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Home --> Politics --> Religion --> Washington Monument

Washington Monument

Claim:   Item cites religious references related to George Washington and the Washington Monument.

Status:   Multiple — see below.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2002]

Washington continues to Give Praise to God

On the aluminum cap atop the Washington Monument in Washington, DC are two words: Laus Deo. No one can see these words. In fact, most visitors to the monument have no idea they are even there and...for that matter...probably couldn't care less!

But there they are...5.125 inches high ... perched atop the monument to the father of our nation. The Washington Monument is 55 feet wide at the base and 555 feet tall, overlooking the 69 square miles which comprise the District of Columbia, capital of the United States of America. It is made of 36,000 stones of marble (from Maryland) and granite (from Maine) and weighs 90,000 tons. The monument sees about 800,000 visitors a year.

Laus Deo! Two seemingly insignificant, unnoticed words ... out of sight and, one might think, out of mind ... but very meaningfully placed at the highest point over what is the most powerful city in the world. And what might those two words ... composed of just four syllables and only seven letters ... mean? Very simply ... "Praise be to God!"

Though construction of this giant obelisk began in 1848 when James Polk was President of the United States, it was not until 1888 that the monument was inaugurated and opened to the public. It took twenty-five years to finally cap the memorial with the tribute Laus Deo! Praise be to God!

From atop this magnificent granite and marble structure ... a visitor can take in the beautiful panoramic view of the city with its division into four major segments. And from that vantage point one can also easily see the original plan of the designer, Pierre Charles l'Enfant ... a perfect cross imposed upon the landscape ... with the White House to the North, the Jefferson Memorial to the South, the Capitol to the East, and the Lincoln Memorial to the West. A cross ... you say?

How interesting! And ... no doubt ... intended to carry a meaning for those who bother to notice. Praise be to God! One interesting feature is the interior iron stairway with 50 landings and 897 stone steps. These donated stones come from every state in the Union, as well as Native American nations and foreign countries. While the stairwell has been closed since the 1970s, visitors can gain access to the top observation area via elevator. As one climbs the steps and pauses at the landings the memorial stones share a message. On the 12th Landing is a prayer offered by the City of Baltimore; on the 20th is a memorial presented by some Chinese Christians; on the 24th a presentation made by Sunday School children from New York and Philadelphia quoting Proverbs 10:7, Luke 18:16 and Proverbs 22:6. Praise be to God!

When the cornerstone of the Washington Monument was laid on July 4th, 1848 deposited within it were many items including the Holy Bible presented by the Bible Society. Praise be to God! Such was the discipline, the moral direction, the spiritual mood given by the founder and first President of our unique democracy .. "one nation, under God."

I am awed by Washington's prayer for America. Have you never read it? Well now is your opportunity ... read on!

"Almighty God; We make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection; that Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United states at large. And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

Laus Deo!

As you might have guessed ... I kind of like the idea that our Pledge of Allegiance includes the phrase "under God." It is clear when one studies the history of our great nation that Washington's America was one of the few countries in all the world established under the guidance, direction and banner of Almighty God, to whom was given all praise, honor and worship by the great men who formed and fashioned her pivotal foundations. And when one stops to observe the inscriptions found in public places all over our nation's capitol ... one will easily find the signature of God.

We are a nation under God!!! Laus Deo!!! Praise be to God!!!

Origins:   This item contains a good deal of information about the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., but since most of the interest in this piece seems to be about the religious references cited, we'll focus on that aspect here.
  • On the aluminum cap atop the Washington Monument in Washington, DC are two words: Laus Deo.
  • It is true that the words "Laus Deo" are inscribed on one face of the aluminum point which crowns the apex of the Washington Monument. Actually, all four sides of the point bear inscriptions, as follows:

    (NORTH FACE.)

    JOINT COMMISSION
    AT
    SETTING OF CAPSTONE.

    CHESTER A. ARTHUR.
    W. W. CORCORAN, Chairman.
    M. E. BELL.
    EDWARD CLARK.
    JOHN NEWTON.
    Act of August 2, 1876.


    (WEST FACE.)

