Jessie Roestenburg’s Oct. 21, 1954 encounter with a UFO might have been forgotten had it not been chronicled by Gavin Gibbons in his 1956 book, The Coming of the Space Ships. I provided the basis for almost all the subsequent accounts throughout ufology. Charles Bowen based his entry in the Flying Saucer Review Special: The Humanoids, 1966, on it, and the short version below is all that most people know of the story.
Bowen compounded an error, calling the witness Jennie, instead of Jessie, and misspelled the location of Ranton. Gibbons had spelled the family name RoestenBERG, but it should have been BURG. Most UFO literature since has followed his version. Throughout, we’ve corrected quotes using “Roestenberg” to the proper Roestenburg.
It’s a famous sighting, one of the best-known early UK cases, but few know that her family experienced at least six UFO sightings, with Jessie being involved in all but one. Like her first, most of the additional sightings involved multiple witnesses.
L, drawing by Cherry Hinkle of the Ranton humanoid type.
R, art by Mike Rogers based on the abduction story by Travis Walton.
The Original Incident: Eye Contact
In 1954 Jessie Roestenburg, her husband Tony and three young children lived in a cottage at Vicarage Farm, Ranton, Staffordshire, England. It was an old house three and a half miles from Stafford, and without the modern conveniences like electricity or indoor plumbing. It was almost like they were quietly living in the past, but that all changed on October 21, 1954.
The time was 4:45 p.m.
The Wolverhampton Express and Star Oct. 22, 1954:
Midland Woman says flying saucer terrified her
Ranton, near Stafford, A woman today told the “Express and Star” that she and her two children had been terrified by a flying saucer, carrying “two long-haired human-like creatures in tight-fitting jerseys.”
The machine landed in the garden, she stated.
When she heard a noise like a crashing aircraft, yesterday, Mrs Jessie Roestenburg, of isolated Vicarage Farm, ran out into the garden.
She found her two children lying prostrate and terrified.
The next house to Vicarage Farm is about two miles away.
Above the children was a huge, saucer-like object with a dome, the front part of which was transparent, stated Mrs. Roestenburg.
Staring at the children from the machine were two “unsmiling, human-like creatures, with long faces and long hair.”From another section of the story, she’s quoted as saying the object was "about 15 to 20 feet in diameter.”
Mrs. Roestenburg told our reporter that she ran to the back of the house in fright. The object then moved over the house, hovered for about 15 seconds, and then shot off at high speed.
Captions from the Wolverhampton Express and Star:
This is a sketch, made today by Mrs. Roestenburg, of the object that she states she saw in her garden, It appeared to be of “a dull silver metal,” and the outer rim seemed to be revolving.
Mrs. Roestenburg, with her two sons keeping close beside her, points to the place where, she says, she saw the flying saucer hovering above her home.
The Coming of the Space Ships
Gavin Gibbons’ 1956 book, The Coming of the Space Ships, covers the flap of UFO sightings that began in June of 1954 in the Stafford area, and devotes two chapters to the story of the Roestenburgs, which he regarded as the “the most informative and, in some ways, astounding of all the sightings...” Although Gibbons provides the best documentation on the story, he was a linguist and scholar, not a journalist, and with his own UFO experience approached things as one of the awakened. As his title suggest, Gibbons regarded flying saucers as extraterrestrial space ships, and was persuaded by the reports from the Contactees. Wishing to retire the phrase “Flying Saucer,” Gibbons preferred the Atlantean/Sanskrit term “vimanas” (chariots of the sky) for disc-shaped scout craft. He invented other UFO terms to match, such as vunu for cigar-shaped spaceships.
Based on his interviews with the family, Gibbons gave a more detailed account of the Roestenburg story and what was seen:
...they looked very like Earthly men, with white skins and long hair down to their shoulders. Their foreheads seemed immensely high, with the features almost entirely in the bottom half of their faces. Their heads were enclosed in what appeared to be some sort of transparent helmet and they were dressed in clothes of turquoise blue that resembled ski suits that Mrs. Roestenburg had seen.
