Summer 2015 at NSHS Sites Has Arrived!


It’s Memorial Day weekend and the official start of the summer season at the Nebraska State Historical Society’s numerous state historic sites. So, pack up the car and hit the trail!

There’s so much to gain from a trip to the past. Not only will you experience dramatic stories and the powerful places they took place, you’ll see intriguing historic buildings, vivid period settings, and engaging videos and exhibitions. Duck into a tipi, load a wagon for the trip west, or relax by the old mill stream.

A new exhibit at Fort Robinson focuses on the earliest movie made in Nebraska, In the Days of ’75 and ’76. Several of the sequences of this silent film – which featured Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane as its central characters – were actually filmed right on site at Fort Robinson. Don’t miss this exciting exhibit about the early days of “moving pictures!”

We’re also excited to announce that the George W. Norris Site in McCook has been selected for participation in the Nebraska Tourism Commission’s Nebraska Passport program. So a visit to the Senator’s  home gets you closer to becoming eligible for a variety of prizes! See for more information.

All NSHS state historic sites are open to the public, but don’t forget that admission is free for NSHS members and their immediate families! If free admission sounds good to you, you can purchase an NSHS membership on-site or online.

Finally, we are, as always, dedicated to serving the service members who serve us, so all NSHS sites continue to participate in the national Blue Star Museum program that offers free admission to all military personnel and their families.

Here’s a list of our sites and hours through Labor Day (also available here):

Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Chimney Rock Road, 1.5 mile South of Highway 92 near Bayard, Daily 9-5

Fort Robinson History Center, Fort Robinson State Park, 3 miles west of Crawford on US Highway 20, Daily 8:30-5.

Neligh Mill State Historic Site, N Street and Wylie Drive, Neligh, Tuesday – Saturday 10-5, Sunday 1-5

Senator George W. Norris State Historic Site, 706 Norris Avenue, McCook, Wednesday – Friday 1:00-4:30, Saturday, 1:00-3:30

Please note: The John G. Neihardt State Historic Site in Bancroft and the Willa Cather State Historic Site in Red Cloud, are administered under contract by the Neihardt and Cather Foundations, respectively. Please contact them at (Neihardt) 888-777-4667 or or (Cather) 866-731-7304 or for updated information on schedules and admissions.


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Preservation: Fun & Informative

Friday, May 1, 2015 brought not only a beautiful spring day, but also the Nebraska State Historical Society’s Preservation: Plain and Simple Conference, held in Lincoln at the Holiday Inn Downtown. After an opening welcome featuring speeches by our Director, Michael J. Smith, and Lt. Governor Mike Foley, the attendees were introduced to the

Lt. Governor Mike Foley addresses the crowd

Lt. Governor Mike Foley addresses the crowd

morning session speakers, Paul Nelson and Dave Ulferts, who delighted us with tales of the trials and triumphs of rehabilitating Travers Row, a set of eleven rowhouses in Omaha. The men emphasized that preservation was an integral part to making the project financially viable, and stressed that projects such as these should be approached with some creativity and flexibility as every project will likely have different obstacles to overcome.

The luncheon Keynote Speaker was Dr. Randall Cantrell, a professor of rural sociology at

Dr. Randy Cantrell delivers the keynote

Dr. Randy Cantrell delivers the keynote

the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. He and his colleagues have been studying rural Nebraska for decades, and have gathered a wealth of information about our rural communities. The purpose of the talk was to identify demographic trends shaping our communities, and to identify ways that communities could use the built environment to compete for attention, business and residents. Some of the challenges to preservation in these communities is a relatively small number of leaders to draw upon within these smaller towns, and a sense of powerlessness that they could create a meaningful change.

The breakout sessions lent themselves to two different tracks. On the one hand, experts in the hands-on, nitty gritty work of preservation were available to discuss their various areas of expertise. They included Brooks Gentleman of Re-View Historic Windows to discuss repairing versus replacing historic windows, Matt Henderson of PROSOCO, which creates products to gently clean masonry, and Gary Keshner of Cathedral Stone Products, who shared how to sensitively patch masonry.