    CORNER STONE LAID ON BED OF FOUNDATION
    JULY 4, 1848.

    FIRST STONE AT HEIGHT OF 152 FEET LAID
    AUGUST 7, 1880.

    CAPSTONE SET DECEMBER 6, 1884.


    (SOUTH FACE.)

    CHIEF ENGINEER AND ARCHITECT,
    THOS. LINCOLN CASEY,
         COLONEL, CORPS OF ENGINEERS.

    Assistants:
    GEORGE W. DAVIS,
         CAPTAIN, 14TH INFANTRY.
    BERNARD R. GREEN,
         CIVIL ENGINEER.

    Master Mechanic.
    P. H. MCLAUGHLIN.


    (EAST FACE.)

    LAUS DEO.

  • And from that vantage point one can also easily see the original plan of the designer, Pierre Charles l'Enfant ... a perfect cross imposed upon the landscape ... with the White House to the North, the Jefferson Memorial to the South, the Capitol to the East, and the Lincoln Memorial to the West. A cross ... you say?
  • As described by the National Park Service, architect Pierre Charles L'Enfant's original 1791 plan for the U.S. national capital was:
    [A] Baroque plan that features ceremonial spaces and grand radial avenues, while respecting natural contours of the land. The result was a system of intersecting diagonal avenues superimposed over a grid system. The avenues radiated from the two most significant building sites that were to be occupied by houses for Congress and the President.

    L'Enfant specified in notes accompanying the plan that these avenues were to be wide, grand, lined with trees, and situated in a manner that Washington Monument would visually connect ideal topographical sites throughout the city, where important structures, monuments, and fountains were to be erected. On paper, L'Enfant shaded and numbered 15 large open spaces at the intersections of these avenues and indicated that they would be divided among the states. He specified that each reservation would feature statues and memorials to honor worthy citizens.
    Where the north-south axis of the White House and the east-west axis of the Capitol intersect (see map), L'Enfant intended to put an equestrian statue of George Washington. The Washington Monument was later erected in place of the equestrian statue, although poor soil conditions made it necessary to construct the monument slightly out of alignment with the intersection of the axes:
    In 1848, sixty-four years after Congress had made the first proposal for a memorial to the first President, it granted a 37-acre site for it to the Washington National Monument Society. It was the same site, Reservation No. 2, on which L'Enfant had planned the [equestrian] memorial. Soil tests, however, showed the intended spot due south of the White House and due West of the Capital to be too marshy. A site about 100 yards to the southeast was chosen, thus altering both the monument's north-south alignment with the White House and its east-west alignment with the Capitol.
    (The proposed equestrian statue of Washington was not completed until 1860 and was placed near the present location of George Washington University.)

    While L'Enfant's plans did eventually create a "cross" in a literal sense, that shape was a byproduct of a symmetrical design laid out along two major north-south and east-west axes; there's no evidence that L'Enfant had any religious significance in mind. Moreover, the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials were not conceived until the 20th century, and decisions about where to locate them were not reached without some debate.

    As the Park Service notes of the Lincoln Memorial:
    Talk of a memorial began soon after Lincoln's death, but it was years before construction began. While an early design was made, there was no financial support behind it. The project stopped momentarily, but the idea did not fade away. Members of Congress kept the dream live. By February, 1911, a bill was passed establishing the Lincoln Memorial Commission. Two million dollars was set aside for the memorial. With such solid backing, the Lincoln Memorial would finally get started.

    The next critical issue facing the committee was the location for the new memorial. At one time, an idea was discussed that a memorial highway should link Washington with Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The bill, however, determined that [the memorial] would be in Washington, D.C. Many locations were discussed within the city. One suggestion was Potomac Park, newly created as a result of filling in the swampy area along the Potomac River. Although it was hard to imagine this as an ideal setting for a new memorial, some saw the potential. This Lincoln Memorial would be the perfect addition to Pierre L'Enfant's plan for the capital city, serving as the west end of the Mall, while facing the Washington Monument and the Capitol.
    Even after the completion of the Lincoln Memorial, the choice of location for the Jefferson Memorial was by no means obvious:
    In 1934, Congress passed a Joint Resolution to establish a Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission. The commission subsequently was given the authority to plan, design, and construct a memorial which was to be a tribute to Jefferson's many accomplishments: president, politician,
    architect, farmer, and educator. The commission was to be for foundation of the memorial in the same way Jefferson was the foundation for this country. However, before the commission could began planning of the memorial they had some difficult questions to answer. Just how do you create a memorial fitting to a man who was so instrumental in the creation of this country? What type of design could embody the spirit and essence that was Thomas Jefferson? Could this even be done and if so where should this memorial sit so that all could see it?

