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Author Topic: Old photographs = dead children
snopes
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Comment: I recently heard a rumor that would be interesting to research.
It seems that Cracker Barrel restaurants have old photographs
(reproductions) on the wall of rural settings and families with children.
Someone told me that the photos of children are actually photos of
deceased children. If you look at them, the eyes of the children have a
creepy look about them. The idea explained to me was that photos in that
age were expensive and hard to get, especially in rural areas where
incomes were not so high. A family would not go to the trouble and
expense of getting a photo of their child unless the child had died of
sickness etc. and was about to be buried. The family would dress the
child up, pose him or her and get the photo before burial.

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Soprych
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My dh would be surprised to find out he is deceased. There is an old family photo of his mother, brothers and himself. The photo has that eerie eye quality that long exposure causes. It is definately an old rural photo, so old that dh is wearing an infant boys dress! He is 68 and very much alive.

Alean

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steelfox
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I don't know about the photos of at Cracker Barrel...coz I've never been there...but death photographs are real and were popular.
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NocturnalGoddess- naughty or nice?
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It may be true of some of them, but they would have had have gotten there, most likely, by accident. The Victorians did do this, however, it wasn't the only time any children had their photos taken, and they were kept within families. Photography, in it's earlier days, was sort-of a neat toy for the rich (much like the first cars), so, most likely, the pictures were taken by rich people playing with their newfangled do-dad.

I could probably dig up a cite for all this, but most of my knowledge comes from my highschool photography classes.

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Sylvanz
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Yes, though I've never been to a Cracker Barrel, about 8 years ago there was an entire museum room dedicated to those photos at Michigan State University. I tried to find some examples that made it look like the dead person (most often a child or baby) was asleep, but oddly I couldn't find many of them on-line. Here is a link with some examples: Death photos.
When my middle son and I went to the MSU museum for a field trip it took us a few min. to realize what we were looking at. It sort of made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Then it made me very sad.

P&LL, Syl

Edit: Aha! Here are some more representative of what my son and I saw at MSU. More death photos

Syl

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Jason Threadslayer
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People still take death photos, like this one.

What's so weird about it?

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SchmooPie
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Firstly, I don't think that the management of Cracker Barrel knows or cares what the story behind each piece of decoration in their restaurants is. It simply adds to the ambiance.

Secondly, I know for a fact that my Mother has several of these types of photos of her parents' kin (which would date to 1890-1910). I was kind of creeped out when I first learned what they are but have since learned that it was a relatively common thing.

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Horse Chestnut
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Just my opinion, but while death photos were popular in the 19th century, I believe the "creepy look" you see in the eyes of the children is a result of fear or trepidation.

Photography was expensive, and the exposure times were long back then. Also the smiling faces seen in today's snapshots was not the style. I imagine many of the children in the photos were threatened with dire consequences if they fidgited or acted up while the photo was being taken, which would have lead to a blurred photo and paying for a second shot.

That explains the glassy stares you see on many of the faces - adults and children - in the old photos. Everyone was doing his or her best to stay perfectly still.

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Andrew of Ware, England
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Death pictures date back a long time. The Duke of Monmouth led an unsuccessful rebellion and was defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685. (The last pitched battle on English soil, by the way.)

Monmouth was beheaded, but once dead they realised that they did not have a portrait of him. He may have been a bastard-born son of Charles II and a traitor, but even so a portrait was required.

Thus they paid a tailor to stitch his head back on, they dressed him and propped him in a chair. The resulting portrait can now be seen in the National Portrait Gallery in London. (You can't see the join, by the way.)

(Please, please, don't anyone say that this is an UL - if it is I'll cry.)

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Dogwater
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FWIW, 'Death Photos' are part of the plot in the movie "The Others"

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Gale
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They're called memento mori which is also the title of the short story the movie "Memento" is based on.
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qualli
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Yeah! A topic I know about. As a collecter of post mortem photographs I can assure you they are very real, but it's usualy rather easy to tell if a subject in a photograph is dead, because it will (usually) be in an unnatural pose due to stiffness, laid out on a bed or sofa, have it's eyes shut or painted over (very creepy), or be holding/ photographed with some symbol of death.

The "creepy eye" look shows up in most photgraphs pre-1900, in children and adults, not because of death, but because of the picture process.

And here's an extra tidbit, some momento mori are not of the deceased at all. If you find a picture of a subject holding what looks to be a picture or a little case, chances are she's holding the photo of a dead person she wants to memoralize. Pictures of the flower arrangements, with a photo of the deceased in the middle were also popular.

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Casey, making hot chocolate
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I can understand the idea behind a death photo easily enough. It's the only photo many of these people would have had, but my problem comes in this.

