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This page presents information about the Yarborough Hotel fire on July 3, 1928. The information was compiled by Mike Legeros. This page was last updated July 13, 2017.
Raleigh's renowned Yarborough Hotel was located on the east side of the 300 block of Fayetteville Street and opposite the Wake County Courthouse. Opened in 1852, it accommodated both transient and permanent guests. In the 1850s, notes historian Elizabeth Reid Murray, the dining room was popular for both guests and local residents.
The hotel was designed by John Wyatt Cosby, son of noted architect Dabney Cosby. His father was the builder of the Yarborough, and also built portions of the Insane Asylum and the "deaf, dumb, and blind" school. Notes Murray, the hotel was built with separate accommodations for women. They had their own entrance and social rooms.
There was even a regular news column in the Register, in 1850, announcing "arrivals at the hotels." Local owners were invited to submit their guest lists, for inclusion in the newspaper.
The Yarborough served for decades as the social and political center of the city. Political leaders conducted many meetings there, as they discussed legislation before votes were cast."More laws have been passed in the Yarborough than in the Capitol building," was the popular saying.
After the Civil War, the Governor relocated to the hotel, as General Sherman had camped at the Governor's Palace, and thus rendered the building unfit for decent habitation. It was burned to the ground. The Yarborough served as the Governor's residence until a new home was built in 1891.
This also solidified the hotel's reputation as the most exclusive place to stay, eat, or socialize. Guests of the hotel over the decades include Presidents Johnson, Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson. And the hotel's fame was felt throughout both the state and the southeast.
The three-story story building was expanded over the years and decades. By 1914, the building measured approximately 46,500 square-feet. Businesses also occupied space on the ground floor. In 1928, they were:
The hotel was named after Edward Yarbrough, one of four stockholders of the company formed for the purpose of erecting the building. About 1870, the spelling was changed to Yarboro after the hotel was remodeled and enlarged. By 1883, the spelling was changed to Yarborough.
How many hotels were there in Raleigh, during those decades? The 1883 city directory listed five: Central Hotel, Exchange Hotel, Howell House, Tucker House, Yarborough House. Just two are listed in the 1901 directory: Park Hotel and Yarborough House, though they refer readers to also see "boarding houses." The 1919-20 directory lists seven: Belmont Hotel, Bland Hotel, Giersch's Hotel, Hotel Raleigh, Hotel Wright, Koonce Hotel, and Yarborough House.
More hotels continued to open, including the swanky Hotel Sir Walter, which opened in 1924 and drew patrons and popularity away from the Yarborough.
How many guests did the Yarborough accommodate? On the day of the fire, some eighty were registered, according to newspaper reports. How large was the staff? To be determined.
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In 1928, the Raleigh Fire Department protected 6.9 square miles and a population approaching 37,000 people. They had five fire stations, located at:
The Fire Chief was W. Ernest Holland. The department had some 56 members. Their budget that fiscal year was $92,507. They answered 558 fire calls in the calendar year 1928.
July 3, 1928 - Raleigh Times
Yarborough Hotel Burns
Mrs. Powell and Children Rescued As Flames Spread; Loss Estimated $200,000
Ancient and Historic Hostelry Destroyed In Fire Starting At 1:30 Tuesday Afternoon
FLAMES DREW MANY THOUSANDS
Fire Starting in Elevator Shaft Rapidly Spreads Across Roof and Gets Beyond Control of Firemen, Who Do Brilliant Work At Risk of Their Lives
The Yarborough Hotel [missing] 75 years a landmark in Raleigh and probably the best known hotel in North Carolina, was almost completely destroyed by fire, which broke out in the ancient hostelry about 1:30 oclock Tuesday afternoon. The lost was estimated at $200,000.
SAVES THREE LIVES
Mrs. R. C. Powell, wife of the manager of the Yarborough, and her two children, ages six weeks and six years, were saved from possible deaths when firemen removed them from the third floor of the building as the flames and smoke commenced pouring into the room they occupied.
HOW IT STARTED
Fire started in the pit of the elevator shaft, which was said to have been several inches deep in [missing ] flash [missing] [Remainder of article missing]
July 3, 1928 - Raleigh Times
SCENES AT SPECTACULAR HOTEL FIRE
Pictures by Braden, Engraving by Stearns
This picture taken from a nearby building shows smoke and flame breaking through the roof of the Yarborough Hotel shortly after the blaze got out of control. The hotel had been burning less than half an hour when this picture was made Tuesday afternoon.