The saucer’s exit:
It was hovering over the house! Very low and completely silent, a queer round thing was standing in the air immediately over the little cottage... Their heads were in a whirl... As Jessie Roestenburg watched, appalled, the vimana began to move, flashing a purply blue light from the front of it as it did so. At an angle of 45° it started to ascend, making no sound as it moved, but continuing the flashing the whole time. With a gasp of relief Jessie ran into the house, intent on finding pencil and paper to sketch what she and the children had seen. As she looked for the stub of a pencil, the boys called out again from the garden. With fear returning once more to her heart she ran outside to see the Saucer coming back again, this time from north to south. It circled the house in an anti-clockwise direction one and a half times and then streaked skywards. It had gone at last.
However, like most accounts, it only covers Oct. 21, not the subsequent events or the other UFO encounters of the Roestenburg family.
The Rest of the Story
Gavin Gibbons was not a detached journalist or scientific observer - he became part of the story. Gibbons spoke Mr. Roestenburg’s native language, Dutch, and it drew them closer, and he became friends with the Roestenburgs, making frequent visits to their home, educating and advising them on the topic of UFOs. In the narrative, he introduces Mr. Roestenburg first and regards it as Tony’s story, not Jessie’s.
2nd Sighting: Tony’s Cigar
The second sighting was around 2:30 on the next Sunday, Oct. 24, 1954. The Roestenburg’s had a friend visiting, man whose name was not given. According to Gibbons, Tony thought there was a slight possibility that the saucer had dropped something on their roof. “He had a queer hunch, too, that it was his turn to see something.” From an upstairs he made his way to the roof, but found nothing, but remained to scan the skies.
“Suddenly he caught his breath and stared hard at the sky towards the south-west. His premonition was right after all. There, flying slowly along in a great semi-circle, was an enormous, cylindrical, sausage-shaped object.”
Tony called for Jessie and she and their guest ran out to see “the huge machine looming in the sky, not more than a mile away, and watched with him as it carried on its curved course, eventually disappearing into a bank of cloud to the north.”
Mr. Roestenburg came down and asked Jessie if it was what she’d seen, but she said, no, that this was colossal, the saucer-shaped machine she’s seen was much smaller. the three discussed the sighting, but at first the friend said that he had thought that he had seen dark patches where wings might have been, but after careful thought he withdrew this idea. Gibbon reports that Tony “became intensely interested in the subject of U.F.O.’s and kept a careful watch from then on, scanning the sky at every possible moment he could spare and hoping with all his heart to see another visitant.”
Gibbons was of the opinion that Jessie had seen a disc-shaped scout ship and aliens just as George Adamski had described, while Tony had seen the massive cigar-shaped mother ship.
3rd Sighting: Tony’s Fireball
Another hunch. On or about December 15, 1954, Tony’s skywatching paid off. He saw a ball of fire slowly, silently moving at an angle of about 45° above the horizon. It was about two or three inches across when measured at his arm’s length, but when he went around to the other side of the house to follow its path, “It was now about eighteen inches at arm’s length!” It seemed to be moving lower and slower until it was almost stationary. As he watched, he heard the sound of an airplane coming from the east, and as the plane got closer,” the fireball suddenly moved, shooting northward at incredible speed and disappearing from sight within a few seconds... He had seen another Flying Saucer!”
The Family’s Transformation
The aftermath of the sightings on the family is discussed in chapter 8, Gibbons’ book. Jessie told him that afterward, her daughter Karin seemed to cry constantly and the two boys had become unruly and disrespectful. “I can see a tremendous change in them. Whether it’s a reaction after their fright or what, I don’t know, but they are much naughtier now than they ever were before it happened.”
Jessie herself was stressed, and had a blotchy rash on her skin, “It’s on my face and arms and I don’t know what it is.”
Her condition had developed sometime after the sighting, and Gibbons asked if she knew the cause.
“Just nerves. The same as my edginess and bad temper.”
Gibbons noted, “nervous strain will do peculiar things to the human body. I hoped that these bad after-effects would soon wear off, for, as I explained to Mrs. Roestenburg, I was sure that the men in the saucer had no intention of frightening her and the children.”
Jessie made no mention of having any other symptoms or of receiving any medical treatment.
When Gibbons visited the Roestenburgs in their new home southern edge of Stafford in March and May of 1955, he found them all changed for the better. He asked Mr. Roestenburg what had made the difference, and Tony almost sounded like they were fleeing a haunted house.