When my grandfather died, my aunt was at the funeral, and kept taking pictures of the mourners, Grandpa in the box, the flowers, all of it. It just struck me as so tasteless (especially when she told me to smile- I don't think the Look of Death, and two upraised middle fingers, was what she wanted) to make me think that she should have asked.

Times change. Blessedly.

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Buzzkiller
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Ugh...my in-laws have been known to take photos of the dear departed. I've joked before that they have more photos of dead people and food than of live people.
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LittleDuck
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After seeing the movie "The Others", my SO got very interested in memento mori and thus we now have several. Death Pics
I'm not fond of them myself. I find them too creepy. BTW, they're photos of the photos so the quality of some isn't as good as I would have liked with a scanner (no scanner hooked to this computer).

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WonkoTheSane
Happy Holly Days


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This still goes on. I know it's part of the grieving process for some, and my heat certainly goes out to the bereaved parents, but sometimes I cannot help but think how disturbing and, well, creepy it seems.

*DISTURBING IMAGE WARNING*This is a guy who will retouch pictures of your dead infant to remove the blotchiness and other traumas associated with stillbirth. Your new retouched photo is suitable for showing around to friends and family (and even more disturbing to look at than the originals, IMO).

I once saw a site where a couple knew they were having a stillbirth, so decided to deliver at home. They kept the infant's body overnight in their bed, and took full family pictures and so on, with all the family members (including the other children) holding the baby, etc. It was sad, and frankly distressing.

The whole thing makes me wonder about the extent people will go to grieve in their own way. Even to the extent of uploading photos of their dead babies with sayings like "Some souls are so special, heaven can't wait."

Wonko

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lionswims
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quote:
Originally posted by Little_Duck:
After seeing the movie "The Others", my SO got very interested in memento mori and thus we now have several. Death Pics
I'm not fond of them myself. I find them too creepy. BTW, they're photos of the photos so the quality of some isn't as good as I would have liked with a scanner (no scanner hooked to this computer).

The picture of the child whose eyes are painted is very creepy. The eyes almost look real.
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Angel With Wax Wings
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People still take pictures of death today, I know that's true. Just look at sites like Rotten.Com. I know those pictures are nasty and horrific but there's something about death that mystifies us. Although I don't think I would be able to pose with a dead child or family member. That would just be too weird.

~Monica

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Sullen Moon
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Personally, while taking pictures of the deceased in coffins is weird, it doesn't bother me as much as proping them up in a chair or lying down on a couch. I think it's the idea of trying to pass off a dead person as being alive... *shiver*

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BlueByrd
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quote:
Originally posted by WonkoTheSane:
*DISTURBING IMAGE WARNING*This is a guy who will retouch pictures of your dead infant to remove the blotchiness and other traumas associated with stillbirth. Your new retouched photo is suitable for showing around to friends and family (and even more disturbing to look at than the originals, IMO).

I once saw a site where a couple knew they were having a stillbirth, so decided to deliver at home. They kept the infant's body overnight in their bed, and took full family pictures and so on, with all the family members (including the other children) holding the baby, etc. It was sad, and frankly distressing.

The whole thing makes me wonder about the extent people will go to grieve in their own way. Even to the extent of uploading photos of their dead babies with sayings like "Some souls are so special, heaven can't wait."

Wonko

I KNOW we had a whole thread about the stillborn-babies-fitted-with-Photoshopped-wings somewhere along either the Photo or the Glurge Gallery. Shall try and chow if I can find the time.

Ditto on the family pictures, I remember a mention of that one in a thread about a high-profile pCm, I think. Don't recall which one, though.

Blue "Bit fuzzy, been a long day" Byrd

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Loyhargil
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Hmm, I actually have two very close friends who lost their baby girls at birth because of birth defects. Both of them had photos taken of their children before they were interned.

One lost her daughter about 10 years ago. At the time, when she showed me the photos, I was pretty creeped out. She photographed her daughter alone, not being held or anything. I actually had nightmares about it. It was her form of grieving, naturally, but it was a bit overwhelming.

Years later, after I had my own miscarriage and later a healthy baby girl, another friend lost her child to a birth defect. She posed with her husband, her toddler daughter, and the child she just lost. For some reason, seeing the entire family together for the only time, seeing the grief through the gentle smiles on their faces, made the little girl seem more natural in the photo. When you understand that the baby is not alive, it's still pretty harsh, but for some reason seeing all of them having their only real moment together commemorated makes it more ... I don't want to say acceptable, but gives it more gravity and realism somehow.

For what it's worth.

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Joe Joe Joey Junior Shabadoo
I'll Be Home for After Christmas Sales


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quote:
Originally posted by Jason Threadslayer:
People still take death photos, like this one.

