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Why write this book? Contents of the book People who made this possible People who influenced the author Dedicated to: About Dan K. Phillips

Why write this book? Contents of the book People who made this possible People who influenced the author Dedicated to: About Dan K. Phillips Why write this book? Contents of the book People who made this possible People who influenced the author Dedicated to: About Dan K. Phillips

Why write this book? Contents of the book People who made this possible People who influenced the author Dedicated to: About Dan K. Phillips

Four Corners-A Literary Excursion Across America

TUCUMCARI, N.M. - THE PHOTOGRAPHER

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Author's Note:

On the back flyleaf of the cover of the book Great Plains is a photograph of the author, Ian Frazier. He is standing with his left thumb plummeted in the faded left pocket of his blue jeans. He is wearing a plaid shirt, holding a notebook in his right hand, has his hair combed neatly, and is not smiling. The photo is black and white. It is 1-1/2 inches wide and is 2-7/8 inches tall. Beneath the picture is a notation: "Author photograph by the LeDeane Studio, Tucumcari, New Mexico."

According to the book Great Plains, Ian Frazier ate a black cricket the size of his thumb at his sister's wedding, moved to Montana to begin writing Great Plains, saw the movie Rancho Deluxe eight or nine times to get the feel of Montana, and drove 25,000 miles researching museums and historic sites for his book.

His research included articles on Sitting Bull, Bonnie and Clyde, Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Richard Read - the last man lynched in Kansas. Frazier is also the author of another less well known book - Dating Your Mom.

Further details of the author and editor are sketchy. The front cover of my copy has the notation, "To Dan on your 46th birthday. Love you, Janet and Melinda."

On the back cover is another autograph, not that of the author, but of the photographer who took his picture in Tucumcari, James Crocker. To my knowledge, I am the only owner of the book Great Plains autographed by the author's own photographer.

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THE JOURNEY

IT IS 1,081 miles from my home in Tennessee to Tucumcari, New Mexico. It took us two days to make the trip. We stopped only at Fort Smith, Arkansas, long enough to see the white-painted gallows that made hanging Judge Parker famous and to sleep.

For entertainment, we counted Tucumcari signs. "Tucumcari Tonight 263 miles." "Tucumcari Tonight 161 miles."

Tucumcari, during its most promising era, boasted of 2,000 motel rooms. According to one questionable historian:

EVERYONE HAS, OR WILL, SLEEP IN TUCUMCARI AT LEAST ONE NIGHT IN HIS OR HER LIFE.

We arrived in Tucumcari during a nightmarish hailstorm. Heavy gusts of wind slapped bullet-sized hail against passing vehicles. Many of the cars were riveted with machine gun precision, leaving a fine-line of dents scattered over the vehicles. Ponderous rains followed. Soon, gushing waters huddled a foot deep in the middle of the two-lane highway that led from Interstate 40 to downtown Tucumcari.

When the wind and rain stopped, neighbors congregated in clusters jabbing their fingers skyward in a circular motion that described the bombardment path. The explosive nature of the storm caused them to talk rapidly, to clap their hands together, and to shake their heads. I have never seen a storm affect people in such a strange manner.

Tucumcari has a population of 6,831. It is an old railroad town once known as six-shooter siding. It has a thriving cattle business and much railroad traffic. For years, it has been a favorite haunting place for adventurers intent on traveling from coast to coast. The remains of old Route 66 -The Mother Road as John Steinbeck called it - stumble through the area.

Morbid motels with names like the Redwood Lodge, the Buckaroo, the Rafter S, Sahara Sands, Americana, Safari, Blue Swallow, Town House, Apache, Palomino, Lasso, Aruba, Royal Palacio, and Pony Soldier still linger.

Neon signs, dancing to the hillbilly music of Ernest Tubb, advertise rooms by the hour. These old motel parking lots have two-decade-old cars with broken windows, bent fenders, and flat tires, sitting idle in their parking lots.

In the whispering twilight between rooms, one sees animated conversation between fat women with tattoos and men with cowboy hats and broken-buttoned shirts. There always seems to be an air of disquiet, as if someone has been cheated out of a good-time. There is no laughter. A small bottle is often passed circumspectedly between the victims of the shadowless night. Most of the motels need painting.

