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Found in Collection

Found in Collection (163)

Thursday, 23 May 2019 16:51

New Acquisition!

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Recently we received a new addition to our collection. This coverlet was made by Isaac Kepner of Pottstown, PA in 1838. It was passed down through the donor's family, although we are uncertain which family member originally purchased the coverlet from Kepner.

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Isaac Kepner Coverlet, HSMC

Kepner was born approximately 1805. He wove in North Hanover Township from 1835 to 1836 and in Pottstown from 1838 to 1848. All of his work had his name, location, date, and sometimes the client’s name woven into a corner of the textile. This coverlet, unfortunately, is one of his pieces that does not include the client’s name. He died in 1880 and is buried at Pottstown Cemetery.

Coverlets are woven bed covers, primarily used in the 16th and 17th centuries. These covers were put on top of the bed sheeting to keep the user warm. After receiving an order for a coverlet, the local weaver would weave the fabric using a large wooden loom. As the fabric was woven, the colored design would take shape.

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Isaac Kepner Coverlet, HSMC

The Kepner coverlet was made in a style often referred to as jacquard or “figure and fancy”. Weaving floral designs, this style of coverlet was made primarily by professional weavers, who often times were men. Unlike quilts, coverlets like these were reversible and were made of wool or a combination of wool and cotton.

 

Sources:

The National Museum of the American Coverlet, http://www.coverletmuseum.org/coverlet.htm

Clarita Anderson, American Coverlets and Their Weavers: Coverlets from the Collection of Foster and Murial McCarl, Ohio university Press: Athens, 2002, p. 180

 

Thursday, 16 May 2019 18:16

World News

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I came across an interesting old document last week, a news magazine produced by eighth graders at a local junior high school. The magazine was created simply with paper and pencil and bound together by string. The somewhat damaged cover gives the title “Cultur[al] Works” and declares it the March issue (complete with lion and lamb).

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There are three sections, one on world news,  a literary section with poems and stories, and a final section on style. No year is listed on the cover, but heavy coverage of the Roosevelts suggests a 1933 date. The kids also covered fashion, a California earthquake, and wrote biographies of several historic figures such as Franz Liszt and Robert Lewis Stevenson.

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Betty Bean, editor of "Cultural Works" and Jeanette Poser, a contributor, from their 1937 NHS yearbook

Each article has a by-line, but the school isn’t mentioned. I did some math and some poking around and found most of the students mentioned in Norristown High School’s 1937 yearbook. So they could have been at Rittenhouse or Stewart Junior High Schools.

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Overall, the magazine is a nice production. It’s the sort of thing that often doesn’t  survive, usually getting thrown away by parents or simply falling apart. The pencil is very faded on some pages, and we can assume the paper you see above was originally white. The inclusion of newspaper clippings would have only accelerated the deterioration (newsprint is very acidic).

Teaching students about media continues to be part of the curriculum in the Norristown Area School District. Just last week our own Barry Rauhauser was interviewed at Norristown High School for the Hank Cisco show. You can check it out on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BoXADgxX-M.

Thursday, 09 May 2019 19:04

A very literary county

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Rumors of the death of the book have been greatly exaggerated. Hardcover sales are strong and audiobooks are increasing in popularity. People frequently like to share what they're  reading and their thoughts about books on Goodreads, Litsy, and LibraryThing. Book clubs abound, and there’s a whole world within a world on Instagram known as “Bookstagram.”

In many ways this is a continuation (though in different form) of previous centuries' literary clubs and societies. As schooling became universal at the end of the 19th century, many people wanted to continue their education into their adult years. This coincided with a time when Americans liked joining clubs, and many of the clubs were based around reading and learning.

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The Reading Circle in the early 1960's.

The Norristown Reading Circle was founded in 1910 by six women. The original plan was to read and review popular fiction, but it soon expanded to include history and current events. The meetings were held every other week at a member’s home. The membership was capped at 20. The club got a surprising amount of newspaper coverage.

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We have two minute books for the Reading Circle, which was clearly more formal than a modern book club. The minutes from fall of 1923 illustrate how varied the topics were: on September 11 Mrs. Hunsberger talked about her trip to California, on the 25th Mrs. Anders gave an account of the Summer School for Working Girls at Bryn Mawr, on October 9 they discussed a novel called Spinster of This Parish, and on October 25, they all gathered at Mrs. Gotwals house to see her daughter’s wedding gifts.

