Interview with Sue Chavis, October 2, 1975

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Interview with Sue Chavis, October 2, 1975
Chavis, Sue ( Interviewee )
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Urban Lumbee Oral History Collection ( local )


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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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UL 36A


INTERVIEWEE: Sue Chavis 7 7&

DATE: October 2, 1975

B: This is Thursday, 0GXBgkagP -..October 2, 1975, --w y !.m__)

Lew Barton, recording for the University of Florida's History Dept.,

American Indian Oral History Program. This morning we are in my

office, at the American Indian Studies Center, at 211 S. Broadway,

and with me is a young lady who has kindly consented to give us

an interview. Would you mind telling us what your name is?

C: Sue Chavis.

B: Sue Chavis, that's. ...H...A...V........S.

C: Right.

B: Are you married?

C: Yes, I am.

B: Tat. "Mrs." isn it?

C: Yes,-ufrrii1C

B: You do ')like using that "Ms." do you, like the Woman's *,is4 women -

libbers rlike to use?

C: iirI do like it, no. I dot like it.

B: And How old are you, Mrs. Chavis?

C: I- 40.

B: 40? Th > a niee age. There was a movie once said, "Life begins at


C: Sometimes it does, sometimes it do '0 .

B: Ia ,hE Who was it you married?

C: Willy Chavis.

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B: Willy Chavis,, uhifth. Do you have any children?

C: Well, we do't iave any children between us.

B: I see,

C: There are children in the home, yes.

B: Have you lived in Baltimore very long?

C: 'v2eeen in Baltimore since 1955.

B: 1955. How does it feel to go back to North Carolina after all

these years?

C: I enjoy it. I like to go to North Carolina.

B: Think yd like to go to stay?

C: Oh, yes, yes indeed. I love North Carolina. Id love to live down

there. Wev1 e en 4e-Lve-ioved hack several times, dnL always

enjoyed it.

B: There just happens to be better employment opportunities .I .

C: Better employment, yes.

B: Do you find any disadvantages in living in the city?

C: Yes, there is a:-lot of disadvantages to living in the city. You doiL

have the closeness between the neighbors as you do in North Carolina,

and you don't have the fodds here, as you do in North Carolina, and

you d have the air here that you have in North Carolina.

B: Smog is something of a problem, isn' it?

C: It is. I think that living in North Carolina is healthier because

you've got more peace of mind there, It -Yt_ eeea_ te_ m to me

like a "dog eat dog" world down there as it is in the city people

take time to talk to you, and yuI got neighbors, and if you get SI\

siqetChLeL nl:re- always found that there is always somebody

there tHat's/willing to help you, if you get down and out, and let

people know that y're down and out.

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There-ase always somebody willing to help you.

B: tOIp Well, I dL' think medical facilities are as good here, I

agree with you there. Just a few weeks ago, my wife was sick,-taken

-i-, and the way.o? somebody said if you go to Rpmes hospital,

church,Lo )stand a much better chance to go into

the emergency room. So, we went over there, in the emergency ward,

and just as soon as we were inside, people from car wrecks started

coming in, ambulance, calls, and that sort of thing, so)I was there

eight hours later, I spent about eight hours over there waiting for

my wife to see the doctor. I d4n't know if that unusual, or ..

C: No, th4t shot unusual, that happens a lot. jp

B: And some people stayed over as we did, way over in the night, 10:30

when we finally got away. And I saw people who said tei t been there

all day, and hadn't been able to get help. Of course, this was on

a week-end, there was just one doctor on duty, and one nurse, I


C: Well, Ivebeen in hospitals, up here and iybeen in hospitals in

North Carolina. A4 I6t (>bt eit)J like the doctors there act like

yq um a person, not just a statistic.

B: Right, they ddn'ttreat you like yore just a thing.

