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The Journey to Zion

The following is an excerpt from Weston Memories, which was edited and published by B. Nelson in 1996.

"The Journey to Zion - Tracing the route taken by Rasmus Nielsen and Christian Olsen"

Note: this information was gathered using the steps shown on the Tracing Mormon Pioneers web page.

The following is a tracing of the path of Rasmus Nielsen and Christian Olsen from Denmark to Salt Lake City using first hand accounts and other contemporary sources.

During 1858 the Saints in Utah were under occupation by the United States Army under the command of Johnston. This and other events suspended the emigration of European saints who had a desire to come to Zion. The situation proved to be a temporary one and Brigham Young announced the lifting of the emigration ban to Elder Asa Calkin, president of the European mission on October 21, 1858.

Urge on the emigration as far as you have the power. Wherein the Saints are not able to came all the way through, let them come to the States, and then make their way through as soon as they can.1

The British LDS church periodical, The Millennial Star on January 1, 1859 restated the lifting of the ban and provided some instruction concerning the pending migration later that year.2

We are pleased to be able at length to say to the Saints that emigration is again opened for all those who have means at their command to gather to Zion. As we have before said, no one will receive any help whatever from the P.E. [Perpetual Emigration] Fund. The deliverance of the Saints depends entirely upon themselves, and we hope that those who have the means will go, and that those who can assist their brethren will stretch forth a helping hand. There will be an opportunity for all to go with handcarts this season, as usual, who cannot raise the amount necessary to procure a team.

In the Spring of 1859 saints from various branches of the Church in Scandinavia gathered at Copehagen, Denmark. It was here that a roster of persons leaving for Zion was taken. It listed names, number in party, ages, and how much money they had on their person. The roster had stated that Rasmus was travelling alone and that he was 28.3 His future wife, Hansine Nielsen was already in America having arrived in 1857. It should also be stated that Christian Olsen and his future wife Annie Ellingsen were also part of this Scandinavian group. It was probably during this time that a life-long friendship began for Rasmus and Christian.

Rasmus travelled with a large group of fellow Scandinavian Saints. The breakdown of the group was as follows: 224 Danes, 113 Swedes, and 18 Norwegians, for a total of 355 from the Scandinavian Mission.4

This Scandinavian group boarded the steamer L.N. Hvedt April 1, 1859 in Copehagen under the direction of Elders Carl Widerborg and Niels Wihelmsen.5 They traveled for five days on very stormy seas over the North Sea and arrived at Grimsby, England on April 6. After arriving the group continued their exodus by train to Liverpool, England where they joined fellow British and Swiss members and went on board the William Tapscott on April 7, 1859. Elder Robert F. Neslen was made President of this group of saints, and Henry H. Harris and George Rowley served as counselors. Neslen had been sent to England as a missionary and was made available to lead this group of saints to Salt Lake City.6

On April 11, 1859 the William Tapscott7 set sail for New York in the United States of America.8 The cost of the voyage from England to America cost five British pounds.9

Speaking of the departure and the voyage Fanny Fry, a passenger on the ship said:

After we got out in the sea, the people began to be seasick. I do not think there ten escaped and I was one of the favored ones. I was not sick an half hour all the voyage through. We had a very pleasant trip. We had dancing and music every evening, with a very few exceptions. Our regular meetings were held, and we had a splendid party on the captain’s birthday.

A shark followed the ship for three days. That was quite a sight for a landsman. We had one slight storm lasting only six hours, just strong enough to rock nicely. I remember Jimmie Bond, that is what we called him, for he was such a jolly fellow. His wife was lying sick in her berth; he was kneeling at an unlashed trunk when the ship began to rock. It pushed him under the berth and back again in quick succession and he singing all the while, “Here we go, there we go again,” and the trunk following him each time. It was quite laughable to those looking on, but not, I suppose, for Jimmie.10

Writing about the voyage, the company leader, Robert Neslen wrote the following report to European mission President, Asa Calkin concerning the trip across the ocean upon arriving in New York.11


New York, May 13, 1859

President Asa Calkin.

Dear Brother, After a very pleasant and prosperous voyage of 31 days, we are happy to take the earliest opportunity, according to promise, of report ourselves as having arrived safe, sound, and right side up, “with care.” As brevity has never been a motto with me, and realizing that “words written are written,” I will now proceed to give you an outline of our progress since paring with you in the river Mersey.