In the late 19th century, Towamencin had the Kulpsville Literary and Library Association, whose object was “mutual improvement of Self Culture and to become familiar with Literature in general.” The members were all men, apparently young men from the minutes. The society also aimed to start a library. At meetings members practiced spelling and debated topics related to the club (should members be fined for not attending meetings?) or current events (the Civil War comes up a lot in the early years).

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"Then spelling was practised a short time with deep interest."

These sorts of organizations were so common that in 1881, the Kulpsville Literary and Library Association merged with the Oxonia Literary Society and the Young Folks Literary Society.

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A page from the Kulpsville Literary and Library Association acknowledging the assassination of President Garfield.

We have records of even more, in Gwynedd, Conshohocken, Upper Merion, and a few more in Norristown. These are probably just a sampling. Other societies were perhaps less formal and didn’t keep records, or didn’t last for as many decades as these clubs did. The idea that one can self-educate is inspiring, and the truly social aspects of these clubs seems so much more significant in the age of selfies and 144 character tweets.

Thursday, 02 May 2019 19:18

Temperance and Teetotalism

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It might be hard to imagine now, but the sale and consumption of alcohol were once hotly debated issues in Montgomery County.

With its large German population, the county was home to many breweries, Adam Scheidt perhaps being the best known. However, it was also home to many temperance societies, both local ones and nationally affiliated groups like the Sons of Temperance and Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.

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The Temperance movement is an interesting one that combined several aspects of nineteenth-century America – clubs, “do-gooding,” political engagement, and crusading zeal. First, I think a quick explanation of the name of the movement is necessary. “Temperance” is a synonym for moderation, and in the earliest years of the movement (1820’s – 1830’s), it mainly focused on discouraging the consumption of hard liquor and drunkenness.

By the end of the 1830’s the goal the movement had changed, and many members of temperance societies pledged to abstain from alcohol totally (with a capital “T” written next to their names). After the Civil War, what had been something of a fringe cause became a mass movement that used preaching to discourage the public from drinking and lobbying the government for more stringent laws on the sale of alcohol or for outright prohibition.

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The Norristown branch of the Sons of Temperance was founded in 1845, just three years after the original chapter was founded in New York. Moses Auge was one of the founding members, and he donated some of the group’s early papers to the Historical Society in 1887. (If anyone is interested, that makes them one of our earliest donations, number 108, to be exact.) The Sons of Temperance was like many other fraternal groups popular at the time. There was a secret initiation and death benefits for members.

We also have the papers of the Law License League of Norristown, a group that lobbied the county to enforce standing laws regarding the sale of alcohol, which they believed would reduce the number of public houses in the borough.

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The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (which still exists) was also present throughout the county. They sponsored speakers and meetings. In our collection, we have a 1916 publication listing the names of people who signed petitions for liquor licenses for various Norristown establishments.

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All of these groups promoted total abstinence from alcohol, but for some people, that didn’t go far enough. One of Montgomery County’s most progressive reformers was Dr. Hiram Corson. He often made public speeches in favor of temperance, but he was not a member of the Sons of Temperance. In his diary of 1847, he wrote of his opposition to the Sons of Temperance “on account of their allowing Root Beer, pop, &c.” I guess cold water was good enough for him.

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Thursday, 25 April 2019 18:34

Dr. Chevalier Q. Jackson

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For our upcoming exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, we were fortunate to receive some loaned items from Sunrise Mill. Currently, this historic mill is undergoing construction and is planned to be open the public in the next few years.

Dr. Jackson

One of Sunrise Mill’s inhabitants was Dr. Chevalier Q. Jackson. Born in Pittsburgh on November 4, 1865, Chevalier attended Western University of Pennsylvania (modern day University of Pittsburgh). He later received his medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in 1886. After further studies in England, Dr. Jackson opened his own Laryngology practice in 1887 in Pittsburgh. By 1916, Dr. Jackson and his family moved to Philadelphia.