“That old cottage,” he answered without hesitation. “Ever since that U.F.O. hovered over it, something snapped there and almost made us snap, too... The move has made a different family of us and that’s a fact!”
Asked if he’d seen any more UFOs, Tony replied, “Not since that last one, but I’m still looking.”
Gibbons could see no motive for a hoax, and he was convinced of their sincerity.
“I have gained some new friends. I often visit them in their new home and we talk over the happenings of the day when the Saucer came. The children, and it is best so, have forgotten the incident, but for Jessie and Tony Roestenburg... it is a good memory. Now that the fear has gone and they are....almost beginning to wish that the vimana would pay them a second visit. Almost, I think they said, almost....”
|Caption from Gibbons' book: |
Mr. and Mrs. Roestenburg and their children,
May 21, 1955, seven months after they had seen the vimana.
1956 - 1957: More Flying Saucers
Gavin Gibbons briefly returned to the Roestenburg case in his follow-up book, They Rode in Space Ships (1957), but continues the story, describing the lesser-known aftermath and further sightings by the family.
“Tony Roestenburg could hardly be said to court notoriety - he got more and more weary of references to his experiences... He certainly did not seek money-he and his family have gained nothing from an experience now largely forgotten by the children.”
After summarizing both the original sighting, Tony’s rooftop sighting of the cigar-shaped UFO, Gibbons states, “He was to see another Space Ship later on, probably a vimana, but this has no direct bearing on the argument.” An asterisk leads to a footnote about three further sightings by the Roestenburgs, even after they moved from Ranton to Stafford. In the first one, the Roestenburg’s daughter instead of the boys, takes on the role of sounding the summoning cry:
“Sightings in the Stafford area are still taking place. On 5 December, 1956. Mrs. Roestenburg was called into the garden of their Stafford home by Karin. A bright orange disc, probably a vimana or scout ship was overhead! Seen by neighbours, it disappeared in the direction of Seighford. On to January, 1957, an orange glowing cigar-shaped vunu was seen by many people flying northwards over Stafford towards Stoke-on-Trent. Witnesses included Tony, Jessie, and Karin Roestenburg and Mrs. Daniels, wife of Wilfrid Daniels, the Stafford U.F.O. expert. On 13 May, 1957, a silvery vunu was seen over the west of Stafford by Mrs. Roestenburg, a near neighbour, Mrs. Violet Wilding, and several other witnesses in the area.”
See appendix, the chronology: Roestenburg Family Sightings
Spiritualism, Psychic Powers and ESP
Gibbons makes no mention of Mrs. Roestenburg’s psychic powers and experiences in his books. There’s just the tingling in her nose prior to the first sighting, and her husband’s hunch or premonition prior to the second one. Reading between the lines, there’s some suggestion the Roestenburg’s felt there was something almost haunted at Vicarage Farm, and they were happy to be away from it.
At the same time Gibbons was working the case, so was another. Wilfrid Daniels was a UFO researcher living in Stafford. He reported on the local sightings and interviewed Mrs. Roestenburg and was the first to disclose her psychic or ESP claims in Flying Saucer Review Vol. 1, No. 3, July-Aug. 1955 (page 16), “Flying Saucers and the Psychic” by Wilfred Daniels. Here’s a summary of it by UFO historian Loren Gross:
According to UFO researcher Wilfred Daniels, Mrs. Roestenburg had for years felt she was a “psychic,” and that for a number of hours prior to the “space ship appearance,” she had a “queer feeling” something was about to happen, at least that was her peculiar claim. Years before during a seance a medium directed a comment to Mrs. Roestenburg, pronouncing her a psychic of considerable ability, a compliment she never forgot. While denying she was a full-blown spiritualist, Mrs. Roestenburg said she did experience on one occasion a “spirit manifestation of the spectral sort.” Her aunt, she admitted, was a practising “psychic healer.”
In Gibbon's mind, and to any UFO buff worth his salt, the possible flaw in the “strange affair at Ranton” was that it had a George Adamski smell, the American who at that time was the darling of England's occult society.