After we had gone through the process of Government inspection, clearing, &c., I proceeded, in connection with my Counsellors to organize the company into ten wards, five English, and five Scandinavian, appointing a President over each to see to the faithful observance of cleanliness, good order, &c. This being done, and all ready for sea, we found ourselves necessarily detained, in consequence of head wind, until Monday the 11 ult., when the anchor was weighed at 4 a.m., and every heart rejoiced in bidding adieu to Babylon and setting forth to the land of Zion. The joyous songs of Zion [Fanny Fry reported that the group sang, “Babylon, Oh Babylon, We Bid Thee Farewell.”] echoed through the ship; and as we got into the channel, the chorus followed, of course, in good sea-sick style, in which nearly all joined to their heart’s content.

The voyage throughout was by far the most pleasant and agreeable that I have ever realized, during the whole of the five times I have crossed these waters, owing to the very pleasant weather and the exceeding good order, general good feeling, and harmony which prevailed throughout the entire voyage.

The health of the passengers was excellent. This can be realized from the fact that we had but one death—an old sister from Sweden, named Inger Olesen Hagg, aged 61, and who had been afflicted for upwards of five years previous to her embarkation. This was counterbalanced by two births—namely, sister Higson, from Leigh [England], of a son; and sister France, from Hindley [England], of a daughter: mothers and children doing well.

In the matrimonial department we did exceeding well, as we had nineteen marriages, five couples of which were English, one Swiss, and thirteen Scandinavian,—all of which were solemnized by myself.

During the whole of the voyage, from the day of our organization, we had the people called together for prayer every morning and evening at eight o’clock, which was faithfully attended to by the Saints. On Sundays, three meetings were held on deck, and fellowship meeting in each ward two nights a week, which was a good preventive against grumbling, as it kept the minds of the people actively engaged in the better things of the kingdom.

The monotony of the voyage was also enlivened with singing, instrumental music, dancing, games, &c; in which, as a matter of course, the junior portion took a prominent part, while the more sedate enjoyed themselves in seeing and hearing the happifying recreations.

I certainly felt it quite a task in being appointed to take charge of a company composed of people from so many countries, speaking nine difference languages, and having different manners, customs, and peculiarities, and thrown together under such close circumstances; but through the faithfulness and diligence of the Saints, which were universally manifested, I soon found the load far easier than I had anticipated; and on our arrival here, we were pronounced, by doctors and Government officers, to be the best disciplined and most agreeable company that ever arrived at this port.

We are now lying at anchor, ready for landing at the Castle Gardens, to-morrow morning at an early hour; and we expect to start by the Central Railroad on Monday for the West; and as I shall have to write to you again before leaving here, I will close for the present, with warmest love to yourself and Counsellors, and all in the Office, in which my brethren, Elders Harris, Rowley, and Bond, join.

Yours truly,

The William Tapscott was built in Bath, Maine in 1852

Upon the arrival of the William Tapscott in New York harbor on May 13 a list of the ship’s passengers was taken and Rasmus Nielsen was listed as a immigrant from Denmark heading for Utah with an occupation of laborer and being 28 years old. Christian Olsen and his wife Annie were also listed. Christian was listed as a farmer by occupation and that he was 34 years old.12

The ship arrived at Castle Garden on May 14, 1859 and the group exited the ship looking like a bunch of drunkards.13 They had been on the sea for over a month and had yet to get their land legs back. Later that evening the group continued their journey by steamboat on the Isaac Newton14 up the Hudson River to Albany, New York. Once there they traveled by rail to Niagara.

Writing about going to Niagara, Fanny Fry records15 the view and the reaction:

The conductor stopped the train and let us all have a good look at the Niagara Falls. I have never forgotten the grandeur of the scenery. At every depot of any size there would be a crowd of people waiting to see the company of poor deluded Mormons going to Utah. The young girls oh how they did pity us, going there to enter into polygamy. They would express great sorrow for us.