The Yarborough Hotel fire drew thousands to the vicinity early Tuesday afternoon. Part of the crowd is shown in this picture with the doomed and smoking hotel building in the background.
July 3, 1928 - Raleigh Times
General Cox And Others Save Records Of Legion
Legionnaires Work Heroically At Hotel Fire
At First Alarm, Commander Cox Left Law Office and Sped to Burning Yarborough Hotel
Timely work on the part of General Albert L. Cox, State Commander of the American Legion, assisted by numerous other Legionnaires, saved the records of the Legion from being consumed in the flames that ate their way through the Yarborough Hotel Tuesday afternoon. State headquarters of the Legion was in the Yarborough."
At the first alarm, Commander Cox left his law office in the Raleigh Building and Loan Companys building and sped toward the Yarborough. His junior law partner A. L. Barrington, Jr., was with him.
Firemen, General Cox said, told the Commander not to worry as they would soon have the fire out. But the fire laddies were mistaken.
When the flames began to lick their way toward the Legion headquarters, Commander Cox, who had been joined [continued on second page, need to obtain]
July 3, 1928 - Raleigh Times
Harry Hartsell Narrowly Escapes Death In Flames
Unaware that his wife and child had got safely out of the hotel, Harry Hartsell had a narrow escape from injury in the fire when he rushed through the smoke and flame trying to stanch the burning building for them. His clothes were badly torn and he was suffering from the effects of the smoke and shock.
The four and a half year old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Hartsell was watching the fire from the court-house across the street while her father and mother were searching frantically for her, fearful that she might have been trapped somewhere in the building.
July 3, 1928 - Raleigh Times
YARBOROUGH A POLITICAL CENTER FOR 75 YEARS
Many Campaigns For Public Office Steered From Hotel
Historic Old Structure Has Been Known Over North State For Almost Century
The old Yarborough House, burned today, had held a prominent place in the political and social life of North Carolina for nearly a century. The building was about 73 years old.
Since before the War Between The States it had been a meeting place for legislators, governors and administrative heads. More laws have been passed in the Yarborough than in the Capitol building, it was frequently said."
The builder and first owner of the Yarborough was Dabney Cosby, a contractor, who built the original section with a stucco front. He also built portions of the old Deaf, Dumb and Blind institution and of the State Hospital for the Insane.
Since Cosby there has been a long succession of proprietors and leases, among them:
The famous Dr. George Blacknail, who when the Yarborough was the center of the political life of the State, made the house famous by conferring commissions of Colonel."
R. Beverly Raney, afterwards Raleigh capitalist and benefactor, builder of the Olivia Raney Library, Raleigh."
Gus Cooke, now proprietor of the Davis Hotel at Beaufort."
B. H. Griffin, recently of Bland and Griffin."
Long a Social Center
For a long time the Yarborough was the social center of the capital and of the State. In the days before central heating plants the elite of the commonwealth gathered around the huge fireplace in the lobby. The brilliance of the receptions held there and the beauty of its ball room were celebrated."
But it was for its part in the political history of the State that the house became famous. It was the stomping ground on which were fought out and devised innumerable political feuds, plots and campaigns. Planters from Eastern Carolina met their brethren from the west there and discussed States rights, abolition, reconstruction, and the fusionist movement."
Legislators met in its rooms and counted their votes before going to the Capitol to officially pass a bill. Beneath its roof laws were discussed before they [were] presented to the General Assembly."
July 4, 1928 - Raleigh Times
Firemen Use 750,000 Gallons Of Water In Fight On Hotel Fire
All Pumping Equipment Primed And Ready and Special Crew From Water Department Serves As Emergency Firemen At Raney Home
Approximately 750,000 gallons of water from Swift Creek were poured onto the fire at the Yarborough Hotel Tuesday afternoon, all of the electrical pumps at the city water station on Fayetteville road pumping steadily for four hours and fifteen minutes and the boilers being fire ready to start the steam equipment if necessary."
Two men from the Carolina Power and Light Company were sent to the Pumping Station to be ready to lend aid if anything should happen to the electrical pumps during the time of the fire."
