councils of Princes of Jerusalem and were eventually conferred in organized Councils of Royal and Select Masters in several southern states. Once established between 1820 and 1827, it follows that dispensations were granted by the “Grand Council of the 33rd” to jurisdictions to confer these degrees. It also was stated by Companion Mackey “ that for the good of Masonry, they would willingly enter into any compromise”. This compromise led to the establishment of Councils and eventually Grand Councils in many states.

The Royal Masters degree was known and conferred in New York as early as 1807. A Council of Royal Masters was opened but it did not include the Select degree any earlier than 1822 except in the Grand Council of the 33rd. That body claimed to be a Grand Council formed by the Supreme Grand Council of the 33rd Degree of Most Puissant Grand Masters.

The legitimate heir is Columbian Council #1 of Royal Masters in the city of New York with a Charter date of February 1, 1823. The first mention of the Select degree appears in the minutes of Columbian Council #1 when nine Companions, indicating they were, were desirous of disseminating light and knowledge to the uninformed, and on January 3, 1823, asked for a Charter to establish a Council of Royal and Select Masters in the city of Hudson. That Charter was granted. Another request was made by twelve Companions of Ames Royal Arch Chapter #88 in Lockport for a Council to be established there as well. At an extra communication, October 21, 1824, the Most Excellent High Priest was requested to issue the Charter under his private seal. A Warrant to confer the degrees of Royal, Select and Super Excellent Masters was issued on October 21, 1824, recommended to the favorable consideration of the Grand Council of the State of New York. Another Council, Lafayette, was instituted on September 28, 1825 and the officers were installed on January 25, 1826 by warrant from the Grand Council.

Giles Fonda Yates would write about the legitimacy of the Grand Council that he could find no reference of the request to establish the Grand Council of New York when he was the second officer in the Supreme Council of the 33rd, Northern Jurisdiction. Nevertheless, this did not prevent our Grand Council from establishing itself in 1823 and continuing to be the legitimate source of Cryptic Masonry in the state.

While the Supreme Council for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction was established in 1813, it was not until 1828 that the two Councils agreed upon a jurisdictional division of territory. On July 5, 1828, Illustrious Brother Yates was "acknowledged and admitted" a member of the Northern Supreme Council and Representative near it of the Southern Supreme Council, his appointment as such Representative having been made May 11, 1826. On June 15, 1844, he was appointed "Most Illustrious Inspector Lieutenant Grand Commander ad vitam" of the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, and in 1851 succeeded Illustrious Brother John James Joseph Gourgas, 33rd, in the office of Most Puissant Sovereign Grand Commander. At a meeting of the Supreme Council on September 5, 1851, he delivered a most important address, in the course of which he said:

I turned my attention to the history of the 'Sublime Degrees' very soon after my initiation as a Mason. My intercourse in 1822 with several old Masons in the city of Albany led to the discovery that an 'Ineffable Lodge of Perfection' had been established in that ancient city on the twentieth December, 1767. I also discovered that not only the Ineffable, but the Superior Degrees of our Rite had been conferred at the same time on a chosen few, by the founder of the lodge, Henry A. Francken, one of the Deputies of Stephen Morin of illustrious memory. It was not long, moreover, before I found the original warrant of this lodge, its book of minutes, the patents of IIIustrious Brothers Samuel Stringer, M. D., Jeremiah Van Rensselaer and Peter W. Yates, Esquires, Deputy Inspectors General, under the old system; also the 'regulations and Constitutions of the nine commissioners,' etc., 1761, and other documents that had been left by Brother Francken with the Albany Brethren when he founded that lodge. With the concurrence of the surviving members of said lodge residing in Albany, Dr. Jonathan Eights and the Honorable and Most Worshipful Stephen Van Rensselaer, Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New York, I aided in effecting its revival."

The necessary proceedings were thereupon instituted to place the same under the Superintendence of a Grand Council of Princes of Jerusalem, as required by the old Constitutions; and such Grand Council was subsequently opened in due form in said city.

"Having been made aware of 'the new Constitution of the thirty- third Degree,' ratified on the first of May, 1786, conferring the Supreme Power over our Rite on 'Councils of nine Brethren,' I hastened to place myself in correspondence with Moses Holbrook, M. D., at the time Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council at Charleston, and with my esteemed friends Joseph McCosh IIIustrious Grand Secretary of the last named Council, and Brother Gourgas, at that time IIIustrious Grand General of the H. E. for this Northern Jurisdiction. Lodges of Perfection in the Counties of Montgomery, Onondaga, Saratoga and Monroe in the State of New York, were successively organized, and placed agreeably to the Constitutions under the superintendence of the Grand Council before named, The establishment of this last named Body was confirmed, and all our proceedings in 'sublime Freemasonry' were legalized and Sanctioned by the only lawful authorities in the United States, the aforesaid Supreme Councils."