From Niagara they continued by rail to Windsor, Ontario, Canada; Detroit, Michigan; Quincy, Illinois, and to St. Joseph, Missouri where they arrived May 21, 1859.16 That afternoon they all boarded the steamboat the St. Mary, which brought them to Florence, Nebraska on May 25.17 The route taken to get to Florence was unique in that no other group prior to them had taken the same route.

Writing about the journey to Florence, Johanne Mourtisen said:

On railroads and steamboats we traveled with very poor accommodations. Sometimes in cattle cars and on boats with no place to sit nor make beds, so standing was our only pleasure.18

Upon his arrival in Florence, Rasmus went about finding his future bride, Hansine Nielsen. It must have been a great reunion having been away from each for about two years. Pooling their meager resources they prepared for the overland journey. Prior to departing Florence, Rasmus and Hansine were married on June 12, 1859.19 Rasmus and Hansine may have travelled in different pioneer companies.20

On 26 June, 1859 a group of Saints composing of about 380 persons was headed by Robert F. Neslen, who had already led the Saints across the ocean, began their journey westward to Salt Lake City.21 They were about 1000 miles away and would require several weeks of travelling before reaching Salt Lake. Rasmus walked most of the way suffering bouts of rheumatism along the way.22

Upon their arrival at Fort Laramie, Robert Neslen sent the following message22 to Brigham Young:

FORT LARAMIE, Aug. 6, ‘59

Enclosed you will receive the report sheet of the European Independent Company, which I have forwarded from the first convenient point.

We are travelling at a slow rate, owing to the largeness of our company and the lameness of our cattle, which arises from the fouls of foot evil. This will necessarily cause our provisions to run short, but I hope we will be able to arrive near by before we need supplies. I will travel as fast as possible to obviate this difficulty, but should we need assistance, I will inform you by letter or express.

Our accidents have been slight and few, with one exception, which was a stampede of ten teams, resulting in the death of one man instantaneously and breaking the leg of one and wounding five others; but I am happy in stating that the injured are recovering. We have no other sickness in our camp.

Praying the Lord to bless you I remain yours,


Along with this message a roster of saints showed Rasmus Nielsen and his friend, Christian Olsen as members of the company.24

Echoing some of the same information previously related Johanne Mourtisen recorded the following concerning the journey across the plains.

Several in this company died on the road, among them was P.A. Fjeldstad and a baby belonging to N.P. Larsen, the elder from Pleasant Grove who baptized me into the Church. These two were buried in the same grave.

Upon another occasion misfortune overcame us. I well remember as we were yoking up the cattle, some being already hitched and carelessly some of the company were lying in the shade of the wagons, when a wild cow was put into the yoke began to bellow. This frightened five teams and they ran away, killing J.C. Madsen and more or less wounding several others. One of the company, who several accused of being the cause of the contention, went down to the Platte River to drown himself but said he was not able find sufficient water. He was found sitting on the bank contemplating when people came to his rescue.26

James Kirkham was a boy of nine years old when he and his family traveled with the Neslen company. Later in life he recorded his thoughts concerning the travel across the plains in his journal. His expereinces were recorded in a four volume journal covering his life. Here are a few excerpts from volume one.

We traveled by steamer and rail 2000 miles until we reached Florence May 25th 1859. Here we lived for some time (waiting for the arrival of our cattle and wagon) in an old lumber cabin and when it rained it never failed to come through the roof. I spent many happy hours while we live here gathering strawberries and fishing in the river nearby we used to sport on the green grass and roam among the wild flowers.

At last everything was in readiness for our journey across the plains a distance of a thousand miles. Our company was composed of Saints with 60 wagons. Each wagon was drawn by to yoke of oxen besides some cows. Besides our captain we had a chaplain and some night herders my father used to stand guard in his turn around the camp and the cattle. Some times our chaplain (James Bond) would call the camp to prayers and if they did not attend he would stand on an wagon and sneer at the people.

On our journey we had many difficulties to put up with and narrow escapes. At one time we were surrounded by a prairie fire but escaped without injury. We also had a stampede and some 20 people were injured. One man was killed and one woman very badly. One day we encountered a great herd of buffalo which stopped our train for some time and several were killed for meat for the company.