While a flume is being inserted in Lake Raleigh, the new auxiliary plant at Rands Mill has been put into service. Pumps at that station on Swift Creek had already pumped more than a sufficient supply for the use of Raleigh during the day and to take care of the fire, into the two reservoirs at the Pumping Station. Since the new clear water basin has been built and the old one has been done over, there are nearly five million gallons stored in these two reservoirs at the Pumping Station."
Superintendent Ernest Bain was at the post at the office of the water department on Morgan Street, ready to try to meet any emergency that might arise during the fire. When the alarm of the Raney home came in at the fire station across the street he started to investigate and sent R. L. Crocker, of his department, to try to summon help from the scene of the Yarborough, where all of the fire equipment was being used. In the meantime, however, finding there was an extra supply of hose left at the fire house, he dispatched A. C. Goodman, foreman of the water department, who had just come in from Lake Raleigh with his crew of workmen to the Raney house to fight the fire."
When Mr. Goodman and his men arrived, some one had already turned a garden hose on the fire, retarding its spread until the larger stream of water could be thrown on the flames."
Did Good Work
Having had former experience as a fireman, Mr. Goodman attacked the fire with the knowledge of fire fighting and by the time the fire truck arrived from the Yarborough fire, the blaze had been extinguished."
That man ought to be promoted to a high position in the fire department, was the comment of one bystander who had watched the work of Mr. Goodman and his assistant emergency firemen, and who was unaware that he was watching an experienced fire fighter at work."
July 4, 1928 - Raleigh Times
Yarborough Hotel, Gutted By Fire, Will Not Be Restored
The Yarborough Hotel, destroyed by fire here Tuesday afternoon, will not be rebuilt and owners of the property are considering tearing down the wrecked building with a view of putting up a number of modern structures on the historic site, it was reported Wednesday."
Firemen were still throwing water on smoking embers in the ancient hostelry Wednesday and indications were that the flames would not be wholly extinguished until later in the day. Around a dozen firemen were on duty all night long and most of them were kept busy throwing smoldering mattresses and other bedding out of the gutted structure."
Mass Scorched Debris
Wednesday the Yarborough, which had a glorious history as a hostelry, was a mass of scorched and charred debris. The lobby, once the gathering place of governors, congressmen, and legislators, not to mention the [missing] of lobbyists, who have buttonholed the lawmakers there at diverse times, was gutted beyond repair, it seemed. The massive pillars were burnt and blackened by the flames that raged in the lobby and on the mezzanine floor Tuesday afternoon."
About the only section of the hotel to escape serious damage was the southeast wing, where the most of the damage occurred from water. There were a number of rooms that escaped serious damage."
Proprietors of Hudson-Belk Company, the States Shirt Shops, Gus Russos and Brother, James H. Farley, and Berwanger's, stores that were located on the ground floor of the Yarborough building, were busy Wednesday checking up on the damages done [to] their establishments. Of the five, Berwangers seemed to suffer less loss than any of the others.
The States Shirt Shops, it seemed, was the biggest loser. Most of the loss in each place was cased by water pouring down from the hotel rooms above.
The Yarborough building and property on which it is located is owned by the Grimes Realty Company, executor of the Grimes estate. Shareholders are W. B. Grimes, of Raleigh; Mrs. F. B. Dancy, of Baltimore, MD.; Mrs. John Ward, W.G. Haywood, and F. J. Haywood, of Concord.
No Estimate of Loss
Mr. Grimes has not yet made an estimate of the loss or the value of the building, but it was reported Wednesday that he valued the hotel building at about $200,000. The furniture, which belong to the Griffin-Bland Hotel Company, was insured for $42,500, which amount will cover the loss of the furniture and fixtures, it was said. The hotel was leased by the Griffin-Bland Company and was sub-leased by that company to W. F. Somers, who also operates a hotel at Columbus, GA. R.C. Powell manager of the hostelry.
Townspeople Wednesday were still profuse with their praise for their local firemen, who, assisted by Durham and Smithfield fire fighters, worked like Trojans in keeping the fire from spreading to adjoining buildings. The Smithfield firemen came to Raleigh to help without be asked to do so. The Johnston County fire laddies heard over the radio that the Yarborough was a-fire and they lit out for Raleigh.