Gary Keshner of Cathedral Stone Products leads a session on patching stone masonry

Gary Keshner of Cathedral Stone Products leads a session on patching stone masonry

The other track included a variety of specialized subjects, including two sessions on brick streets; one a history of the paving material by Robin Williams of SCAD, and a local case study of Tecumseh’s brick streets by Shayne Huxoll and Doug Goracke. There was a session about a form based zoning program that is being established in Omaha, given by Jed Moulton and Trina Westman of Omaha City Planning. Angela Shearer, a tax credit reviewer with the National Park Service, shared her knowledge of mid-century architecture, and attorney David Levy spoke about Nebraska’s new Historic Tax Credit Program.

– Jill Dolberg, Nebraska State Historic Preservation Office

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Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan and the sinking of the Lusitania

President Woodrow Wilson and hist cabinet, 1913. Bryan is seated front right. NSHS RG3198.PH49-5

President Woodrow Wilson and hist cabinet, 1913. Bryan is seated front right. NSHS RG3198.PH49-5

May 7 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the British passenger liner RMS Lusitania by a German submarine with the loss of nearly 1,200 lives, 128 of them Americans. Differing views by President Woodrow Wilson and his secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska, on how the United States should respond soon led to Bryan’s resignation.

When World War I broke out in August 1914, Bryan was convinced that the United States must avoid being drawn into the war at all costs. He advocated a policy of strict neutrality, which proved difficult to maintain in the face of general American sympathy for Great Britain and France in their war with Germany. What’s more, U.S. manufacturers and farmers saw the export of materials and agricultural products to the belligerents as a solution to an ongoing economic recession. A vast increase in trade between the U.S. and the Western Allies, but not with Germany, inevitably sparked German resentment.

Early in 1915 Germany proclaimed a “war zone” around the British Isles in which U-boats would attack ships carrying goods to England. Neutral nations, such as the United States, were warned to avoid the area. To this Wilson lodged a protest on February 10, noting that Germany would be held accountable for any harm to American ships and American citizens. Nevertheless, through March and April 1915 some American vessels were attacked and some Americans were killed, though the Wilson administration took no immediate action. It was the sinking of the Lusitania with such great loss of life that finally forced President Wilson’s hand. On May 13, he demanded that the Germans abandon activities that endangered American lives. Bryan argued that Americans traveling in the war zone were guilty of “contributory negligence” and that the U.S. claim of neutrality could be sustained only by giving up the right of trade and travel in the zone. Any demand for German reparations should be postponed until the war was over. Wilson did not agree and was willing to risk war to protect American rights. Convinced that the president was leading the nation into war, Bryan resigned as secretary of state on June 8, 1915.

Scholars who have studied Bryan’s time as U.S. Secretary of State have concluded that he was right to argue that the U.S. could not remain neutral while continuing to trade with the Western Allies and allowing its citizens to travel in the war zone. As a statesman, however, Bryan was hampered by his belief that a moral opposition to war could keep the U.S. on the sidelines when the nation had already undercut its claimed neutrality by its exports to Great Britain and France and its condemnation of Germany’s response. Although it would be nearly two years before the United States declared war against Germany on April 6, 1917, the stage had been set by the May 7, 1915, sinking of the Lusitania.

For an analysis of Bryan’s time in the Wilson administration, see Kendrick A. Clements, “Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan,” Nebraska History 77 (Fall/Winter 1996).

– James E. Potter, Senior Research Historian, NSHS

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Last Chance! Preservation: Plain & Simple


Preservation: Plain & Simple Conference | May 1, 2015 from 8AM – 4:30 PM

REGISTER NOW for the Preservation: Plain & Simple Conference, to be held THIS FRIDAY at the Holiday Inn Downtown in Lincoln!

Are you an architect or a planning professional? Earn Continuing Education Learning Units! Four of the sessions will provide you with APA credits, and all of the sessions have been certified to give you AIA credits. Seven of the sessions qualify for the category of health/safety/welfare. For more information about the sessions, visit our website.