    For the commission these were not easy answers. Early plans included displaying the Declaration of Independence in the Archives building and placing a memorial directly across from the Archives. Another suggestion involved creating a colonial style library as a source of education and inspiration. However, the commission along with FDR, who was now President of the United States, felt that none of these ideas were suitable for conveying Jefferson's ideals and personality. They felt that a memorial to Jefferson needed to show all aspects of his character. Eventually, the commission would settle on a site that would complete the plans proposed by the McMillan Commission of 1901. Essentially, the McMillan Commission idea was to complete a five-point composition in the middle of the city which was first proposed by Pierre L'Enfant, the original designer of the federal city. By 1922, all but the left arm of the great cross had been completed. It seemed only fitting that a memorial to Thomas Jefferson complete the final phase of this composition.
  • As one climbs the steps and pauses at the landings the memorial stones share a message. On the 12th Landing is a prayer offered by the City of Baltimore; on the 20th is a memorial presented by some Chinese Christians; on the 24th a presentation made by Sunday School children from New York and Philadelphia quoting Proverbs 10:7, Luke 18:16 and Proverbs 22:6. Praise be to God!
  • About 193 memorial stones adorn the landings throughout the Washington Monument (different sources put the number at between 190 and 195), contributed by each state (and territory) as well as by other countries, U.S. cities and counties, fire departments, fraternal organizations (such as the Masons, the Sons of Temperance, and the Odd Fellows), military units, Native American tribes, and other groups. (Peter Force, onetime mayor of Washington and a member of the Monument Society, got his own stone just before memorial stones from individuals were banned.) Visitors have not been allowed to climb the fifty flights of stairs within the Monument since the 1970s (except on guided tours), in large part because too many memorial stones were damaged by souvenir-chipping vandals.

    Since the political divisions that ultimately led to the Civil War were looming as the Monument was completed, some of the memorial stones include inscriptions entreating Heaven to preserve the Union, such as a stone at the 140-foot landing, contributed by the city of Baltimore, which reads as follows:


    MAY HEAVEN TO THIS UNION
    CONTINUE ITS BENEFICENCE
    MAY BROTHERLY AFFECTION
    WITH UNION BE PERPETUAL
    MAY THE FREE CONSTITUTION
    WHICH IS THE WORK
    OF OUR ANCESTORS
    BE SACREDLY MAINTAINED
    AND ITS ADMINISTRATION
    BE STAMPED WITH
    WISDOM AND VIRTUE


    One of the stones received from other countries was a memorial stone placed at the 220-foot landing, contributed by Chinese Christians from Ningo, Chekiang Province, China. The inscription on the stone is not a prayer, however, but a eulogy for George Washington.

    Some of the memorial stones include Biblical citations, such as two stones on the 260-foot placed by the children of Sunday School groups from New York City and Philadelphia:


    THE MEMORY OF THE JUST IS BLESSED.
                                    Prov. 10:7
    PRESENTED BY
    THE CHILDREN OF THE SUNDAY SCHOOLS
    OF THE
    METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH
    IN THE
    CITY OF NEW YORK
    Feb. 22ND 1855




    FROM THE SABBATH SCHOOL CHILDREN
    OF THE METHODIST E[PISCOPAL] CHURCH IN THE
    CITY & DISTRICTS OF PHILAD[ELPHIA]. JULY 4TH 1853.