Travelers still eat under the giant sombrero at La Cita Restaurant or the Hereford bull at Del's Restaurant. The City Commission recently approved a resolution to change Tucumcari Boulevard to Historic Route 66.

After supper, in our motel room under the shadow of Tucumcari Mountain, I studied the legend of Tucumcari. According to a June 1966 article in the Tucumcari Daily News, noted Tucumcari historian Herman Moncus is credited with deciphering the meaning of the name Tucumcari.

After years of searching, he accidently discovered an ancient Jemez Indian who agreed to sing the Tucumcari Buffalo Hunting Song. This song translated from Jemez means "place of buffalo hunt," Moncus pointed out.

The Jemez, a pueblos Indian of the Rio Grande Valley, who hunted in eastern New Mexico before 1800, probably learned the name from other Indians. Oklahoma Indians, perhaps the Kiowa, translated the name to mean a dark place. The legend, as attributed to Moncus, was found in material I discovered in the motel room and gives new meaning to the name Tucumcari (Two-Come-Carry).

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THE LEGEND

The Legend of Tucumcari Mountain has been handed down from mouth to mouth by Indian tribes.

"Wautonomah, Chief Apache, knew that he would soon die and was troubled over the matter of who his successor would be. His two finest braves were Tonopah and Tocom, enemies and deadly rivals for the hand of Kari, the daughter of Wautonomah. But Kari loved Tocom and hated Tonopah.

So, Wautonomah called Tonopah and Tocom to his side and said: "Soon, I must die and one of you must succeed me as Chief. Tonight you must take your long knives and meet in combat to settle the matter between you, and he who survives shall be Chief and have for his squaw, Kari, my daughter."

So the two rivals met and hurled themselves upon one another in deadly combat; but unknown to either, Kari had concealed herself nearby, and as the knife of Tonopah found the heart of Tocom, she rushed from her hiding place and plunged her knife into the heart of Tonopah. Then, taking Tocom's knife, she stabbed herself in grief.

When Wautonomah was led to the scene, he was heartbroken. Seizing Kari's knife, he plunged it into his heart, crying in agony, "Tocom-Kari." The old Chief's dying utterance lives on today with a slight change to "Tucumcari," and the scene of the tragedy is now famous legendary Tucumcari Mountain."

Sitting under the shadow of the great Tucumcari mountain, I could feel the knife burying itself deep in my own heart. I could sense the old Indian chief's presence. With the history of the area percolating within, I began slowly opening the yellow pages of the phone book to find the location of the LeDeane Studio - the place where Ian Frazier's picture had been taken.

And there it was, peeking out between the dog-eared pages in the P section, the advertisement that I was looking for:


LeDeane Studio

"Since 1961"

TUCUMCARI'S FULL SERVICE STUDIO

Outdoor Greenhouse Studio/24 Hour Processing

Classic Portraiture/ Wedding Photography

Copy & Restoration Work/

&

COMMERCIAL PHOTOGRAPHY

220 E. Main Tucumcari - 461-3050


The next morning, in a fast food restaurant on old Route 66, a toothless man, smelling like hospital medication, sat beside me while I ate breakfast. His speech was mostly incoherent. Only a few words per sentence survived enough for understanding. It seemed he was speaking a mixture of Navajo, Mexican, and English. I understood few of his words, but he reacted as if I were a long lost brother who he had discovered in a far off country after not seeing him for fifty years.

For 25 minutes he mumbled and sputtered. I tried to seem interested between bites of scrambled eggs, but the intense effort required failed. When I was finally able to say goodbye, I had pieced together only fragments of his experience: that he was alone; that he had been deserted by his family; and that he quit smoking after 47 years because of suffering a heart attack. Everything else had been gibberish.

After breakfast, I plotted my course. I drove once more through several blocks of old route 66 looking for Main Street.

"Why are we turning off the main road," asked Janet. (It was certainly a definable question coming from an inquisitive wife who realizes the foibles of a husband deranged by history).

"I'm going to visit the photographer who took Ian Frazier's picture for the book Great Plains," I said.