In addition to providing a wonderful opportunity to glean knowledge from some top experts in their fields, we will also provide a continental breakfast, a buffet lunch of chicken and linguine with a number of sauces plus dessert, and snacks at the morning and afternoon breaks! It is important to keep hydrated and fuel the brain. We will help keep you going strong for a day filled with learning!

There will also be a reception April 30, 2015, from 5:30 to 8 at the Grand Manse, 129 North 10th Street, Lincoln, NE. The reception will be held in the historic courtroom, now called the Grand Hall.  Come mingle with other attendees while enjoying complimentary wine and beer, and snacks to nosh. Glacial Till has generously donated wine and Blue Blood Brewery is graciously providing us with donated beer for this fun-filled event. We will have some hearty appetizers to offer as well, including stromboli, meatballs, cheese and meat platters, fresh fruit, and chips and spinach and artichoke dip.

When you do attend these events, share your experiences on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by using the hashtag #PlainandSimple2015.

See you on Friday!

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Summer 2015 Kids’ Classes, On the Move!

Museum-on-the-MoveThe Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln may be closed for renovation, but there’s a summer full of fun and learning for kids at a variety of locations. Learn about Native American arts, make a civil war haversack, create a pioneer puppet show, drink tea Victorian-style, uncover family history and more. The Nebraska History Museum on the Move classes will (generally) meet at the Nebraska State Historical Society headquarters building at 1500 ‘R’ Street. A few special classes will be at the Great Plains Art Museum, 1155 Q Street or the Thomas P. Kennard House, 1627 H Street.

Classes being offered for young learners this summer include:

  • Native American Arts, Crafts, and Games, Grades K-12. 9:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m., Wednesday, May 27. Learn about Plains tribes, create a “hide” painting, do beadwork, play Native American games. $10/$8
  • Civil War Textiles, Grades K-12. 9:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m., Friday, May 29, Great Plains Art Museum, 1155 ‘Q’ Street. Tour the “Homestead and Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War” exhibit.
  • Learn about the importance of textiles to everyday life in the Civil War. Make a Civil War flag. $10/$8
  • Make a Housewife/Husswif, Grades K-12. 9:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m., Thursday-Friday, June 4-5, Great Plains Art Museum, 1155 ‘Q’ Street. Make a Civil War era sewing kit like on in the “Homefront and Battlefield: Quilts and Context in the Civil War” exhibit. Tour the exhibit and see other Civil War artifacts. $20/$16
  • Nebraska “Grandscapes,” Grades K-12. 9:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m., Wednesday, June 10. Learn about and create a watercolor painting of one of Nebraska’s beautiful landscapes. $10/$8
  • Make a Haversack, Grades K-12. 1:30-4:00 p.m., Tuesday, June 16, Great Plains Art Museum, 1155 ‘Q’ Street. Learn about and make a bag like those carried by Civil War soldiers. See a haversack used in the Civil War. $10/$8
  • Covered Wagons, Bumpy Trails – Puppet Show, Grades K-3. 9:30 a.m. -12:00 p.m., Thursday and Friday, June 18-19. Learn about how pioneers traveled in covered wagons. Create puppets. Parents and others are invited to a puppet show performance at 11:45 a.m. on Friday, June 19. $20/$16
  • What Did Nebraskans Do in World War II?, Grades 4-12. 1:30-4:00 p.m., Wednesday, July 8. Learn how WWII affected people at home in Nebraska and in military service. $10/$8
  • Nebraska History Heroes and Heroines, Grades 3-12. 9:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. Thursday and Friday, July 9-10.
  • Choose a famous Nebraskan and learn about him/her. Bring a plain t-shirt to design about your hero/heroine. $20/$16
  • Where Does History Begin? Genealogy for Kids, Grades 5-12. 1:30-4:00 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, July 14-15. Learn how to find information about your ancestors. Use resources in the NSHS reference room. $20/$16
  • Etiquette for a Proper Victorian Lady Grades K-3 (a.m.) or Grades 4-12 (p.m.) 9:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. or 1:30-4:00 p.m. Friday, July 24, Thomas P. Kennard House, 1627 H Street. Learn about the Victorian era etiquette and dress styles. Learn about and make your own calling cards. $10/$8
  • Archeology, Grades 4-12. 9:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m., Thursday, July 30. Learn how we know what we know about the past. Learn about various eras in the past. Examine artifacts. $10/$8
  • A Day in the Life of a Pioneer Child, Grades K-12. 9:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m., Thursday, August 6. Bring a sack lunch. Learn about Nebraska pioneers’ daily life. Make a cornhusk doll. Do schoolwork with quill pens. Play games enjoyed by pioneer kids. $30/$24