C: No, th1yr-r I was there, and in fact, one time when they carried me

in down there they didn't think I was going to live, and the doctors

that worked on me, I had never seen before, and he worked on me, he

cared for me. I had a slight mental problem due to the wreck that I

was in, and he tried to condition my mind, you know, tried to get me

to accept the fact, not withdraw, and here, they more or less, yo 're

here,"we'll)do what we can, and when you leave you're on your own.

And I believe if it hadn't been for that doctor, I would have went

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home, and stayed in the house, and not come out, because he just

more or less made me understand, that even though I was messed up

there was people less fortunate than I had been. He made me accept

the fact that what had happened, had happened, and I had to live

with it.

B: Which year were you in the auto accident?

C: November of (70.

B: One thing I noticed on the walls there, as I got into the hospital,

it plainly told you that if you diq4 a2ve hospital insurance you

would not be admitted. They on accept any patients without hospital

insurance, according to that sigh. And they,. I think that this was

a blanket ruling; it doe(ri- make any difference whether somebody.

dying or net. Jtls-very impersonal, it seems, in a city.

C: It is. Well, now, when I was in the hospital up here, the first thing

they asked me for was, you know, did I have Medicare, Medical Aid,

Pte-insurance, and they started worrying about the bill. When I was

in the hospital in North Carolina, even though I was taken into the

emergency room, they never mentioned anything about whether I had the

money to pay it. They were more or less-4ateefs edy to me, interested

in doing what they could for me, before they worried about the money.

In fact, I think I had been in there two or three days before anybody

even came in to mention the money, and here, if you happen to get in

and they doJtisk you about the money at the desk, then thIlIbe

there, and you can bank on it the next day, to find out if you can

pay it, ar how yuIr going to pay it, if you got medical assistance,

or soon, and so forth.

B: Were you at Church Homes- hospital, owover at....

C: I was at Church Homes twice.

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B: Well, they tell me tha t much better, at Church Homes, than it is

over at Johns Hopkins Hospital. :

C: Well,( Iiv never had any occasion to be in the Hospital at Johns

Hopkins, tht I've/heard a lot of tales about it, but (iPs my

personal preference, f.t I always go to Church Homes, and if any-

body in my family is sick, th tis-where we go, to Church Home.

B: Well, it seems that in a case like this, the best is not good enough.

The best is not very good. I imagine that people are pretty much

pushedf6Oi doctorsuand nurses and this sort of thing in the city.

C: Well, I think so too. I just doi- t think there s-ehough to go

around, so to speak. You-gat-more,, in ratio, ygu-ve got more people

than you have doctors. I guess they more or less have to, like an

assembly line, work on you and get you out so they can take some-

body else, but it see"m-4ike in O '\ _\r 'it-seems like theyd)

take their time, thy h- to them youtrr a person, t-4at you woul n't

be there if there was any choice about it.

B: Not just a _, but a real human being. You know, on several

occasions v walked by people on the street, who were lying out

in the sun unconscious, right on the street, and no policeman was

stopping to do anything about it, nobody was trying to help the

person. I dot know whether they were hurt, or whether they were

alcoholics, had passed out or what, but se seen that on several

occasions, and it always shocks me that here is a human being in

need, and everybody walking around him, and nobody cares.

C: People do t.want to get involved.

B: Thats a terrible thing to me.

C: It is, because you ca t o through life without getting involved in


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B: Right, especially human needs.

C: That is the greatest need in the world, is the human need to me.

rcL _- r be_ r Ilpas__eople you-kn on the street,

and didnotjstop, and I did this for the same reason, I just did~n*t

want to get involved, vene-thorghjou think about it later, and \/0 SE /

trat well, I should have stopped, seen if there was something that

I could have done.

B: But this is something that woulA &'happen back home, would it?

C: I do t think so, not really. Lcan.tL_.,&,like when I 7 y )

Q0itwas in the car wreck, a man stopped, v!Mhat evetr and (dQ

never saw him, until we had my hearing for it, which was over a

year later. I didn't know the man who just happened to be behind me,

at in the car, and he stopped, and-they said thhtt- at the time

E t if he had left me laying, the way I was laying,.4at the blood

in my mouth would have choked me to death. And he took time to stop

and come to me, and move my head in suck a way that I could breathe,

andstayed with me until the rescue squad got there. Like I said,

I did ji member the man, I remembered some man talking,but u1; after

LLd'seen the man, I knew n 4- 4\ I had never seen the man. He

could have very easily \n s "Well, that's none of my business,"

and drive on, but he cared enough to stop.