Mayor E. E. Culbreath Wednesday had nothing but praise for the firemen. He was especially grateful for the help rendered by Durham and Smithfield. The mayor was also loud in his praise of the work of Sherwood Brockwell, State Fire Engineer and former chief of the Raleigh fire department; Lonnie Lumsden, ex-fire chief, and Professor C. B. Park of State College, who directed the fighting of the fire.
Mr. Lumsden was overcome by smoke during the fire and had to retire from the scene. He was better Wednesday and announced he was ready to assist in fighting fire again if necessary. Slight injuries were sustained by a number of local firemen, most of whom Wednesday were suffering from inflamed eyes as the result of staying in too much smoke.
Mrs. R. C. Powell and her two small children, who were rescued by firemen from the third floor of the burning building, were reported better on Wednesday. They are suffering from nervous shock as the result of being trapped for a time on the verge of a raging inferno.
Many Stories Told
While the management of the hotel and operators of business concerns on the first floor took stock of the damage done by fire, smoke, and water, tales were being told of humorous and near tragic incidents which were observed as the blaze ran its course.
One spectator narrated with relish how a pretty waitress of the Yarborough Coffee Shop, while the fire and consequent confusion were at their height, was excitedly searching in the throng of hundreds of customers who had left at the alarm of fire without paying his check. It is not recorded that she located her quarry.
Fireman Finds Booze
A volunteer fireman, who ran through the building to rouse any sleeping guests, broke into one room to find it unoccupied, he said, except for a gallon demijohn of whiskey. He confessed that a lack of nerve prevented him from making a rescue in this case.
Then there was a story of the shoe drummer who had four trunks filled with samples. In answer to his pleadings, two of the trunks were slid down an improvised ramp to the sidewalk, and the other two were in fair way of being saved the same, but he became impatient as volumes of smoke whirled around him, and threw the contents of the two trunks out of the window by hand.
Sherwood Brockwell singled out Fireman Herman Honeycutt for praise. Fireman Honeycutt was the fireman most of the crowd saw and marveled at. Perched on top of a perpendicular ladder, Honeycutt directed a steady stream of water on the top of the building, thus causing it to percolate down through the burning structure and slow up the fire sufficiently to let other fire get [unfinished]
Guests at Hotel
Those registered at the Yarborough, paractically all of whom lost their personal effects, were:
Fred J. Ammons, E. S. Askew, R. C. Brown, L. M. Badham, D. H. Breman and wife, P. A. Bloom, W. I. Berryhill, H. R. Bazemore, J. D. Bruce, H. T. Bare, C. E. Broom and wife, E. H. Blick, Mrs. R. W. Banknite, E. B. Caldwell and son, Mrs. T. Carroll, J. E. Creech, K. J. Campbell, J. K. Dixon, H.K. Dell, P. B. Denton, R. A. Doughton, J. F. Diggs, J. O. Evans, Luther Edwards, A. B. Fairley, J. C. Friedman, Addiline Goldstein, Edna Garland, J. W. Gils."
G. N. Howard, Harry Hartsell and family, Dr. M. C. Horton, R. A. Hollingsworth, T. C. Hyman, James P. Holston, R. Hinnant, J. Holeman, C. M. Jones,. W. R. Jackson, L. Jenkins, C. S. Kines, G. W. Lord, Roscoe R. Marks, S. E. Mancure, Charles J. Moore, Santford Martin, G. E. Manning, J. C. McDonald, Paul D. McLeod, G. G. McPenny, J. R. Nelson, H. N. Pugh, Major Wade H. Phillips, L. K. Pond, J. W. Peebles, Mrs. H. E. Stacey and daughter, P. D. Peterson, A. Z. Price, Miss L. Sevelle, C. D. Slocumb, F. E. Synder, Scarborough, G. A. Woodbury, G. E. Womble and wife, W. A. Wynne, F. S. Worthy, F. S. Yount, J. B. Yarborough, and O. F. Yount."
R. A. Doughton, who had rooms at the hotel, is State Revenue Commissioner. Santford Martin is editor of the Winston-Salem Journal. Major Wade Phillips is director of the State Department of Conservation and Revenue.