Classes are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Class sizes are limited. Registration fees are listed for the general public or at discounted rate for Nebraska State Historical Society members. To register, just follow THIS LINK. For more information call 402-471-4757 or email

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Nebraska Corn Helps Win the War

Farm Crop Processing Corporation's alcohol plant

Farm Crop Processing Corporation’s alcohol plant, Fourth & Jones streets, Omaha. NSHS RG1963-14


In a blog post a few years ago we showcased the gas station operated by Earl Coryell that pioneered the production and sale of an ethyl alcohol blended motor fuel. That was not the only pioneering effort for the use of ethanol that came from Nebraska.

In 1942 a group of prominent Nebraskans including, among others, former state engineer George Johnson, former governor Arthur Weaver, former attorney general C. A. Sorensen, and food magnate Carl Swanson, formed the Farm Crop Processing Corporation in Omaha to produce ethyl alcohol that would be made into synthetic rubber to replace imported natural rubber supplies cut off during World War II.

The plant did not begin production until 1944, tangled by government red tape, perhaps at the behest of the oil industry, which was also producing synthetic rubber. Nevertheless, the tires of many vehicles that rolled ashore on Normandy Beach in June 1944 were made from synthetic rubber that “grew” in Nebraska cornfields.

At war’s end, despite the efforts of Nebraska Senators Hugh Butler and George Norris, federal funds waned. Competition from petroleum interests increased. The company struggled on for a few years, but finally closed in 1949, ending an early chapter in the long history of ethanol production in Nebraska.

–John Carter, Senior Research Historian

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The Camp Fire Collection

With generous support from the NSHS Foundation, the Library/Archives was recently able to purchase archival supplies and hire a temporary archives assistant to organize, describe and rehouse two large archival collections in order to better preserve them and make them more accessible to the public. The first collection to be worked on was that of the Camp Fire organization.

The Law of the Camp Fire

The Law of the Camp Fire

The Camp Fire Girls organization was established in 1910 by Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick and his wife, Charlotte. The purpose of the organization was to guide young girls in self discovery while developing a home spirit. Camp Fire Girls was heavily influenced by American Indian lore and culture. Participants used American Indian inspired symbols, wore “ceremonial gowns,” and chose American Indian sounding names. Girls were able to learn valuable lessons as they worked for honors to make rank within the organization. These honors were divided into seven crafts: Home, Health, Camp, Hand, Nature, Business, and Citizenship/Patriotism. Once a girl received enough honors, she would make rank. There were four ranks available to achieve: Trail Seeker, Wood Gatherer, Fire Maker, and Torch Bearer.
Haigler, Nebraska charter

Charter – Haigler, Nebraska, 1941 (B29, F80)

A group was started in Lincoln in 1912 when the Camp Fire Girls became nationally known. However, it wasn’t until 1922 when the Lincoln group received its official charter. The Lincoln Council (later known as the Pioneer Council) had jurisdiction not just in Lincoln but other surrounding towns, including but not limited to Milford, Seward, Auburn, Hallam, Sutton, and even Columbus at one time or another. The Lincoln Council Camp Fire Girls leased Camp Kiwanis, near Milford on the Blue River, from the Kiwanis Club for many years. Here the girls learned the essentials of camping including making a fire, field cooking, canoeing, swimming and archery.