B: I remember a similar situation with me in 1950 when I was in an

auto accident, and I was pinned underneath the car end-1. was uncon-

scious. And I think to myself, if people had passed me up then, I

wouldr't be living, but somebody came, and Sam Dial got the car off

of me,and got me from under the car or something. The ambulance came

and picked me up. But I couldn( help myself at all.

C: Well, I didk' have any feeling in my legs, and \ 'C

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y a- was the fact that I might be paralyzed, ,but it

didQ' seem like it took the rescue squad anytime to get there.

B: Well, th/t' certainly good, and tbrta one advantage of living

in a rural area, I guess you could call it a rural area, as opposed

to city living.

C: And I know that the people who live around us, some of them came to

help us, that I dicnt know, that I had never seen, and they were

extremely good to us. One lady, in particular, her husband was a

sergeant in the army, and lived down below us, and when she heard

that I was in the wreck, as soon as she got her supper meal over, she

came to the house to see if anything that she could do, because we had

at that time my grandchild, which-as'-c- he wasn't even three years

old, and I had two small children, ad she did come to the house you-

rinowto see what she could do, and she stayed there with the children,

while my husband came to the hospital, and then later that night, about

twelve or one o'clock, she brought him back to the hospital without

anyone _or asking her to do so. And she could

have very easily said, "Well, thaI up the street, that s no concern

of mine." And various peopleF I got get-well cards from various people

that I really did-' expect it of, and even after I went home, then

she called several times, CuIO Ck, L\ ( L-l y0

to-see if there was anything that she could do,-that-shek-cw-help

me in anyway, and like I say, 've been in the hospital up here. One

time I was in the hospital my husband couldn't even get anybody to 6'

i' y \Y Jc\- To me, there that shows that there is

a difference, people like us who care, they worry about

each other.

B: Right.

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C: And I known-,for one su-k instance, my son got bit by a dog going to

school, and he was scared, he did' know what to do, whether to come

home or to go on, so he went on, -.a another woman in the neighborhood

which I didn7' know, we hacit been living there very long1 -Sa came

to the house, and told me that the child had been bitten by a dog,

and -' principal would probably be bringing him homes if I

wanted to get ready to go on down there, that was my choice, tth she

thought that I should know.

B: Do you think living in Baltimore like this, is an advantage tryou if

yo&i e an Indian, an advantage to you or disadvantage, or have you ever

thought about it?

C: To me, really I d6on think I had thought about it too much, but in the

city you do have a variety of nationality, but still yet, I think that

there is still a prejudice attitude in ainy minority group .

and in the South, people take you,yoa-etoaw, as you are, and they

more or less, well t-c take lots of the Indian people in North Carolina,

most of them--ey all lived within yeu-knfewa radius of each other,

and your whites, you know, they more or less, kinda stay by theirselves.

B: And blacks too in North Carolina, dornIthey?

C: Yes, ya., trey=---, I really ha n't give it too much thought of

whether there was a disadvantage of city living, race-wise.

B: What kind of work will you be doing over at the restaurant?

C: eIl e the assistant manager trainee.

B: Tha'iLsgood. You looking forward to opening up?

C: Oh, yes, I wish we had it open now. I think igo going to befFsR

going-te- a wonderful thing, for the Indian people, something to be

proud of.

B: It looks awfully nice over there.

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C: Oh, tes a beautiful thing, when they get the final touches to it,

\Q going to be fabulous, and it's something that all the Indian people

should be very proud of.

B: Yes, I think so too.

C: And even in years to come, i)s something that they can look back on,

and say, "Well, that ours. That belongs tothe Indian people. Tha's

something that nobody can take away from us, and the only way that we

can lose it is through ourselves."