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Medical Kit Loaned to HSMC by Sunrise Mill

In 1918, Dr. Jackson purchased Sunrise Mill in Schwenksville. He commuted to his job at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia for eighteen years, which was a 75 mile round trip! Dr. Jackson’s invention of the bronchoscope and experience removing foreign items (coins, teeth, etc.) from patient’s throats greatly advanced the field of laryngology. In addition to his medical inventions, Dr. Jackson was also involved in the passage of the Federal Caustic Poison Act of 1927. This Act required the poison symbol and antidote label to be placed on household cleaners.

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In our exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, you will have the opportunity to see an example of some of the medical tools Dr. Jackson invented. There will be a Gala on June 27, 2019 from 6PM to 9PM. Starting July 1, 2019, the exhibit will be free and open to the public!

Thursday, 18 April 2019 17:39

Restoring Firebacks

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Cast Iron Fireback before Restoration

As we prepare for our next exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, I decided to use the extra space in the gallery to restore four of our firebacks. These firebacks were placed in the back of a fireplace to protect the chimney and reflect the heat back towards the interior room. Firebacks were also used for decoration.

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Cast Iron Fireback after Restoration

This cast iron fireback was found at Wentz's Church, in Worcester Township. The design is based on a Biblical Representation, which was identified in Henry Mercer's book Bible in Iron on page 28. The rough German translation is: "The widow’s oil did richly glow. God's mercy in the tomb did show. A boy to life rose from the dead. A hundred men on few loaves fed."

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Cast Iron (rear side) Before and After Restoration

To restore this cast iron, I used a wire brush to gently remove the rust. Once removed, the rust was vacuumed off the fireback. I then applied a thin coat of Crisco shortening to the entire piece. Shortening was used instead of oil, because it does not go rancid. For those of you with cast iron skillets, this same process can be followed to treat rust on your pieces. I would like to thank Curator Amy Reis from Pottsgrove Manor for her instruction on how to restore cast iron!

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3 Pieced Steel Firebacks before Restoration

I am currently working to restore a three pieced fireback. Originally, we thought it was cast iron. However, upon removal of rust we realized it was most likely made from a steel alloy, which means using a wire brush is not necessarily the best method for removing rust. We are currently exploring better ways to restore the steel without damaging it with a wire brush. Once they are restored, we will post the results on our Facebook page.

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Two sides of the three piece fireback. The left one has rust removed from it.

Margaret Phillips Richardson was born in Radnor Township (Delaware County) on October 27, 1816. She married Abraham Richardson on September 12, 1839 and lived with him in Juniata County for several years. Abraham died on August 6, 1841 and Margaret remained in the county with their son, John P. Richardson, until she decided to obtain a career in medicine.

Dr. Margaret Richardson

Ten years later, in 1851, Margaret started studying medicine at the Pennsylvania Female College in Philadelphia. Part of the second class to graduate from this college, Dr. Richardson received her degree in 1853. She then moved back to Juniata County for four years to practice medicine. In 1857, she moved to Norristown.

Dr. Richardson was the first female physician in both Montgomery and Juniata Counties. She was known for her success in curing fevers and was often asked to consult other medical professionals when they were treating a patient. She also aided county courts by providing her medical expertise as needed.

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Times Herald, May 15, 1909

Dr. Richardson stayed in Norristown until her death on May 15, 1909. She died of bronchitis at 92 years old and is buried at Plymouth Meeting Friends Cemetery. In our upcoming exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, we will display one of Dr. Richardson’s advertisements for medical treatment. There will be a Gala on June 27, 2019. Starting July 1, 2019 and through March 2020, the exhibit will be free and open to the public.

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Dr. Richardson Advertisement

Source:

History of Montgomery County Pennsylvania, Volume 1. Edited by Theodore W. Bean. Philadelphia: Everts and Peck 1884.

Thursday, 04 April 2019 18:44

The 1950 Boy Scout Jamboree

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Cover of an adveritsement for the Schuylkill Valley Lines

In 1950, boys from around the world came to Valley Forge for the second Boy Scout Jamboree. Today, the Jamboree is held every few years, but they got off to a slow start. The first Jamboree was scheduled to take place in Washington, D. C. in 1935, but had to be cancelled because of a polio outbreak. It was eventually held in 1937. The next one wasn’t held in 1950, due in part to World War II.