Turning stoned faced toward the right window she said, "Just leave me out of this."


THE STUDIO

When I neared the studio, I brought out a pacifier for Janet that I had stuffed under the car seat, a copy of USA Today. I knew it would keep her busy for a few minutes while I talked to the photographer.

It was an awkward moment when I walked into the LeDeane Studio. I walked up to the receptionist with an air of confidence and said, "I would like to talk with the head photographer about a photograph he took."

I then pulled out the book Great Plains and showed the receptionist the final page and the note about the LeDeane Studio. "If possible," I added, "I would like to get the photographer's autograph, but I don't know his name."

I must admit that I didn't know what to expect. I was hopeful of a story of enormous proportions: that the author was an old college friend of the anonymous photographer; that they both had dated the same woman; that the author's photograph had caused fame for the photographer; and that the photographer was having difficulty photographing customers because of the many inquirers, like myself, intruding into his affairs.

Standing in the corner I looked at several old photographs of Tucumcari. Several were portraits. All were excellent and seemed to have deeper meanings.

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Finally, a man came and introduced himself. "I'm James Crocker. What can I do for you?" I introduced myself and told him, "I have just finished reading a book that has a photograph on the back flyleaf of the book that was made in this studio, and I am looking for information about the author. Can you help me?"

 

After blurting out my intent, he began scratching his head. A puzzled look crossed his face. I could tell he didn't have any idea what I was talking about. This surprised me. I would have thought that dozens of people would have stopped and commented on the photo, especially since the book had been on the New York Times best-seller list.

I opened the book and showed him the picture. He began smiling and said, "I remember that man. He came rushing in here one day and said he needed his picture taken in a hurry. He told me he was writing a book and would send me a copy when it was finished. That's the last I ever heard of him."

He then looked at me and began bombarding me with questions. "Who is that man? What's the title of the book? What's the book about? Where can I get a copy?"

Then, in a short digression of thought, he said, "I get people like that all the time. They get their picture made, tell me they are writing a book and will send me a copy. It has happen numerous times. I have never seen a book yet."

He took the book, looked closely at the back flyleaf, and began fumbling through the book. It was a poignant moment. I could sense the pride he felt in the book. It was as if he had discovered something about himself that no one else could understand.

"Its about strange people and unusual stories," I said. "He wandered over 25,000 miles around the Great Plains collecting stories." And then I added, "Funny, though. He told no stories of Tucumcari. Wonder why he wanted his picture made here?"

It's difficult for me to describe the next few minutes. In the corner of my eye, I could see my wife standing outside with a copy of USA Today laying on the hood of the car. It was a sunny day, and she was reading the entertainment section. But I could sense her impatience. This was not where she wanted to be. She wanted to be on the road to Sante Fe, and to her I was wasting the day. But, I knew the moment was important. There was something about Crocker I liked. His smile. His enthusiasm. A sense of purpose and history.

"There are plenty of stories to tell about Tucumcari," he said. Then he took me over to the front window and showed me a photograph made earlier in this century.

"This is what it looked like from this window before the interstate. Many famous persons passed this way. The center of attraction was the Elk Drug Store. Harvey Firestone and Thomas Edison would come through every year and stop. Once, when he was in the Elk Drugstore, Thomas Edison found an old phonograph with his picture on it. He laughed and said to the owner, "He's not as young as he use to be, is he?"

"Would you mind," I asked, "if I tape record some answers to some questions I have?"

"Sure, go ahead," he said. Then he proceeded with the true story of Tucumcari.


THE TRUE STORY OF TUCUMCARI

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"This Tucumcari Mountain, which is a Mesa-type mountain just beside the town of Tucumcari, was named from an earlier Indian word, Tucumcari, which meant woman's breast. You'll not hear that much because it may be offensive to certain groups in the United States. Early Indians lived here and dealt with the Gringo outlaws that came through here. Commancherios robbed the stage coaches. Coronado camped out here in the 1600s. At the courthouse is a beautiful mural of Coronado. Its very impressive. You need to go see it."

Then, he became reflective. I could sense him reliving some sacred moments in his own life. He looked westward toward the old Elk drugstore as he talked.