B: Wonder what your working hours will be when you open up?

C: I don know what my working hours will be yet. Mine kindF have to

work in with ___ If he'I the manager mine

will kinda have to work in with his hours. He hasnQ really given me

a schedule yet for mine.

B: .-cth ci-r auraitL wl.n te- tpe-ut.r You don't ow what time,

thejl be open to serve meals, what time of the day?

C: Well, I think from the way that they have been talking, they want to

be open early in the morning, possibly 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning.

B: Uhl but they will serve three meals a day.

C: Yes, uhT-hph, it will be open for three meals. And I believe the way

that Mr. __ has it figured now,is that n

going to close about 8:30 or 9:00 at night.

B: Do your husband and you both work in the restaurant?

C: No, my husband is a painter by trade.

B: Has he been here as long as you have?

C: 14e been here a little longer than I have. I met him up here.

B: Oh, thAt!s nice. How long ago was this?

C: Twelve years ago.

B: Twelve years ago, that's nice. I had to interview my wife last night.

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C: Must have been interesting.

B: We had a ball! She was remembering some things that happened a long

long time ago. My tape ran out very quickly.

C: would seem)to me that when you are enjoying something, time

passes so fast.

B: ;bt huh. Well, the new restaurant will have about fifteen or twenty

people working over there.

C: In that neighborhood, yes. I dO t think that he has a definite

figure yet, because he just had interviews last week, yeah-last

eetc r-befote some more that he will be \iV_ ,,_F_ and I don

know whether that will be covering all of or not.

B: -WeCrnidr, I was wondering about the community-at-large, the

Indian community, in particular. Do you think w'6r as close together

here in Baltimore, as we are back in Carolina?

C: No, I really doit.

B: Do you think the city has a tendency to cause us to drift apart, maybe?

C: It does, to my opinion, it really does. When you'-v got so many areas

that the Indian people live in, and you just do' have the time to gQf

out, visiting like you do at home.

B: But you said, that you think it's good place to raise children, or

not a good place?

C: No, I do really believe that it is. I don tblieve that any big

city is as good place to raise children as it is in the South, in North


B: Why is that? Do you think its because there are more temptations?

C: There' more temptations, and there's m9 i .well, it seems like the

children up here are born with the knowledge to get into mischief, and

there'more things for them to do here, there's things in the city for

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them to do that they ordinarily wouldn' think of in the South.

I think that in the big cities you have more advantage to get

dope if they want, and they have a bigger advantage to get into

trouble, because there is always someplace they can go here to

get in trouble, and most of the people up here, they do('0 want you

to say anything, if you see their child doing something wrong. "Dc t

say nothing to my child!" (t's all right, whereas in North Carolina,

if you go to somebody's house, and the children with you, and you

do 9 correct your children, then whoever's house yo rat going

to correct them.

B: And th to sort of taken for granted, isn't t?

C: It is, and people d'j get mad, but here, do say nothing to my

child, if he does something ts all right. Tend to your business

and L tend to mine. They just let'em go! There, they send their kids

to school, and if you don't send the kids to school, then the school

is going to know why, they are going to send somebody to the house to

find out why you do/t send them-:to-school. And here.they can :miss

a half a year, before they'll ever send you a notice that your child

is not going to school.

B: I dontknow how closely you work with the schools, but would you think

schools here are better than in Carolina, or the other way around, or


C: No, I think that the schools in North Carolina are better because the

children get a better education, the teachers, and the principals, there

act they care whether the children learn. Here, i's, to me like the

children are going through a factory. If you learn, okay, if yo don t,

okay, yo regoing on to the next grade next year.

B: Whether you learn it or not.

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C: In North Carolina you learn it, or you stay in that grade and you

repeat it. I had one tell me personally up here, my son I knew

that he wasn't learning, but he says, "I like him, so im going to

send him on next year." And the child) not learning anything,if

he cant do the work, say the fourth grade work this year, how is
he going to do the fifth grade work next year.