The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse: UFOs: A History 1954 October by Loren Gross (1991)
Gross took Mrs. Roestenburg's claims of having psychic powers and supernatural before her sighting as a negative, but in the FSR article he quoted, Wilfrid Daniels thought it might be just the opposite. He speculated that these were exactly the kind of earthlings the spacemen wanted to visit:
But could it not be that just because of their peculiar powers of mental perception, spiritualists, and those with “psychic” sensibilities, maybe the very people better equipped than anybody else to be sought out, or inspected at close quarters, but alien visitors in flying saucers?Gibbons worked closely with Daniels on the Stafford sightings and must have known about Mrs. Roestenburg's psychic stories. Due to his distaste of missing spiritualism with saucers, it appears he chose to censor it from his account of the Roestenburg case.
Jessie’s story became part of UFO literature, especially in the volumes devoted to Contactees and close encounters. Jessie had made contact with aliens - only eye contact, but still historic. However, for many years, her tale just circulated by repeated versions of Bowen’s 1966 short summary of the encounter.
The 1970s UFO Revival
The public’s interest in UFOs after the Pascagoula Abduction story caused a revival of media coverage, and that included reviewing old cases.
The comic book, UFO Flying Saucers No. 7, August 1975 published by Gold Key (Western Publishing Company, Inc.) featured a brief adaptation of the first Jessie Roestenburg sighting, “The Unsmiling Men,” a four page story illustrated by John Celardo. It’s chief departure from the original account is in the depiction of the saucer occupants, drawn here as weird aliens, not the beautiful angelic astronauts Jessie described. One interesting thing the story does well is to demonstrate is the peculiar angle the saucer would have to tip forward in order for the occupants and witnesses to be able to see each other.
In 1976, Hugh Burnett was preparing a UFO documentary for the BBC, and he approached Charles Bowen and Gordon Creighton of Flying Saucer Review. They gave him the contact information for Jessie Roestenburg. The documentary was titled Out of this World, and it was first broadcast May 10, 1977 on BBC 1. It’s largely responsible for reviving interest in the case, and today, most people are probably familiar with Jessie Roestenburg’s story via the YouTube clip of her from the program. It’s often shared with comments noting how genuine, sincere and credible she appears.
She describes the saucer as looking like a Mexican hat, and says occupants, says were beautiful people with long golden hair, wearing coverings over their heads like a “transparent fishbowl.”
“They just looked, and I was absolutely paralytic with fear. I couldn’t move, although my mind was taking over. And they seemed so sympathetic that I was mesmerized, seemed to be - oh, ages, but it could have only been seconds. After checking on her boys, “I looked up and it was gone.”
Asked about the size of the object, she says it was “massive,” that it was larger than the roof of the house. She said they saw the object again in the distance, that it circled them three times then it shot off.
|A spaceman in a fishbowl helmet, as seen in The Man from Planet X, 1951|
|More fishbowls from The Net, 1953|
Mrs. Roestenburg appeared in another UFO program a few years later, and told her story again on the episode, “U.F.O.s” of Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World, which was broadcast Nov. 4, 1980. It’s interesting to contrast it with her previous clip from the 1977, Out of this World. Her description of the events are very similar, sometimes word for word. In both she's quite animated, but here she’s far less emotional, and perhaps convincing.
She describes discovering the flying saucer:
“To my amazement there, suspended on the top of the roof of this old farm, was this object that I can only describe as a huge Mexican hat. It was that shape, without the bobbles. It must have been fifteen to twenty yards from where I stood. It covered the roof, so in circumference it must have been about sixty feet, it was enormous. The people in the space-craft were just looking out, I could see them from the waist to the top of their heads. They were very beautiful people. They had long golden hair... (but no mention of the fishbowl helmets). and they just looked at us. Their eyes - the expression in their eyes - were full of compassion.”
“And then all of a sudden, I felt the tension leaving me and I felt movement, and I turned around to touch my children and when I looked again it was gone.” Moments later, her younger son pointed it out then, “it circled round the farm three times, then it just shot straight up and away.”
|“U.F.O.s” episode of Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World (link)|
How Big was the UFO?
The account from the two shows differ from the original version documented by Gavin Gibbons on several details, and none of the other subsequent events or sightings were discussed. The part about Jessie seeing the saucer ascend, then running inside to look for a pencil was dropped, and instead she remains outside for the entire sighting. Also, when seen again, the saucer makes not 1 /1/2 circles, but 3 around the farm on its exit, but perhaps that’s an unimportant difference.