July 4, 1928 - Raleigh Times
Pumped Water For Fire
[Picture of[ New Auxiliary Water Plant at Rands Mill on Swift Creek, which is being used during work at Lake Raleigh, furnished water for Yarborough House fire.
July 4, 1928 - Raleigh Times
Information Bureau Opened By Yarborough
An office for information and mail has been opened by the management of the Yarborough Hotel in the Sir Walter Hotel building, R. C. Powell, manager of the burned hotel, announced Wednesday morning."
Mr. Powell, who is also State Adjutant for the American Legion, stated that the headquarters for the State Department of the Legion will also be in the Sir Walter. Information may be had over the telephone by calling 9244.
July 4, 1928 - Raleigh Times
Mrs. Powell and Children Rescued As Flames Spread; Loss Estimated At $300,00
[ Story continued from page one, though no matching story is found on the first page of that days newspaper ]
after she had broken the wire screen at the window and was preparing to leap to the portico below. She had sought to escape from the hotel by the stairs, but a heavy volume of smoke drove her back to her room after she gained the hallway."
The firemen lowered the baby to safety as Mrs. Powell handed it to outstretched hands, and then in turn lowered the other child and Mrs. Powell to Mr. Powell, who was standing at the foot of the ladder."
Among the guests who lost all his personal effects except the clothing he wore was J. W. Peebles, deputy sheriff. He was out in the country and returned to the city to see the hotel in flames.
In addition to the hotel at the risk of flames, other business places in the path of the flames and exposed to the vast amount of water, were Berwangers Clothing Store, Gus Russos hat cleaning establishment, the United Shirt Shop, James H. Farley, and part of the Hudson-Belk Store. It was impossible to tell the nature of the damage to the places on the ground floor, but Assistant Chief Smith was concentrating his efforts to prevent the downward sweep of the flames to the lower part of the hotel and also the adjoining structures."
How Fire Started
The fire was first discovered in the basement at the foot of the elevator and flames spread quickly to an adjoining stock room under the lobby of the first floor and thence up the elevator shaft to the attic just underneath the roof. Here, the flames scattered over the entire space of the roof, pouring out volumes of black smoke as the heavy pine timbers began to burn."
An employee and Manager R. C. Powell of the hotel at first confined his efforts to check a small blaze by a fire extinguisher, and on second notice he decided to call the fire department. About this time city employees in the auditorium next door took notice of the dense smoke coming from the basement and summoned the entire fire-fighting force of the city."
Fire trucks reached the scene in quick order and Assistant Chief Smith directed all available hose laid while he inspected the burning part of the hotel to ascertain where the heart of the fire existed."
The presence of guests at the windows momentarily halted the laying of hose and the work of the firemen was directed toward the saving of the women and men appearing at the windows on the front of the building. Many of the guests were able to use the fire escapes on the rear of the building and thus saved most of their belongings. Those in the front part of the hotel were glad to escape with their lives and jumped on ladders without hats, coats, or other personal effects."
Occurring at the midday meal hour, the fire came when a large number of patrons were in the coffee shop. Several smelled no odor of smoke and were not told of the fire until shortly before the arrival of the trucks."
The Rainey Fire
Slightly before 3 oclock, while the Yarborough Hotel fire was raging, an alarm called the fire truck to the handsome residence of Mrs. R. B. Raney, at the eastern end of Hillsboro Street, adjoining Capital Square."
Prompt action perhaps saved considerable damage as firemen were able to immediately get this fire under control. Removing a section of weather-boarding at the rear, just over the back porch, a stream of water promptly extinguished the flames and the firemen made quick work of this fire."
According to the opinion of several spectators, who were early on the scene, defective wiring or a short circuit in the switch box was responsible for the fire. The damage from the fire is slight although quite a large amount of water, perhaps unnecessary under the circumstances, is perhaps responsible for damage to furnishings on the interior of the house."
This is the second time the Raney home has been damaged by fire, having been remodeled and refinished about a year ago. Mrs. Raney and children sailed last Saturday from Montreal for a two month trip to Europe, and there was no one in the house, it seems, at the time of the fire."
Thousands of people were attracted to the scene of the fire and the police had much difficulty in holding the surging throngs back out of the danger zone. The crowd trooped [tripped?] over the myriad of hose lines stretched across Fayetteville Street."