B: That's right. I ts like a snowball rolling down the mountainside,

is t it?

C: And it just gets them to the point....

B: Gets bigger all the time, and heavier.

C: ...I car't do the work, so wha sthe use of me going to school?

B: Do you think this accounts for many of our dropouts?

C: A lot of it, the thing that the-ve got now, to where theft take

a child out of their neighborhood and send them across town someplace.

Children like to be with their kind, and I believe that if they could

stay in the neighborhood, and in their own environment, they learn


B: Well, we're trying to do something about that at the Center here,

the education department are using Indian students to tutor slow learners.

C: Tha e a good idea.

B: I think it is. I think that Indian children learn better when they are

with somebody from their own crowd.

C: They take more time with them, because the Indian people want their

children to learn, they want them to learn their history, but they

want them to learn it the right way, the way it happened, not just

the way i heen written in books. And if you have someone of your own

culture teaching you something, then they.e going to bring those points

out. Thy e going to show you what happened, and then you can look back,


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and say,"Well, I know that's history. I know that thas the way it


B: afraid that we get neglected in history like in other _

C: Quite a bit! The history books to me should be rewritten, because

it confuses children. Now you've got history books says that Columbus

discovered America. The Indians was here when Columbus was here, so

how could Columbus have discovered America?

B: He certainly wasn't the first to discover America. I' seven doubtful

that Columbus was the first European to discover America. The Vikings

may have done so some four or five hundred years earlier.

C: I believe if you are going to teach something, teach it right, or

do teach it at all.

B: But of course, his discovery was a significant one, because that is

when colonization started taking place after his discovery. But still, [

you say.tfva the Indians discovered America. It seems strange to me

that there is a necessity, or somebody feels that there is a necessity,

of even putting this on bumper stickers, you know, to remind people.

I Theja know that, i- thed stop to think for a moment.

C: People do 'I stop and think though, itQmechanicalized, ), weAe

always taught that in school, so tha s)the way it is. They dot s op

and think for theirselves. And if you have something that reminds you of

it yo'l stop and think,in your history, if the Indians dido' discover

America, then how could they meet Columbus?

B: Tha true.

C: That's just the way I look at it.

B: Tha true, that's certainly true. What kind of plans do you have for

the future? Do you think y uuill live here most of your life?

C: Well, my husband says that when he retires, that h's going back to

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North Carolina, buy him a place where he can just fish and hunt for

the rest of his life.

B: Now yoQ talking Sounds like fun. I think we all like to fish and .


C: I know I like to fish, I never did go hunting, but I sure like to fish.

B: This is pretty close to the waterfront here, right-here we' e on South

Broadway, and weje about a mile from the waterfront. Did you see the

fireworks, the fair was here several weeks ago?

C: No.

B: We drove down to the waterfront, and they had gone out on the ship.

They was shooting the fireworks up from the ship.

C: We iv e in Highlandtown, which is quite a distance from here, so we

didn't get to see any of the fireworks.

B: Baltimore is such a large place. Some parts of it are totally different

from the other parts.

C: Extremely different!

B: And ig hard to make an evaluation of Baltimore, because of this.

If-thea- wa metahng-tha you.. .;idE-J-Aaskn-.if you had a wish

and yo like to see something changed about the Indian community,

what would you most like to see changed, or improved?
I4 \^
C: Well, I would like to see all the Indians get together, and like to

see them stick together, and keep building,-.keep 'building their

community, because in building their community, they have given people

a-better understanding of what they are, their way of life, and you

can only build a community in unity. If you do Qt have unity, you c Ot

build anything, because everybody is going a different way, an \Id

love to see all the Indian people------

B: Pulling together.

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C: Pulling together, and working together----

B: So would I.

C: To have something, one goal, a community in which other people could

see the Indians, see how they live, see their culture. But to me, the

Indian Center is the best thing th 1 happened in Baltimore, because

i' made a lot of people understand Indians that didn't understand

them before.