The biggest difference seems to be the size of the UFO. The figure Jessie gave for the saucer’s size in the first account was, "about 15 to 20 feet in diameter,” which matches the drawing she made for the newspaper. In her sketch, it depicts the saucer as room-sized, not house-sized. In the Jul-Aug 1955 FSR, investigator Wilfrid Daniels gave the size as “a 25-ft. saucer.” In her later television interviews the spaceship was described to be enormous, large enough to cover the entire roof of the cottage.
Thirty Years Later, New Details Emerge
Excepts from Jenny Randles’ Abduction (aka Alien Abductions), 1988, pages 68-70, Chapter 5, “Alien Abductions - The British Catalogue”
Type II: Contact Cases
21 October 1954 - Ranton, Staffordshire This case is legendary in UFO circles, having featured in several books during the 1950s, but no one seemed to have looked at it recently, so on 6 August 1987 I interviewed the chief witness, Mrs Jessie Roestenburg. She was in her late twenties in 1954 and had two children, Anthony (aged eight) and Ronald (six). They do remember the events, but only vaguely. Jessie had felt 'tingles' all day, prior to 4:45 p.m., when the incident occurred. (Recap of sighting.)
“It felt like hours passed, but it must have been seconds. Time was suspended. I was also paralysed. It was like I was in a vice. But my mind was working overtime.”
“...nothing Jessie said indicated to me that she was familiar with UFO cases...”Since then she has often thought about it: 'This was something absolutely marvellous. The saddest part to me is that I have never been able to fully understand the greatness of this thing.'
However, she says that she has since had a 'great, almost extreme, development of ESP. I know things about people. I understand situations. All this probably sounds crazy, but it is true.' Some of the things that have happened include seeing the aliens again in her house '. . . out of the corner of my eye .... But I think it could be a "thought thing". It could be my imagination'.
These contacts have implanted feelings into her mind about the aliens: 'I think they'll be here when I need them .... They are surveying us. They're afraid that we might panic. But some of them are living amongst us.’
Jessie Roestenburg impressed me because she had not become a 'UFO nut' and had seemingly read no books on the subject since 1954. She had seen the Spielberg film Close Encounters of the Third Kind but in typical fashion said about it, ‘I remember thinking whoever did this film has a good understanding of the subject. But when those little funny aliens came on I almost stood up and shouted, "They're not like that!" I don't believe in little green men. Not after what I've seen."
Excerpts from the interview were carried in an article in The Star, Feb. 29, 1988,
Timothy Good’s Alien Base, 1998, contains an interview with Jessie Roestenburg that offers details I’d not found documented elsewhere, health problems following her first sighting.
Jessie‘s health began to deteriorate. ‘I went to see my doctor, who had read about what happened,’ she said, ‘but he thought I was round the twist. I insisted on seeing a psychiatrist and he said: “There’s nothing wrong with your mind but you do you need to go to hospital.” He took me himself and they did a blood count. [It] was so low they couldn’t understand how I was still alive. They said they wouldn’t be surprised if I was suffering from radiation sickness. For a while, I was in a terrified mess but gradually got better.
Good quotes Jessie from the news story by reporter Neil Thomas in the Staffordshire Newsletter, August 30, 1996, which gives her name as “Jessica Roestenburg.” She said, “To this day I don’t know what they were, I don’t believe they wanted to do us any harm. They are far more intelligent than we are.”
2011 (probably from 2006)
Sadly, Jessie Roestenburg passed away on May 12, 2017. Luckily John Hanson was able to interview her a few times in her later years for Haunted Skies.
From John Hanson 2006, Haunted Skies-Vol. 1. Photo by David Sankey
Excerpts from the Haunted Skies blog by John Hanson and Dawn Holloway
“Special Blog to celebrate Volume 3”
Jessie’s religious disclosure
“I seemed to be in some way drawn, or compelled, to the top of the garden - almost as if I was being manipulated by an outside influence, of which I had no control. I glanced around and saw the amazing sight of this flying saucer shaped object hovering 40-50 feet above the roof of the house. Inside the ‘saucer’ I could clearly see what looked like two humans, wearing long golden hair down to their shoulders. I felt a mixture of emotions - amazement and fear run through my body, followed by the thought, ‘God will wipe away all tears’. Immediately, all the tension left me, (something I have never disclosed to anyone before because of its religious significance). I turned to my sons and asked them if they had seen the ‘flying saucer’. They replied, ‘yes’.”