With such a long hiatus, the 1950 Jamboree was a big deal. It was covered extensively in the Times-Herald and the Philadelphia papers. The papers estimated that 47,000 scouts from around the world came, creating what the Times-Herald called “the largest tent city in [the] nation’s history.” Philadelphia Suburban Water Supply provided 800,000 gallons of water each day. The Jamboree had its own telephone system with three 80 line switchboards. They handled 8,000 calls per day. The Times-Herald also reported that it was expected that the scouts would consume 40,000 eggs, 409,000 gallons of milk, and 5,000 gallons of ice cream. The Mrs. Smith’s Pie Company of Pottstown made 250,000 pies for the event (they were all apple). A camp hospital was manned by the 49th Evacuation Unit, Army Reserve Unit. While they mostly treated blisters, upset stomachs, and heat exhaustion, they also performed an emergency appendectomy on a 13 year-old from Jacksonville, FL.

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Photo from the National Park Service

President Truman opened the event on the night of June 30, with a speech about international cooperation in the midst of an international crisis. Five days earlier, North Korean troops had crossed the 38th parallel. Truman told the boys, “When you work and live together, and exchange ideas around the campfire, you get to know what the other fellow is like. That is the first step toward settling world problems in a spirit of give and take, instead of fighting about them.” He encouraged the scouts to travel abroad to learn about other counties.

On July 4th, General Eisenhower addressed the Jamboree and set off the fireworks. In his speech, Eisenhower addressed the need to support South Korea “by whatever means are necessary.”

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Thirty-seven Alaskan scouts were quoted as being in favor of statehood for their home. It also says they were not prepared for the summer heat in the lower 48. The boys from Maine feasted on lobsters sent from home one night while everyone else had “mulligan stew.” A boy from New Mexico tried to swap his pet snake, but got no takers. Horned toads (which are really lizards that look like toads) were popular though. The Philadelphia Zoo took in several because their new owners didn’t know what to feed them. It also received calls from three mothers who were frightened when their children found stray lizards in the backyard (Times-Herald, August 3, 1950)

Nineteen nations sent troops as well. The papers reported that the British scouts played cricket and brought 12 pounds of tea. Badrudan Morani of Bombay (now Mumbai), India traveled the farthest to be there. There was even a contingent of sons of delegates to the United Nations who had their own troop based in Jamaica, Queens, with members from nine different countries. They flew the UN flag over their tent.

Thursday, 28 March 2019 19:52

Tornado hits Jarrettown

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May of 1896 witnessed one of the worst tornado outbreaks in American history. It lasted about two weeks and spawned tornados all over the south and Midwest, including three F5 tornados (the more severe category). On the final day of the outbreak, an F3 tornado touched down in Jarrettown then cut a path 35 miles east into New Jersey.

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A photo of Judge Knight with his parents from about 1919

I hadn’t heard about this tornado until one of our volunteers, Rita Thomas, told me about some newspaper clippings she had found in Judge Harold Knight’s diary of 1956. I was excited to learn more, but disappointed to see that our collection of the Ambler Gazette on microfilm starts in 1898. Luckily, you can find the paper from 1896 on PA Power Library through the Wissahickon Valley Public Library. The Weekly Herald of Norristown covered it, too, but the Gazette had this sketch of Alexander Knight’s house, one of the oldest in the borough of Ambler.

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Here’s a photo from our own collection of the house taken in 1971. Alexander Knight was Judge Harold Knight’s father, and this was his home as well.

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The Gazette article focused on the damage from the storm. Two men were killed inside the carriage barn of the Jarrettown Hotel when a wall collapsed. They were Winfield Ensley and Alfred Moffit. Several others were injured. The Jarrettown Public School was badly damaged as was the Jarrrettown United Methodist Church. Both of those buildings had to be rebuilt.

The Weekly Herald of June 1st, focused on the sightseeing, claiming “Effects of the Cyclone Must be Seen to Be Appreciated.” The article estimated that 4,000 people had already come to see the damage which included several collapsed barns and many uprooted trees.

Thursday, 21 March 2019 20:00

Desperate hours in Whitemarsh

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At 8am on the morning of September 11, 1952, a man knocked on the back door of the Hill family’s home on Joshua Road. Mrs. Elizabeth Hill answered the door. The man there asked if her husband was home. When she said he was not, the man waved to his two companions who appeared from around the corner of the house brandishing shotguns. The men entered the house and told Mrs. Hill and her three sons that they would be safe as long as they were quiet. It was the beginning of a 19 hour ordeal for the Hill family.