What's so weird about it?

I think it's more the context than anything else; the picture of the pope isn't weird and doesn't send shivers b/c I know he's dead.

what can be weird about the Victorian death photos of children is the slow realization the child is dead. They look so peacful, and then it's like, "oh."

for me, it's the same feeling as walking into an old house or catherdal or something; I get a sense of history, and profound feeling that other people have lived and died here

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Joe Joe Joey Junior Shabadoo
I'll Be Home for After Christmas Sales


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quote:
Originally posted by Andrew of Ware, England:
Death pictures date back a long time. The Duke of Monmouth led an unsuccessful rebellion and was defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685. (The last pitched battle on English soil, by the way.)

Monmouth was beheaded, but once dead they realised that they did not have a portrait of him. He may have been a bastard-born son of Charles II and a traitor, but even so a portrait was required.

Thus they paid a tailor to stitch his head back on, they dressed him and propped him in a chair. The resulting portrait can now be seen in the National Portrait Gallery in London. (You can't see the join, by the way.)

(Please, please, don't anyone say that this is an UL - if it is I'll cry.)

When I first heard this story, I vaugly wondered if it was UL; it sounded so surreal.

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Seaboe Muffinchucker
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Here's one discussion of the Monmouth issue.

Unfortunately, the little bit about it in this discussion makes it clear there is no definitive information. [Frown]

Seaboe

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ConsummateYat
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Is taking pictures at the funeral a regional thing? When my grandfather was buried, my dad's best friend (from rural Oklahoma) asked why no one had brought cameras.
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KBz
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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quote:
Originally posted by Little_Duck:
After seeing the movie "The Others", my SO got very interested in memento mori and thus we now have several. Death Pics
I'm not fond of them myself. I find them too creepy. BTW, they're photos of the photos so the quality of some isn't as good as I would have liked with a scanner (no scanner hooked to this computer).

There's nothing to suggest that this child is, in fact, dead at the time this photograph was taken - only that she had died and was buried in the family plot. (I say this because the baby appears to have a double chin and gravity seems to be at play. Also, this chin looks soft and fleshy, and if dead, the flesh would be taught.)

Is it possible that photographers of the day just simply painted/drawn in eyes in instances where the subject had their eyes closed?

...and even if the eyes weren't closed, photographers often (still today) define the eyes for better effect.

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KBz
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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quote:
Originally posted by ConsummateYat:
Is taking pictures at the funeral a regional thing? When my grandfather was buried, my dad's best friend (from rural Oklahoma) asked why no one had brought cameras.

In preparation for my baby daughter's funeral 21yrs ago, my sister-in-law suggested we take a camera - I'd never heard that before! She said it was for us so we'd remember the day. The day was quite a blurr. And, although I later put the pics in my daughter's photo album, they never really interested me.
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Lizzy
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Here is a site with a bunch of postmortem photos from the victorian era:

http://thanatos.net/galleries/categories.php?cat_id=1

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vampyrviolia
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there's that guy that uses corpses in his photos. What's his name? I always forget his name.

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Horse Chestnut
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Off-topic, but these pictures reminded me of this story. About 10 years ago some young men were remodeling a victorian home in Columbus and found the skeletal remains of a baby, wrapped in newspapers and hidden up in the rafters in the attic. The newspapers were dated sometime in the early 1900s.

The Columbus Dispatch actually did an interview with the director of the Ohio Historical Society, asking him why he thought the infant body was hidden in the attic. He actually had the nerve to say - despite a museum full of black crepe armbands, memento moris funeral jewelry, mourning weeds, and yes, death photos of children - that the death of a child was considered shameful back in Victorian times, and that is why this body was hidden.

Of course, anyone with even a little knowledge of the late 1800-early 1900 knows that it was not Death that was considered shameful, but Birth - that is if the child was born out of wedlock. But apparently the museum director did not want to state in print that our good midwestern ancestors might have been capable of infanticide. (Especially since public records showed what family had owned the house at the time the body was placed in the attic).

Maybe taking pictures of dead children is creepy, but some people can come up with even creepier things to do to dead babies.

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happyholidaysfrog
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quote:
Originally posted by Horse Chestnut:
Off-topic, but these pictures reminded me of this story. About 10 years ago some young men were remodeling a victorian home in Columbus and found the skeletal remains of a baby, wrapped in newspapers and hidden up in the rafters in the attic. The newspapers were dated sometime in the early 1900s.