Expanded Account of the Medical Treatment
After the sighting, she felt revitalized, for a short time, until discovering a strange rash covering her face and front part of the body, accompanied by a considerable loss of weight over a relatively short period, which gave rise for concern. Jessie sought the advice of her Doctor, who was well aware of the UFO incident and intimated there was something wrong with her mental health.
Offended by this suggestion, Jessie contacted a Psychiatrist - Dr. Wilson, who confirmed, after a medical examination, there was nothing wrong with her mental state of health. “He asked me if I had been given a chest x-ray and blood tests. When I told him this had not been done, he personally escorted me to hospital, where a chest X-ray was taken but found to be clear. Unfortunately, blood tests showed the blood count was very low. The haematologist said to me, ‘If it didn’t sound so ludicrous, l would say you have been exposed to a massive dose of radiation’. I was given injections of iron, twice a week, which caused all sorts of problems before the correct dosage was established.”
A short clip of Jessie Roestenberg when aged 90; recorded in 2015 by John Hanson and Dawn Holloway of Haunted Skies.
Although the Roestenburg children were involved in several of the UFO sightings, they were treated as bystanders in the news coverage and UFO literature. Gavin Gibbons played with the children in his visits with the family and talked to them about the events. At the time, Karin was two and inside, but Anthony Jr. , eight, and Ronald, six, were outside and as close to the spacemen in the UFO as Jessie. A year or so later, somewhat incredibly,Gibbons noted it was “an experience now largely forgotten by the children.” If they’ve commented on the family’s UFO sightings as adults, I’ve been unable to locate a credible source. Beyond Gibbons book, there seems to be nothing recording Tony Roestenburg’s sightings. Only Jessie’s story really lives to carry on.
. . .
For readers who'd like more information on the Roestenburg story, check out the sources below and the BBL page of additional material, including:
Epilogue: The Forgotten Witness
Roestenburg Family Sightings
Bad UFOlogy: Jennie and Apocrypha
Jessie Roestenburg’s 1954 UFO Encounter and Beyond: The Extras
Bad UFOlogy: Jennie and Apocrypha
Jessie Roestenburg’s 1954 UFO Encounter and Beyond: The Extras
Online Sources and Links to Further Information
They Rode in Space Ships by Gavin Gibbons, 1957 (Online at Daniel Fry.com)
The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse: UFOs: A History 1954 October by Loren Gross
“The Roestenburg case” (pages 75 - 76)
There was an excellent discussion of the case by Kandinsky from Dec. 2011, on the site Above Top Secret (ATS) that provides a good background on the Roestenburg events.
“BBC Out Of This World Program (1977) Re: Staffordshire 1954 Sighting”
Flying Saucer Review Vol. 1, No. 3, July-Aug. 1955 (page 16)
“Flying Saucers and the Psychic” by Wilfred Daniels
Flying Saucer Review Vol. 3, No. 1, Jan.-Feb. 1957 (page 9)
“Flying Cigar at Stafford”
Flying Saucer Review, Sept./Oct. 1957. Vol. 3, No. 5.
“World Round Up,” Europe, Great Britain. (pages 5 & 6)
‘’Stafford in the news again.
Flying Saucer Review, Vol. 38, No. 1, 1993 carried an article recounting the case, “The Roestenburg Story (1954)” by Gordon Creighton. (pages 6 -9)
Out Of This World - UFO Interview - My Body Language Analysis. Staffordshire 1954 CJB
Craig James Baxter, the author of Unmasked: A Revealing Look At The Fascinating World Of Body Language made a video examining the clip of Mrs. Roestenburg from Out of this World.
His analysis is interesting, and he seems to believe she was sincere. However, his conclusion that there’s a tear shed at the close of the video seems to be in error. Compare the scene with a clip from the original program. No tear is evident. (https://youtu.be/58R7JAQm_yQ?t=37s)
UK newspaper story from 1954 - fragment the Wolverhampton Express and Star Oct. 22, 1954
Stafford and Mid-Staffs Newsletter, 5/2/5?, “Staffordian’s Opinon on Flying Saucers,” a profile on Wilfrid Daniels, who discusses investigating the Roestenburg sighting.
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