"On the sixteenth day of November, 1824, I received a patent appointing me Sovereign of Sovereigns of a Consistory of Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret established in the city of Albany. I would here also state, that on the thirteenth day of February 1825, a charter was granted to Illustrious Brother Edward A Raymond, of Boston, Mass., and eight associates, constituting them a Grand Council of Princes of Jerusalem; a charter was also granted them for a Consistory of Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret both Bodies to be holden in the city of Boston. All these several Bodies named, as well as the Albany Grand Council and Consistory, have since their establishment, paid due faith and allegiance to our Northern Supreme Council."

At the close of his address – having appointed Illustrious Edward A. Raymond Lieutenant Grand Commander – Illustrious Brother Yates resigned the office of Most Puissant Sovereign Grand Commander and installed Illustrious Brother Raymond as his successor. The latter, appreciating Illustrious Brother Yates' great services to the Supreme Council and desiring to retain him in active office, appointed him Illustrious Grand Chancellor, H. E., which office he retained until his death – at the same time serving as Deputy for New York.

The latter years of Illustrious Brother Yates' life were spent in New York City, where he took an active interest in the local bodies of the Rite. Between April 1856, and May 1857, Cosmopolitan Consistory was organized in that city and he was appointed the first "Sovereign of Sovereigns."

While the Northern Supreme Council was established in New York in 1813, the Charleston Supreme Council apparently continued for some time to grant charters in the Northern territory. It was the practice of this Supreme Council never to establish more than one Consistory, in a state. The Supreme Council only chartered Councils, and Consistories, the Councils chartered Lodges of Perfection and the Consistories regulated the degrees from the 17th on. This will account for the absence of any early records or mention of Albany Sovereign Chapter of Rose Croix, which was, apparently, incidental to the Consistory, although established at the same time.

When Illustrious Brother Yates commenced his correspondence with Illustrious Brother Holbrook he was unaware of the existence of the Supreme Council in New York City.

Illustrious Brother Holbrook had appointed Illustrious Brother John Barker as agent to effect the establishment of Consistories and Councils, and it was he who instituted the Consistory at Albany in the fall of 1824 or early in 1825. In 1826, the New York Supreme Council commenced correspondence with the Charleston Supreme Council relative to the bodies established by it in the Northern States – especially the Consistory at Albany – and the Charleston Supreme Council on September 22, 1826,

"RESOLVED: That the different subordinate bodies now under this jurisdiction in the Northern States be directed to furnish and make out full returns of the names of all of their initiates into any or all the Sublime Degrees specifying which degree and their place of residence and avocations together with the date and place of birth and religious persuasions that it may preparatory to transferring the Jurisdiction over them to the legal Supreme Council of the 33rd Degree in the Northern States."

"The Consistory of Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret for the State of New York will be pleased to take due notice of the above order and govern themselves accordingly."

In response to this resolution Illustrious Brother Yates prepared a return from which is taken that portion relating especially to the Consistory:

"To the Three Illustrious Supreme Council of the Sovereign Grand Inspectors General of the 33rd Degree in the U. S. A. situated under the C. C. of the Zenith. The Consistory of Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret for the State of New York, established in the Grand East of the City of Albany, in said State, would most respectfully beg to leave to represent:

That they have hitherto deemed it inexpedient to exalt and perfect any Princes of Jerusalem (in any of the Sublime degrees conferred by them), except those associated with the original founders of their body in the organization of the same, who were not present to receive said degrees from Illustrious Brother John Barker, general Agent of your Supreme Council."

The above Brethren received the degrees of Superintendent from that of Rose Croix to that of Sublime Prince of Royal Secret from the hands of Illustrious Brother John Barker, General Agent of the Supreme Council Of Scottish Inspector General 33rd Degree of the Southern Tiers of U. S. in 1825 and admitted members of Grand Consistory of Supreme Council P. R. T. for State of New York at the City of Albany.

"Brother Beck has moved to Vermont, and will not be able to assist us. Brother Van Dusen whose name was given in our Warrant, is at present under censure, perhaps unjustly . . ."