We also came in contact with many tribes of Indians and in order that we might travel in peace with them we had to feed them and sometimes give them presents. While journeying on our way we had to wade many streams sometimes rivers and while walking barefoot in the hot sands I got my feet badly burnt.26

Arriving on September 15, 1859 at the Salt Lake Valley27 was probably a great relief to Rasmus. He had be traveling for several months now with only a short rest prior to leaving Florence. Coming through Emigration Canyon Rasmus and his company were met and led to Emigration Square.

James Kirkham describes this event as follows:

...we arrived all well in the valleys of the Great Salt Lake and camp on what then known then as Emigration Square. The day was beautiful and the sun shone in all his splendor. Our train was led into the city by two wheel covered cart drawn by one small white ox. The animal was covered with garlands of wild flowers and on the sides of the vehicle was this motto in large letters “Hail Columbia this beats the Hand Carts”. After our arrival hundreds of people came to our camp to seek for friends and presented us with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.28

Another account of the arrival of the Neslen company to Salt Lake City was recorded in the weekly newspaper, the Deseret News.29

Arrivals from the Plains

Captain R.F. Neslen’s company of European Saints, arrived in this city, on the 15th instant, all well and in good condition. The company consisted of 56 wagons and about 400 souls, mostly from Scandinavia. They left Florence, June 26, and have enjoyed good health generally all the way. There were six deaths and three births. They lost 24 head of cattle from disease and lameness, a small number comparatively, as the mortality among cattle on the plains during the latter part of the season has been great.

Much credit is due to Capt. Neslen for the energy and ability which he has displayed in bringing so large a company of people so comfortably across the plains especially considering the many difficulties to be surmounted in conducting the immigration of Saints from so many different nations, speaking difference languages, and having different peculiarities and national characteristics.

After staying in Salt Lake for an unknown period Rasmus and his wife, Hansine settled in Bountiful for a time and then the call came to go help settle Richmond, Utah. After a brief stay in Richmond, Rasmus was called to settle a new town, Weston, Idaho.30


Although not mentioned directly in this article it is worth noting that Rasmus Nielsen’s first wife Hansine left Liverpool, England on May 30, 1857 and arrived at Philadelphia on July 3, 1857.31 On the LDS roster of the ship Tuscarora it stated that Hansine came with her parents Anna and Niels Nielsen, and a young boy by the name of Niels Jensen, who according to Mabel Pratt’s history was a nephew to Hansine. An unexpected find in conjunction with the aforementioned entries was that Rasmus Nielsen’s parents Niels and Anna Hansen were listed just before Hansine and her family. Apparently they were travelling with Hansine’s family.

Very little has been written about the voyage of the Tuscarora and the subsequent trip to the Midwest, so it is difficult to learn of the route taken by the group during their travels in America. Hansine and her family probably stayed in Iowa and/or Nebraska while awaiting the arrival of Rasmus Nielsen from Denmark.

About a year after their arrival to America Rasmus Nielsen’s parents died in 1858 while in Iowa. The nature of their deaths remains a mystery.

Notes and Bibliography

1. “They Came in 1859”, Our Pioneer Heritage compiled by Kate B. Carter, volume 3 (Salt Lake City: Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, 1959) p. 26.

2. See Our Pioneer Heritage vol. 3 p. 27 and The Millenial Star, January 1, 1859 LDS Microfilm 1402730.

3. Emigration from the Scandinavian Mission (Spring 1859), LDS microfilm 25696, p. 75.

4. Emigration from the Scandinavian Mission (Spring 1859), LDS microfilm 25696. At the end of the roster on page 75 it listed nationality by number.

5. Conway B. Sonne, Ships, Saints, and Mariners: A Maritime Encylopedia of Mormon Migration 1830-1890 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1983) p. 130. The picture of the L.N. Hvidt is on page 130. Sonne said this about the L.N. Hvidt:

On April 1 1859, a company of 355 Scandinavian Saints in the charge of Elders Carl Widerbord and Niels Wilhelmsen sailed from Copenhagen aboard the L.N. Hvidt. After a very rough North Sea passage the steamer arrived safely at Grismby on 6 April. These Scandinavians with other British and Swiss emigrants embarked on 11 April for America aboard the ship William Tapscott.