"The old Elk Drugstore was owned by Herman Moncus, a dear friend of mine. He got his pharmacy degree by mail order. Every morning, he had a show on the local radio station. It was a 10 minute show, and he would reiterate what had gone on the day before.

He collected artifacts, and if someone would bring him something old, he would hang it up on the wall and talk about it on the radio. The store was 150 feet long and 25-30 feet wide. It was so full of the things he had collected that there was no room to hang anything.

Now, all that's left is on display at the local museum, all except that he sold. He thought he was going to get $50,000 for it, but he only got $5,000. It was very disappointing to him."

Then he gave an unusual twist to the legend of Tucumcari, explaining the history behind the story.

"All the old timers and chamber of commerce people would come around and sit at the drugstore. They decided they would build an Indian Village on the top of Tucumcari Mountain out of old tepees. They made the tepees and stretched rawhide around them; then they went up and salted the area with old arrowheads. It was really done as an effort to attract tourists.

You could see those tepees for 40 miles away on that mountain. They figured that they would have to have a legend to go along with it, so they sat there and concocted that thing (the Legend of Tucumcari) one morning.

Each person would contribute a little bit, and they would laugh. "Reckon anyone will believe that?"

And Herman would say, "If you write it down, they'll believe it." And they wrote it down, and it became fact. This story, as kooky as it is, is the one that lasted. That's it."

"You mean, the story of the legend of Tucumcari is not true?" I said unbelievably.

"Just one big lie," he said, and then he began to laugh.

Realizing my death was imminent if I didn't get out of there soon, I thanked him for his time, asked him to autograph Great Plains, and took his picture with a cheap camera.

As I was leaving, he asked again, "What was the name of the book?" I told him and wrote down the name of the publisher for him.

I was way behind schedule. I didn't dare mention to Janet that I wanted to stop and see a mural of Coronado, or that I wanted to visit a local museum to see the artifacts from the Elk Drug Store.

From time to time, I would hint at the conversation that took place. There was little interest. Mostly I listened as she told me what was in the entertainment section of USA Today.

Later, in some of the tourist information I had collected, I found a local brochure about the Tucumcari Museum that read:

"This memorabilia was originally housed in the Elk Drug store which opened in 1905 and closed in 1968. Overflowing with (Herman) Moncus' extensive collection of artifacts and relics; estimated at 36,000 hanging from the ceiling.

In the museum are Indian artifacts in the cowboy room, a 1900 telephone switchboard, early Tucumcari sheriff's office, western school room, early day post office, items used by the medical profession in the early part of this century, ration books, confederate money, an authentic still, a restored fire truck and caboose, and a roulette table. In 1990 there were visitors from all 50 states and 12 foreign countries. Admission. $2.00."

One thing was left out of the brochure. It did not say, "It was at the Elk Drug Store that the tale of Tucumcari was first concocted."

I left Tucumcari reluctantly. For some reason, I felt very much a part of the city. I had been in a notable hailstorm, had eaten breakfast with a man who thought I was his long lost brother, and had enjoyed talking to a local photographer.

I could still hear Edison and Moncus talking. And I thought for a moment about how I had surfaced here to learn more about Ian Frazier.

And indeed, I had learned a few things about Frazier: when he had his picture taken he was in a hurry, if he promised to send you a book it would never arrive, and he often missed the best stories because he was in such a rush.

That night I looked up Tucumcari in Great Plains. It was not listed in the index. The only mention of Tucumcari was on page 123. "Whenever I stopped for gas, I always asked the name of the local high-school team. I never found a person working in a gas station, convenience store, or truck stop who didn't know," said Frazier. And seven lines later, after a list of cities and the names of their football teams, he added this line; " Tucumcari, New Mexico, the Rattlers."

Before drifting off to sleep, I began to laugh. "They made the tepees and stretched rawhide around them. They salted the area with old arrowheads. You could see those tepees for 40 miles away. That kooky story is the one that lasted."

And briefly, before sleep arrived, I could hear the faint voice from a local radio station. "This is Herman Moncus at the Elk Drug Store beginning our morning program." And just before dreamland begin, I heard Moncus' laughing and saying to his morning buddies," "Write it down, they'll believe it!"