The Columbus Dispatch actually did an interview with the director of the Ohio Historical Society, asking him why he thought the infant body was hidden in the attic. He actually had the nerve to say - despite a museum full of black crepe armbands, memento moris funeral jewelry, mourning weeds, and yes, death photos of children - that the death of a child was considered shameful back in Victorian times, and that is why this body was hidden.

Of course, anyone with even a little knowledge of the late 1800-early 1900 knows that it was not Death that was considered shameful, but Birth - that is if the child was born out of wedlock. But apparently the museum director did not want to state in print that our good midwestern ancestors might have been capable of infanticide. (Especially since public records showed what family had owned the house at the time the body was placed in the attic).

Maybe taking pictures of dead children is creepy, but some people can come up with even creepier things to do to dead babies.

In the town I live in in central Indiana there was a similar discovery in little room that had been boarded off. Several comic books found in there dated from the 1950's. The skeletal remains of an infant and several comic books, along with some towels and a teacup and saucer with the remains of the tea. From the evidence they therorized that a teenage mother had given birth alone, then left the child.

Thats insanity that anyone would say that death was shameful in victorian times.

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LittleDuck
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quote:
Originally posted by KBz:
quote:
Originally posted by Little_Duck:
After seeing the movie "The Others", my SO got very interested in memento mori and thus we now have several. Death Pics
I'm not fond of them myself. I find them too creepy. BTW, they're photos of the photos so the quality of some isn't as good as I would have liked with a scanner (no scanner hooked to this computer).

There's nothing to suggest that this child is, in fact, dead at the time this photograph was taken - only that she had died and was buried in the family plot. (I say this because the baby appears to have a double chin and gravity seems to be at play. Also, this chin looks soft and fleshy, and if dead, the flesh would be taught.)

Is it possible that photographers of the day just simply painted/drawn in eyes in instances where the subject had their eyes closed?

...and even if the eyes weren't closed, photographers often (still today) define the eyes for better effect.

You can clearly tell that the eyes are painted/drawn on when you tilt the pic a little. I can't prove the baby was dead when the pic was taken as I was never the original owner of the pic and all. It was purchased as a memento mori, though.

It is the one I hate the most too...

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"Silly customer, you cannot hurt a Twinkie." -Apu (The Simpsons)

Posts: 2026 | From: 10 miles South of Boston | Registered: Oct 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
bethntim
Deck the Malls


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quote:
Originally posted by Casey:
I can understand the idea behind a death photo easily enough. It's the only photo many of these people would have had, but my problem comes in this.

When my grandfather died, my aunt was at the funeral, and kept taking pictures of the mourners, Grandpa in the box, the flowers, all of it. It just struck me as so tasteless (especially when she told me to smile- I don't think the Look of Death, and two upraised middle fingers, was what she wanted) to make me think that she should have asked.

Times change. Blessedly.

My aunt did the same thing when my great aunt died. She was getting EXTREME close-ups of my aunt and all the flowers and all the mourners. My mom asked why she was taking pics of her now and didn't bother to when she was alive. My mom was furious and left.

Now on the other hand if I had a child that was stillborn I would definitely take a pic, I probably wouldn't be holding the child I would make it tasteful and wrapped in swaddling simply because I would have no pictures of the child otherwise. I have plenty of pics of my children while they are alive and kicking I don't need postmortem ones. I can understand the Victorian Eras reasons for photographing but if you love somebody enough to take pics of them while they are dead, take pics of them while they are alive, don't wait until it is too late.

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Take only pictures, leave only footprints...

Posts: 255 | From: Sunny Florida | Registered: Nov 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
TrishDaDish
Let There Be PCs on Earth


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quote:
there's that guy that uses corpses in his photos. What's his name? I always forget his name.
That's gonna drive me nuts. Because I remember us having a thread on him, with a link to his bizarre black and white pictures. I recall a short, naked woman with no arms (there were sticks or wires in place of arms) with her mouth open in a scream and a look of panic on her face, running from a goat. There was another one by the same guy of a dog and his guts were food, like a cornucopia. Friggin' bizarre crap.

quote:
I KNOW we had a whole thread about the stillborn-babies-fitted-with-Photoshopped-wings somewhere along either the Photo or the Glurge Gallery.
Ding dang, I remember that too - there was a woman in a hospital bed with family around, with this giant, psychotic smile on her face, and she's holding a baby smaller than the palm of her hand in her hand. I can't remember where we discussed that, either.

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I would prefer not to.
My blog

Posts: 4789 | From: Rhode Island | Registered: Feb 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
thadeus
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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Joel Peter Witkin.

Does the pictures of corpses and hermaphrodites and stuff.

He's awesome.

quote:
there's that guy that uses corpses in his photos. What's his name? I always forget his name.


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Posts: 42 | From: Texas | Registered: Dec 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
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