One guest of the hotel, said to have been slightly inebriated condition, came out of the burning hostelry with his trousers of his multi-colored pajamas. He was asleep at the time the fire broke out."
Sherwood Brockwell, State Fire Engineering, and Prof. C. B. Park, of State College, took leading hands in directing the fight on the fire. Mr. Brockwell went into the burning structure several times and the result was that he practically lost another suit of clothes. He usually loses one every fire."
Prisoners in the Wake County jail, situated on the fourth floor of the Wake Courthouse, directly across the street from the Yarborough, had grandstand seats for the fire. Dozens of faces peered through the iron bars. Jailor G. M. Hinnant and his family got out on a ledge of the fourth floor and watched the fire."
Tears were seen in the eyes of several of the waitresses, who worked in the Yarborough Coffee Shoppe, a part of the hotel, as smoke commenced pouring out of the front door of the eating place. It meant that they are out of jobsand some of them are a far aways from home."
Never in their lives have local fireman fought as they did today. Many of them were cut and bruised in fighting the colorful blaze and some were suffering from the effects of inhaling too much smoke. None was seriously injured, however.
July 5, 1928 News & Observer
Owners Uncertain as to Hotel Site Disposition
Owners of the Yarborough Hotel, which was gutted by fire Tuesday afternoon, have not yet turned their attention to considering what future use will be made of the hotel site on Fayetteville Street. W. B. Grimes, president of the Grimes Realty Company, executor of the Grimes estate to which the site belongs, stated last night.
Asked whether the walls could be used again, Mr. Grimes said that it was his understanding that they were sound, but examination of the loss was under way yesterday, and he had not yet checked on this fact. The hotel site is a valuable piece of property in the downtown business section, and could be utilized for stores, a hotel, or office building."
Proprietors of the five stores, located on the ground floor of the hotel, were busy yesterday checking on their loss which was largely caused by smoke and water. The State Shirt Shop was believed to have been the heaviest loser, and Berwangers to have suffered the slightest damage. Other stores on the ground floor of the building were: One wing of Hudson-Belk, Gus Russos and Brothers, and James. H. Farleys."
Many comments of regret were heard yesterday at the passing of one of the citys most popular and history landmarks. It was opened to the public 76 years ago, and for several score years was the scene of the capital citys important political and social gatherings, the home of several governors, and otherwise closely identified with the life of the State. It was the old Yarborough House which first received the name of the Third House of the General Assembly. "
Headquarters for the Yarborough Hotel have been opened at the Sir Walter Hotel for the benefit of patrons, by W. F. Somers who leased and operated the hotel. Manager R. C. Powell is in charge of this office."
Headquarters of the North Carolina Department of the American Legion, which were formerly in the Yarborough Hotel, have also been set up in the Sir Walter Hotel."
July 5, 1928 - Raleigh Times
Hotel Walls Cannot Be Used Again
The Yarborough Hotel cannot be rebuilt without fireproof materials with steel or reinforced frame and under no circumstances will the present walls be allowed to stand as a part of any new building, City Building Inspector John Mangum declared Thursday."
I have not condemned the walls yet, but will do so within a few days before the present owners can determine what will be done with the site, said the inspector."
Mr. Mangum exhibited burned fingers as a result of his experiences with the flames from the roof of the burning hotel. He remained on the northern end of the roof throughout the fire after having closed fire doors of the section directly over the Hudson-Belk store. Mr. Mangum stated that fire walls and doors were placed in that section several years ago when a new portion of the hotel was added to create a new wing extending from the main part of the hotel to Wilmington Street."
It will be necessary for safety sake to tear down the entire unburned part of the hotel before any start is bade on a building to succeed the old structure, stated the inspector."
The firemen were so successful in confining the blaze to the central part of the hotel that rooms on the extreme southern and northern ends of the building can be used now after a little cleaning and new bed linen, it developed.
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Albert Barden photos, courtesy North Carolina State Archives
Durwood Barbour photo, courtesy North Carolina Collection, UNC Library
These advertisements appeared in the News & Observer and Raleigh Times, after the fire:
This graphic was created after the historic Metropolitan fire in March 2017. Screen grab from this document (PDF). Click to enlarge:
Copyright 2023 by Michael J. Legeros