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Send any comments about The Photographer and your own experiences in Tucumcari via E-mail Dan Kenneth Phillips

To Chapter 2: The Outlaw and the Politician (Las Vegas, New Mexico )

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Dan K. Phillips
109 Breckenridge Road
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Phone: 615-790-7129

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1. Preface (Four Corners )

Includes photographs of Four Corners and the background of why Dan wrote this book.

2. The Photographer - (Tucumcari, N.M.)

Dan goes to Tucumcari, New Mexico, to visit the photographer who took Ian Frazier's picture for the the book Great Plains

3. An Outlaw and a Politician - (Las Vegas, N.M.)

He travels to the Teddy Roosevelt Rough Rider Museum to visit the "smartest lady in the world."

4. The Blues Brothers - (Las Vegas, Nevada )

Who would have guessed that riding an airplane-dressed as Shumu the whale-, would take him to the mysterious rhealm of multi-millionaire Howard Hughes.

5. Mysterious Adventures With Mark Twain - (Reno. Nevada )

Read some weird stories of a bunch of "wild consultants" who spend a week in Nevada exploring!

6. The Poet - (San Francisco, CA. )

This story describes his first visit to San Francisco to celebrate a wedding anniversary. He discovers the "ghost" of Jack Kerouac and hits several other literary high spots while here.

7. The Distant Listener - (Cape Cod, MA. )

Visiting Cape Cod,he discovers Henry Beston and Gugliemo Marconi. This leads to a history lesson on the beginning of radio listening and a unique baker (Ollie Ross) known to have picked up every radio station in the world. Was Ollie Ross for real?

8. Hermit of the Essex Coast - ((Jekyll Island, Georgia )

Jekyll Island is a special place for Dan. Study the billionaires who inhabited this island every winter. Listen to their stories of richness and pettiness.

9. A Writer and A Preacher - (Savannah, Georgia )

Did you know that the sign indicating where Flannery O'Connor was born is really a lie? And did you know John Wesley once fell in love here and caused a major disturbance because of this love affair. If you have read The Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, you need to read The Writer and the Preacher to capture even more weird tales of Savannah.

10. Patti's - The Best Restaurant in the World (Grand Rivers, KY.)

This is Dan's favorite eating place in all the world. Read this story and discover how a pot-bellied pig named Calvin Swine became the symbol of great American cooking.

LETTERS FROM READERS:

I just read your interesting story of Tucumcari and I have a story about Tucumcari too. Three years ago we were on our way from NY to New Mexico to look for a new home. We were misplaced Texans living in upstate NY and wanted to get back to the west, but shuddered at the thought of moving back to the Texas heat. I'm an artist and we had made many trips to Taos and Santa Fe in previous years, and were in hopes of finding a new place to live somewhere in Northern New Mexico.

The trip was long and tedious with an angry sixteen year old who would rather being doing anything besides traveling with us, especially with the knowledge that she would have to start a new school in her junior year of high school.

Like you, right outside of Tucumcari, we encountered a hellacious storm, which we now refer to as our "tornado experience". Traveling on I-40 west, we saw it miles and miles before w! e were actually IN it. We had no idea of its intensity, or we would have pulled over several miles back and waited it out. The sky was blue everywhere except for this one dark cloud which appeared to wrap itself down in a swirling motion toward earth, where it flattened out and ran for a distance in a straight line of darkness. It looked harmless enough and we didn't think about it at all until we were suddenly in the midst of what seemed to be the tornado from hell.