In 1975 Camp Fire headquarters made it allowable for boys to join – thus changing the organization’s name to Camp Fire, Inc. Today, Camp Fire serves in twenty-eight states. It was America’s first nonsectarian and multicultural organization – open to all children no matter their race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation – and continues to stay true to its core values. The Lincoln Council continued to operate until the mid-1990s when the chapter was dissolved.

Swim Staff 1, V7, 1937

Scrapbook volume from 1937 showing members of the Swim staff.

Swim Staff 2, V7, 1937

Scrapbook volume from 1937 showing members of the Swim staff.

This collection contains documents ranging in date from 1913-1994 with a large portion dating from the 1960s and 1970s. The content of the collection revolves mainly around the organization’s Board of Directors, committees, events, day camps, scrapbooks and award ceremonies.

Check out the completed Camp Fire finding aid on our website for more detailed information about the collection.

-Tom Mooney, Curator of Manuscripts

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Original Omaha “foot ball”

Even before Nebraska had the Husker football team, it had Omaha “foot ball” clubs that played what we now call soccer. The game’s growth in Omaha was similar to its growth in the rest of the United States: introduced by immigrants and spread by word of mouth. In the Spring issue of Nebraska History, author Bruce Gerhardt explores the earliest appearances of this old game in a young state.

Illustration from Montague Sherman, Athletics and Football (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1887).

Illustration from Montague Sherman, Athletics and Football (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1887).

On September 29, 1880, a group of Omaha men met at a gun store to have a football club meeting. They elected officers and admitted thirty-five members, including the Omaha mayor, Champion S. Chase. Although this club would only have one recorded season, it was the beginnings of associated soccer in Omaha.

Other small clubs would come and go, but by 1895, Omaha soccer was being actively promoted to the public. One January 1895 article in the Omaha World-Herald praised the benefits of soccer over rugby, which was also growing in popularity. The author wrote that soccer did not require “the strength and bucking power which is essential in Rugby, and one need never be afraid of being hauled around, knocked down, and the weight of six or eight men piled on top of him.”

Omaha in 1897, two years after the city's first soccer season. NSHS RG2341-1340

Omaha in 1897, two years after the city’s first soccer league season. NSHS RG2341-1340

The YMCA, a group of “bona fide Scotchmen,” railway clerks, and the high school each had an established team in 1895. As the groups organized a league and resolved to perfect the game, the Omaha Daily Bee wrote that the sport was “destined to become the popular outdoor sport” the coming winter.

As the season progressed, the league drew decent crowds and multiple newspaper articles, while sparking team rivalries. Amongst commentary on players, crowds, and strategy, one reporter for the World-Herald said of the sport:

“The chief thing in Association foot ball is for every man to keep his place irrespective of where the ball is. A great many players are attempting individual work, which is a great mistake. They must learn to pass the ball to their own men, because team work is necessary to win…”

It is unclear why soccer did not remain popular throughout the next century, but the sport had definitely established itself. To learn more about Omaha soccer around the turn of the century, you can order a copy of this Nebraska History issue by calling the Landmark Store at 402-471-3447.

Joy Carey, Editorial Assistant, Publications

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Nebraska Prisoners “in the biting stage”

The prisoners called it a protest. The guards called it a riot. But on August 16, 1955, fires blazed and smoke billowed out of the Nebraska State Penitentiary…and the inmates’ activism could be called anything but quiet. In the Spring 2015 issue of Nebraska History, Brian Sarnacki writes about the incident and the circumstances that led Nebraska inmates to violently demand prison reform.

The Lincoln Star, August 17, 1955

The Lincoln Star, August 17, 1955

In January of 1955, the Nebraska prison system was already under some review. Riots in 1954 had led to an investigative committee, and the Board of Control hired prison expert Sanford Bates to examine Nebraska prisons. Bates’s review was less than stellar. He criticized the State Penitentiary’s poorly-educated guards and lack of purpose, as well as some of its punishment practices.

Bates had particular criticism for “the hole,” which was a section of concrete cells used to punish troublesome prisoners. Inmates assigned to the hole got a slab of concrete to sleep on, barely any light, and little more than bread to eat.