Screw steamship: 328 tons: 171’ x 23’ x 11’

Built: 1857 James Henderson & Son at Renfrew, Scotland. The L.N. Hvidt was an iron steamship with three masts and one funnel. She was owned by the General Danish Screw Steamship Co. of Copenhagen. In 1889 after more than four decades of service, she was sold to Norwegian owners.

6. The information for this entire paragraph came from the following sources:

See “They Came in 1859”, Our Pioneer Heritage vol. 3 p. 27.

Conway B. Sonne, Saints on the Seas: A Maritime History of Mormon Migration 1830-1890 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1983), p. 41.

7. Conway B. Sonne, Ships, Saints, and Mariners: A Maritime Encylopedia of Mormon Migration 1830-1890 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1983) pp. 198-199.

The picture of the William Tapscott included in this article was found on page 199.

Sonne wrote the following about the William Tapscott.

Ship: 1525 tons: 195’ x 41’ x 21’

Built: 1852 by William Drommond at Bath, Maine

In three voyages the square-rigger William Tapscott transported 2262 Mormon emigrants—the greatest number of any sailing craft. Captain James B. Bell was the master during these passages. This first began at Liverpool on 11 April 1859. Under the presidency of Elder Robert F. Neslen and his counselors, Henry H. Harris and George Rowley, the 725 Saints were organized into five English and Swiss wards occupying one side of the ship and five Scandinavian wards the other side.

The William Tapscott was one of the largest full-rigged ships built in Maine during the 1850s. She was a typical “Down Easter”—sturdy, moneymaking, moderately sparred, and designed for carrying capacity. She was a three-decker with a square stern and billethead. Among her owners, including her namesake, were such well-known mariners as William Drummond, Gilbert C. Trufant, and George B. Cornish. She hailed from New York. After plying the oceans for about forty years the William Tapscott was lost in the English Channel in the early 1890s.

8. The Millennial Star, No. 25, Volume XXI, Saturday, June 18, 1859, p. 400. LDS microfilm 1402730.

LeRoy R. Hafen, Ann W. Hafen, Handcarts to Zion: The Story of an Unique Western Migration 1856-1860 (Glendale, California: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1960), pp. 166-167.

See Sonne, Saints on the Seas, p. 152.

See Sonne, Ship, Saints, and Mariners, p. 198.

See “They Came in 1859”, Our Pioneer Heritage vol. 3 p. 27, 31, 33, 45.

9. Emigration from the Scandinavian Mission (Spring 1859), p. 75, LDS microfilm 25696. The quote from passage account states that the

Scandinavian passengers including Railway fare charged from Pt [port] Grimsby to this port [Liverpool].

280 Adults @ £5.0.0 £1400.0.0

54 Children @ £4.0.0 £216.0.0

19 Infants @ 10p £ 9.10.0

10. Fanny Fry Simons (Journal), Our Pioneer Heritage, compiled by the Lesson Committee vol. 6 (Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1983) p. 188.

11. The Millennial Star, No. 25, Volume XXI, Saturday, June 18, 1859, pp. 400-401. LDS microfilm 1402730. One section from this letter was left out from the article. It talked about a note sent to the ship’s master thanking him for a great journey.

12. Passengers Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York 1820-1897 Roll 191. The National Archives.

The passenger list of the William Tapscott. LDS microfilm 75547.

To see an LDS roster of the William Tapscott see Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints European Mission, Emigration Records 1859. LDS microfilm 25691, page 118 (Rasmus Nielsen) and page 123 (Christian Olsen).

Another reference to being passengers on the William Tapscott can be found in the European Emigration Index LDS microfilm 298434, which has the following entries for Rasmus Nielsen and Christian Olsen.


1859: Apr. 11 -- Sailed on ship “William Tapscott”
(p. 14)


1859: Apr. 11 -- Sailed on ship “William Tapscott”
(p. 18)

13. See Fanny Fry Simons (Journal), p. 188

14. The Millennial Star, No. 25, Volume XXI, Saturday, June 25, 1859, p. 407 LDS microfilm 1402730. The article states that its information was taken from the New York Herald, May 15, 1859.

See Sonne, Saints on the Seas, p. 111

Conway B. Sonne, Ships, Saints, and Mariners, p. 108-109. This reference describes the Isaac Newton:

Side-wheel paddle steamboat:
1332 tons: 321’ x 40’ x 11’

Built: 1846 by Isaac Newton at New York City, New York.