B: Yeat, sure we had people here who didJt even know that there

were Indians in Baltimore, and-maybe some-uople I heard of a case,

where one person for example, thought all the Indians were extinct.

"Man, there laren' any Indians any more, they were all killed out!"

C: I did know there was any Indians in Baltimore till twelve years

ago. I thought they were all in the South or out West. I did nVtknow

there were any in Baltimore.

B: Yes, they began coming over here, just before our entry into World

War II. I was with two other Indians, and before we entered World War

II.T Ew.we didkt know any other Indians in Baltimore, so evidently

we were the only ones here. But it certainly is different today, sn'


C: Oh, yeda You have more Indians coming up every day, moving up, and

then you have a lot of older ones that are going back to North Carolina

and build homes down there, and they are going back home

B: Do you think our numbers are remaining about the same? Do you think

more people are going back home, or is it staying about the same?

C: To me, more or less, I guess t' staying about the same. You used to

could just about tell, you know, about how many Indians were in Baltimore

before they tore Broadway and \C !< Street down, because it was

more or less a gathering place. If you wanted to see somebody, go down

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on the corner. Eventually, th l be there. But now the r scattered.

Since they started tearing those houses down, they have scattered.

B: And they are doing this for redevelopment purposes.

C: Thas right.

B: Well, a lot of our people are on Street, are they not?

C: I think around and I think some is on Street,

and then you still have some on the other end of B(i\\\ ;-. Street,

around _Park. But allot of them are leaving out to the


B: h-7.hub.. Well, I certainly have enjoyed talking with you on this

tape1 and I want to ask you before we closeAs-what do you think

of our young people?

C: Wve got some fine young people.

B: Do you think the future is safe in their hands?

C: They seem like they beginning to% I want the majority of them

to want to know about their people, to know their history, and I think

that they revive, their revival on the history and I don't believe

that the Indian history will ever die, completely die.

B: No.

C: I just think that they are more or less trying to bring it back, 'cause

they are dancing, the'i beginning now to wear, wearing their beads,

and their headbands, as something to be proud of.

B: Right.

C: The young will wake up and know that being an Indian is something to

be proud of, ftnsnot something to be ashamed of.

B: Right. You know, I think the dance which is held sometimes on Thursday

nights, Mr. Avery Lewis, leader,fhis is the most impressive

thing to me, especially, you know when people are dressed up;' and they

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really, until I got into that, I did 't appreciate it nearly as much

as I do now.

C: I really nice, and when they, they show their expressions through

their dancing, it something that is close to their hearts.

B: And they just have a good time. Everybody has a good time. I think

most people misunderstand Indian dancing. Every time you go to a

dance, they figure that you are working yourself up to a fever pitch

to fight war, or...

C: Or rain or something!

B: Or rain someplace, or rather! It insn' that at all, even though war

dances are not war dances in the sense, that people generally think

that they are.

C: I enjoy the Indian dancing-. We were married here in.the Indian Center.

B: Is that right?

C: We had the Indian ceremony. And the Indian dancers danced a lV W .

B: That must have been very impressive. I wish i'd)had an Indian wedding.

C: To me, it was beautiful, and it really was, 'cause no one had re-

hearsed. It was something that we had never gotten together to do,

in fact we did know who was going to marry us, until the night

before we got married. And we were married by an Indian preacher, and

the Indian dancers were together that night, and Mr. Avery Lewis, who

did the 23rd Psalm in sign language, his wife stood behind him and

translated it. To me, it was really beautiful.

B: YeslallLthose Indian ceremonies are beautiful. I conducted my program,

"Bridge Over Troubled Water'," and toward the end, -you-k4ey after my

program each night, the dance would come on, and on one occasion they

gave me a dance of honor, and I was dancing between two, a girl and a

boy, and I was really proud of that.

18 pwh

C: Well, I e re proud of our wedding, because it was the only one that's

ever been done here. I guess we bore people when we show them the pictures.

........[End of tape]

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