As we got closer, we saw cattle running away from it, and as we drove into it, all hell broke loose. We suddenly found ourselves being hit by wind and hail that can only be described as one might describe walking nude through a drive-through car wash that had added crushed ice to the mix. As terror filled my heart, my husband suddenly reached for me, pushing me down and screamed for us to "DUCK"....right then, all the side windows of the Isuzu Rodeo blew out, spitting glass mi! xed with hail all over us, battering us as he continued to drive....there was no place to pull over by this time, as the entire stretch of shoulder was full of cars that had already pulled over and the underpass was full as well. I grabbed the Atlas and put it across my face for protection, but meanwhile, the glass and hail were pounding and cutting my arms and hands, my fingers stinging from the constant onslaught of debris. My daughter was more protected in the back, because she had brought along her pillow and was able to use it to cover herself. Several eighteen wheelers were stopped in a line at one point, and I begged my husband to stop and use one of them as a wind-break, but he was determined to drive out of this thing, so he continued on as best he could, with the motion of the car only adding to the impact and force of the glass and ice that were hitting me. The car was starting to feel like it was about to become airborne at several points ! and I was hyperventilating and praying out loud at the same time. I've never been through anything like this in my life and hope never to repeat it. Finally, the barrage of hail and glass lightened and we could see the sun as the hail and wind turned into a light rain, which eventually became just another sunny day with a dark cloud behind it......it was so weird. At the first truck stop we came to, we stopped to try and clean up, check my wounds and settle our nerves. The first thing I heard upon entering the truck stop, was someone on a pay phone calling 911 to report some eighteen wheelers that had turned over in the storm a few miles back. Needless to say, I was grateful that my husband didn't take me up on using one for a wind-break! From the truck stop, we hobbled into Tucumcari and stopped at the beautiful (ha ha) Aruba, which you mentioned so 'fondly' in your article. It was closed because it was Sunday(!), but the owner let ! us have a room anyway, seeing the condition we were in and the condition the car was in. My hair was full of glass, my shoes were full of glass, my shirt was full of glass....you get the picture. I was afraid to move. But I gingerly got out of the car, removed my shoes and walked barefoot into the room, which at the time looked like the most beautiful place I had ever seen in my life because it was DRY. In addtion to all the glass and blood, I was soaked from head to toe from the rain, and I was freezing. Welcome to New Mexico, I thought.

After examining our wounds and finding that we would probably live, my husband began unpacking some things from the car, when a man appeared to be walking our way with a piece of paper in his hand. The man approached us and handed my husband a menu. He was an immigrant from Pakistan, I believe and had rented the restaurant at the Aruba and was full of hope for his little place. He had been tra! ined at the finest cooking schools in New York and Europe and was a chef of the highest esteem...and he was stuck here in Tucumcari because it was the only place on the face of the earth where he could find a restaurant to rent that he could afford. The menu offered Prime Rib, Duck L'Orange, and all kinds of gourmet fare that escapes me now, but I was amazed to see such things on a menu in a place like that. He promised us a wonderful dinner if we just would show up...which we did, about an hour later. He called himself Chef Joe....the 'Ch' being pronounced like the 'Ch' in Chief....CHef Joe. As we entered, we were the only people there and he greeted us as the maitre'd would in a fancy French restaurant in the best part of New York City....with elegance. We were seated at a table and he disappeared into the kitchen, returning to the table with a towel draped ceremoniosly over his arm, a bowl of lemons arranged artistically on ice in one h! and and a tray in the other hand. On the tray were stemmed crystal glasses filled with water. He called me "Madam". He again disappeared into the kitchen and returned the next time in his role as waiter. He graciously took our orders, then went back to the kitchen, where he put on his chef's hat...we could see him through the double doors as he changed outfits to fit the occasion. he prepared our meal, removed the chef hat, returned to the waiter outfit, and served us a meal which was not only delicious but came with a Tucumcari price tag of about $4.95 or something close to that...for an exquisite dinner. We were still the only customers. All this changing of outfits was hilarious, like something John Belushi or Chevy Chase might have pulled on one of the early Saturday Night Live shows. He practically begged us to return for breakfast the next morning, but we'd had just about enough of Tucumcari and Eastern New Mexico by the ! next morning and we quietly snuck away seemingly undetected. I wonder if he's still there....somehow I doubt it, but he really was trying to make a go of it, and you have to admire a person like that. On our trip back to New Mexico with our trailers and dogs and cats we said a quiet prayer as we neared Amarillo, hoping to be able to creep across the border without fanfare, which we were able to do. So much for Tucumcari tonight! Suzi Druley Edgewood, NM Clear Spirit - The Art of Suzi Gibson Druley

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