The return continues with lists of members of the Council of Princes of Jerusalem and of Ineffable Lodge of Perfection. On March 22,1827, the Charleston Supreme Council transferred the Consistory to the jurisdiction of the Northern Supreme Council, as is shown by the following letter:

"Supreme Council Chamber, Charleston, S. C., 17th May, 1827 Most Illustrious Brothers of Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret;

Agreeably to a resolution passed by this Supreme Council at its sitting of the "Vernal Equinox," 23rd of the 12th month, called Adar, of the Hebrew year 5587, answering to Thursday, 22nd March, A. M. 5831, A. D. 1827, I am directed to write and inform you that, in conformity with a mutual arrangement, which is legal and will be conducive to the good to the Craft, your Consistory of Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret at Albany will henceforth pay all due faith and allegiance to the Grand Supreme Council of Supreme Grand Inspector General of the 33rd Degree for the Northern District and Jurisdiction of the U. S. A., rendering them all due obedience which of right heretofore could be claimed or exercised with justice; hereby renouncing on our part all our rights and privileges of control or direction. In thus separating, as parent and child, this Supreme Council wishes you prosperity both individually and as a Body, and can assure your respectable Body that it will always give great Satisfaction to hear of your success."

"I have the honor to remain, with the best wishes, Most Illustrious Brothers, for your welfare both temporal and eternal, Deus Meumque Jus, "MOSES HOLBROOK, M. D., "R+, K – H. S. P. R. S., S. G. I. G of the 33d Degree, "(L S. 33d) and Grand Commander in the Southern Jurisdiction of the U. S. A."

"P. S. Your orders and directions will be received from the Illustrious Brother J. J. J. Gourgas, Esquire Secretary General of H. E., to whom you will as soon as may be, report yourselves."

The correspondence indicates that several of the Brethren were reluctant to sign a "Submission" to the Northern Supreme Council and that some of them resigned. By this time the Anti-Masonic excitement was gaining strength and it was difficult – if not impossible – to hold meetings. In 1828, Brother N. N. Whiting, one of the charter members of the Consistory, a brother-in-law Giles Fonda Yates, applied for a dimit on the ground that "he must give up Masonry or lose his place as a Baptist clergyman, on which, and which alone, he depends for his daily bread. In a letter to him, dated April 4, 1828, Illustrious Brother Yates gives the following interesting information:

"You know that the charter for the Consistory to be located at Albany was granted by said Supreme Council (at Charleston, S. C.), to five or six persons, including yourself, and that circumstances have prevented us from doing anything as a body since the receipt of the charter in the fall of 1824. You know too that, afterwards on account of our location, it was deemed proper by said Supreme Council to transfer their jurisdiction over our Consistory to the Supreme Council at New York. To effectuate this object and also that the interests of the Southern Supreme Council and of our Consistory might be promoted, they thought it expedient to appoint a representative in the Northern Supreme Council, and as I was the presiding officer of the Consistory this appointment fell upon me. I could not, however, act as such representative without first receiving the degree of Grand Inspector of the 33rd, &c., which I accordingly I received shortly after…. On the 6th September 1826, ' the Supreme Council at New York wrote to the Supreme Council at Charleston as follows: 'Your request to have us recognize Illustrious Brother Giles F. Yates, of Schenectady, as your representative near our Supreme Council is accepted with satisfaction.”

From the facts thus far obtained we may gather that the Consistory at Albany, N. Y., was chartered by the Supreme Council at Charleston, S. C., on November 16, 1824, with the title of "The Consistory of Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret for the State of New York," and Illustrious Giles Fonda Yates was named as the first Sovereign of Sovereigns. It was instituted either later in the fall of 1824 or in 1825 by Illustrious John Barker, General Agent of the Charleston Supreme Council. The Southern Supreme Council transferred the Consistory to the jurisdiction of the Northern Supreme Council at New York City on March 22, 1827. The Consistory had jurisdiction over the degrees from that of Prince of Jerusalem consequently there were no separate organization of a Chapter of Rose Croix. Little, if any, work was done for many years for, on April 4, 1828, Illustrious Brother Yates wrote: "We can hardly be said to be as yet completely organized," so that the organization would seem to have been in posse rather than in esse, potential more than actual.

After working tirelessly for many years in the vineyards of Freemasonry, Giles Fonda Yates would rest from his earthly toils and pass into the Celestial Lodge above on December 13, 1859. Even in death he was not respected as a leading authority of the Craft. The manuscript that he was working on, according to the family, was stolen from his residence. He was buried in the Old Dutch Church Yard in Schenectady, New York and when that property was sold, exhumed and reburied in Vale Cemetery. It is noted that he rests in the Union College plot in Vale Cemetery. Upon searching that plot and reviewing the cemetery records I could not find his final resting place. He is as elusive now as he was in life, but not forgotten. Given the fact that I cannot locate his grave will not deter my quest to find him and elevate him to the prominent position in our Fraternity that he so rightly deserves.



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