Brothers Joseph and Ballard Nolen of Kentucky and Elmer Schuer of Illinois had escaped from Lewisberg Federal Penitentiary two days earlier by sawing through their cell bars and descending a 30 foot wall with towels knotted together. They were all in prison for bank robbery. They stole a car and kidnapped a local man, who later jumped out of the car. The men made their way to West Reading where they smashed the window of a sporting goods shop and stole four shotguns and two rifles.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania State Police, with the help of the FBI, set up roadblocks all over southeastern PA. To evade detection, the men decided to lay low in the comfortable home of the Hill family in Whitemarsh..

The Nolens and Schuer listened to the radio, played cards, and ate the family’s food. In the afternoon, the Hills' two teenage daughters returned from their day at Norristown High School, and Mr. James Hill returned from his management job at Dexdale Hosiery in Lansdale. The Times-Herald reported that Mrs. Hill answered the phone several times over the course of the day with one of the convicts listening on an extension.

In press coverage, the Hills insisted that the three men were always polite and didn’t harm anyone in the family. As evening fell, the men told the family to sleep together in one room and helped move mattresses for the kids. They told the Hills that they expected to leave late that night and warned them not to call the police until 8 am. The fugitives threated to return and kill Mr. Hill if they didn’t wait.

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At 3:30 am the Nolens and Schuer left the house, stealing some of Mr. Hill’s suits and the family car, a Pontiac. The Hills waited until 8 am, then contacted the police.  Investigators descended on their house. The convicts meanwhile, drove back west and held up a diner in Hamburg. After that the trail went cold.

The police got calls from local places like Norristown and Conshohocken and as far away as Iowa. A milkman in Wilmington, DE claimed the three convicts had robbed him, but later retracted the story. A week later, they learned that men had meant to head for Scranton but took a wrong turn and found themselves heading to New York City.

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Once in New York, the men robbed a gun store and a bank in the Bronx then rented an apartment on Kelly St. They stayed there until they met a woman named Mayola Jones and moved into her place on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. That’s where the NYPD found them on September 21st. There was a shoot-out in which both Nolen brothers were killed, and Detective Phillip LaMonica was shot three times in the chest. He later died at the hospital. Elmer Schuer survived and was eventually sentenced to 80 years to life in prison, according to the “FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin” from 1957.

But that’s not the whole story.

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Promotional photo from the play

Parts of this story might seem familiar, especially if you like classic movies. In 1954, Joseph Hayes wrote a novelized version of the events in Whitemarsh called The Desperate Hours. The following year it was turned into a Broadway play (also written by Hayes) starring a young Paul Newman as one of the convicts and Karl Malden as “Mr. Hillard”. The novel and play both took place in suburban Indianapolis, and the convicts are much more violent than the Hills reported. In the play they even murder an unlucky garbage collector who came to the door. The play won the Tonys for Best Play and Best Director (Robert Montgomery). Also in 1955, William Wyler directed a film version of play, which starred Humphrey Bogart in Newman’s role and Fredic March as the father.

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But that’s not whole story either.

In 1955, Life Magazine ran a featured article on the play. The reporters took the cast to the home in Whitemarsh where it had all happened. Hills no longer lived in the house. Soon after the events in 1952, they moved to Connecticut and tried hard to avoid any publicity. The Life article (we have a copy here at the Historical Society) never made the distinction between the fictionalized events of the play and real events that happened to the Hills. Mrs. Hill, according to an article in the New Yorker, was particularly upset by the article and the renewed media attention from the play. The Hills sued Time, Inc., the publisher of Life Magazine, under New York State’s privacy law.

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Image from the Richard Nixon Foundation

The case dragged on for many years, with the Hills winning in the New York Court of Appeals in 1962. Time, Inc. appealed to the Supreme Court. In 1966, former vice-president  Richard Nixon (who had his own problems with the press) argued on behalf of the Hill family. The court ruled 5-4 in favor of Time, Inc. because the reporting had not been proved reckless or willfully inaccurate. It was the only case Nixon ever argued before the Supreme Court.

Special thanks to Kristina Piscitelli whose research through the Times Hearld was instrumental in writing this piece.

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