In the mid nineteenth century hundreds of steam packets operated on the Hudson River. Among the largest and best known was the Isaac Newton of New York.

Named for her builder, the Isaac Newton was built of wood and had one deck, a round tuck, and a billet head. She had cylinders 8.5 feet in diameter with a 12-foot stroke that drove paddle wheels that were 39 feet high, having a surface dip that gave the craft a speed of about 20 miles per hour. She was owned by the New Jersey Steamboat Company. Her service ended on 5 December 1863 when she exploded and burned at Fort Washington, New York, with a loss of nine lives.

15. See Fanny Fry Simons (Journal), p. 190

16. See “They Came in 1859”, Our Pioneer Heritage vol. 3 p. 31.

17. See “They Came in 1859”, Our Pioneer Heritage vol. 3 p. 31.

See Sonne, Saints on the Seas, p. 111.

See Sonne, Ship, Saints, and Mariners, p. 175.

Sonne wrote this for the entry for the St. Mary:

>Side-wheel paddle steamboat: 295 tons:
204’ x 34’ x 4’

Built: 1855 at St. Louis, Missouri

After the Mormon emigrants from the ship William Tapscott landed at New York City on 15 May 1859, their journey westward followed a route no other company had taken. They traveled up the Hudson River to Albany and went on to Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and then crossed over to Detroit. From there the emigrants took a train to St. Joseph, Missouri, where they boarded the steamboat St. Mary on 21 May on 21 May. Four days later they arrived at Florence, Nebraska. The St. Mary was skippered by Captain M. Morrison and owned by J.M. Cabbell of Keokuk, Iowa. This steamboat, which hailed out of Keokuk, was built with wood with a cabin on her one deck and a plain head. In September of that year [1859] the vessel was snagged above St. Joseph and lost.

18. The Mourits Mouritsen Family: A Record of His Posterity and His Ancestors, compiled and edited by Carrie Mouritsen Jones and Jerald Olean Seelos, privately published, p. 426. LDS Call Number 929.273 M866j, LDS microfilm 1035592.

19. Mabel Pratt, History of Hansine Nielsen Nielsen. Photocopy in possession of the editor.

20. It was once thought that Rasmus and his new bride had travelled separately, but there is no direct evidence to support this theory.

21. See “They Came in 1859”, Our Pioneer Heritage vol. 3 pp. 31, 45.

22. History of Hansine Nielsen Nielsen by Mabel Pratt.

23. The Deseret News, August 24, 1859, No. 25, vol. IX, p. 197. LDS microfilm 26588.

24. The Deseret News, August 24, 1859, p. 197.

See also Andrew Jenson, Journal History entry for June 12, 1859. LDS microfilm 1259745.

Utah Emigration Index LDS Microfilm 298442 has the following entries for Rasmus Nielsen and Christian Olsen

NIELSON, Rasmus Ch. Em.
Crossed Atlantic on ship Wm. Tapscott.
Member of Capt. Robert F. Neslin’s ox train company.

“ Ann

Members of Capt. Robert F. Nelsins ox train company which arrived in G.S.L. City Sept. 15, 1859 (J.H. [Journal History] June 12, 1859, p. 5).

25. See The Mourits Mouritsen Family, p. 426

26. E. Kay Kirkham, George (Wm.) Kirkham: His Ancestors and Descendants to the Third Generation, (Provo: J. Grant Stevenson), pp. 66-67. LDS microfilm 924481, item 2.

See also the original journal entries made by James Kirkham on LDS microfilm 1225.

27. The Deseret News, September 21, 1859, No. 29, vol. IX. LDS microfilm 26588.

See also Andrew Jenson, Journal History entry for June 12, 1859. LDS microfilm 1259745. An in-line entry next to the article states: “Arrived in G.S.L. City Sept. 15, 1859”.

28. See Kirkham in George (Wm.) Kirkham p. 67.

29. The Deseret News, September 21, 1859, No. 29, vol. IX. LDS microfilm 26588.

30. Lars Fredrickson. “History of Part of Franklin County (Weston Idaho)” p. 1. A copy was obtained from the International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers in Salt Lake City.

Used by permission. From the website:     Weston Memories Page

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