In his memoir, former inmate Ray “Ramon” Tapia described the Nebraska State Penitentiary as “a bleak and miserable place to live.” Tapia remembered being sentenced to the hole indefinitely for minor infractions, or as pressure to confess to breaking the rules. The prisoners told the investigators that the warden, deputy warden, and certain guards were abusive. They protested the lack of sufficient medical attention and reading materials.

Despite Bates’s report, political attempts at prison reform continually stalled or fell short. Lacking much of a public voice, some prisoners saw violence as the only way to get attention for their complaints. Ninety-four inmates signed a letter to the Omaha World-Herald, warning, “When a sleeping dog gets kicked just so long he will eventually get up and bite, and it’s in the biting stage as far as we convicts are concerned as we had the share of kicking.”

On March 27, 1955, one prisoner, John Ward, broke out of his cell using a spoon and took prison guard Warren Miller as a hostage. Soon, a group of twelve prisoners had control of the three-story jail building, which stood separately from the rest of the complex. The inmates had captured one small structure, but more importantly they had captured the attention of the public, the media, and the governor.

Shown here many years before the 1955 riots, the "jail" housed prisoners in solitary confinement. The lower level was known as "the hole." NSHS RG2418-5-05

Shown here many years before the 1955 riots, the “jail” housed prisoners in solitary confinement. The lower level was known as “the hole.” NSHS RG2418-5-05

Nebraska Governor Victor Anderson promised to meet with the rebels personally to hear their grievances, if they let the guards go safely. It was a momentary victory for the inmates. However, in contrast to their hopes, the only lasting change resulting from the meetings was the replacement of the warden. The new warden was inexperienced, and inmates feared that he would not be able to monitor abusive guards.

The prison administration and guards found ways to retaliate against the inmates for making a stir. The public had also hardened towards the prisoners, embracing “get tough” discipline policy.

The months of conflict boiled over into the August fire-settings: a 13-hour uprising by more than 200 convicts, that resulted in more than $100,000 worth of damage. The prisoners were determined to be noticed.

Lincoln Journal, August 20, 1955

Lincoln Journal, August 20, 1955

To read the whole story and learn more about the 1955 prison protests and reform, check out the Spring 2015 issue of Nebraska History. You can order a copy by calling the Landmark Store at 402-471-3447.

– Joy Carey, Editorial Assistant, Publications

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Man Seeking Wife, with help from the Mayor

Here’s an oddball story to kick off your Saturday.

In 1934, a thirty-year-old farmer from South Dakota named John Sourbier wrote the mayor of Omaha with a unique request. “Maybe you can help me out,” the farmer wrote. “I can make some nice girl a good husband and home, [but] the girls around here are not the kind like. So let me hear from you, and hoping you can help me.”

Letter from Sourbier to mayor of Omaha

Letter from Sourbier to mayor of Omaha

While even in 1934 the job description of mayor did not include ‘matchmaker,’ the story of the letter did apparently make it into the Omaha World-Herald.

And upon reading word the farmer’s plea, the World Theater in Omaha contacted Mr. Sourbier and made him an even more unique proposition.

Letter from Omaha World Theater to Mr. Sourbier

Letter from Omaha World Theater to Mr. Sourbier

“We can, and will secure for you, a wife, provided you will appear on the World Theatre stage for one week, starting May 25th, afternoon and evening, and abide by the decision of our audiences in the selection of the wife,” the theater manager kindly offered. “Our plan is to secure applicants who wish to marry, and have them appear on the stage with you, make speeches to our patrons, giving their qualifications of why they should be chosen to become your wife.”

After further research, it is still unclear whether or not the lonely farmer accepted the theater’s bid. But what we know for sure is that decades before The Bachelor and other shows of its ilk ever appeared on television (heck – years before the advent of television!), one Omaha showman knew exactly what kind of spectacle the public would be clamoring for, for many years to come.

You can view these letters (and much, much more) in the NSHS Photograph & Artifact Collections Search!

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