    A PREACHED           A FREE
        GOSPEL               PRESS

    WASHINGTON
    WE REVERE HIS MEMORY


    The latter stone also includes a representation of an open Bible in relief at its center, on which are inscribed two Biblical quotations relating to children: Luke 18:16 ("Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not for of such is the Kingdom of God") and Proverbs 22:6 ("Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it").
  • When the cornerstone of the Washington Monument was laid on July 4th, 1848 deposited within it were many items including the Holy Bible presented by the Bible Society.
  • A Holy Bible, presented by the Bible Society, was one of the many articles deposited in the recess of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument on 4 July 1848. Some of the other items deposited were:
    • Constitution of the United States and Declaration of Independence; presented by Mr. Hickey
    • American Constitutions; by W. Patton.
    • Large design of the Washington National Monument, with the facsimile of the names of the Presidents of the United States and others.
    • Large design of the Washington National Monument. Lithographed.
    • Historical sketch of the Washington National Monument since its origin, in manuscript.
    • Portrait of Washington, from Stuart's painting, Fanueil Hall.
    • Plate engraved with the names of the officers and members of the Board of Managers.
    • The Statesman's Manual, containing Presidents' messages from Washington to Polk, from 1789 to 1846, vols. 1 and 2.
    • Copy of the grant for the site of the Monument under the joint resolution of Congress.
    • Constitutions of the Washington National Monument Society, addresses circulars, commissions, instructions, form of bond, from 1835 to 1848.
    • Small design of Monument and likeness of Washington, with blank certificates for contributors.
    • Watterston's New Guide to Washington; by G. Watterston.
    • Map of the City of Washington; by Joseph Ratcliffe.
    • Laws of the Corporation of Washington; by A. Rothwell.
    • The Seat of Government; by J. B. Varnum, Jr.
    • Statistics by John Sessford of the number of dwellings, value of improvements, assessments of the real and personal tax, etc., in the city of Washington, from 1824 to 1848, print and manuscript; by John Sessford.
    • Census of the United States, 1840;
    • Force's Guide to Washington and vicinity, 1848; by W. Q. Force.
    • Drake's Poems;
    • Catalogue of the Library of Congress, printed 1839; Catalogue from 1840 to 1847, both inclusive; by Joint Committee on the Library of Congress.
    • Memoir of a Tour to Northern Mexico, 1846—47; by R. B. Anderson.
    • All the coins of the United States, from the eagle to the half-dime inclusive.
    • Census of the United States from 1790 to 1848, inclusive.
    • A list of the judges of the Supreme Court of the United States, its officers, with the dates of their respective appointments; by W. J. Carroll, clerk Supreme Court of the United States.
    • Proceedings of the General Society of the Cincinnati, with the original institution of the order and facsimile of the signatures of the original members of the State Society of Pennsylvania; by Charles L. Coltman.
    • Constitution and General Laws of the Great Council of the Improved Order of Red Men of the District of Columbia.
    • By-Laws of Powhatan Tribe, No. 1, and General Laws of the Great Council of the same Order.
    • American silk flag; presented by Joseph K. Boyd, citizen of Washington, District of Columbia, on the 4th of July, 1848.
    • The Temple of Liberty, two copies, one ornamented and lettered with red. The letters are so arranged in each that the name of Washington may be spelled more than one thousand times in connection; by John Kilbourn.
    • Design of the Monument, small plate, produced by a process called electrotype; by Charles Fenderich, Washington.
    • A copy of the constitution of the first organized temperance society in America; L. H. Sprague, July 4, 1848. Sons of Temperance in the District of Columbia.
    • Report on the Organization of the Smithsonian Institution; by Professor Henry.
    • Coat of Arms of the Washington family; by Mrs. Jane Charlotte Washington, July 4, 1848.
    • The Blue Book for 1847; Congressional Directory; by J. & G. S. Gideon.
    • Thirty-first Annual Report of the American Colonization Society.
    • Message of the President of the United States and accompanying documents, 1847.
    • Navy Register, 1848; by C. Alexander.
    • Coast Survey Document; Army Register for 1848.
    • The Washington Monument; Shall It Be Built? by J. S. Lyon.
    • Vail's Description of the Magnetic Telegraph; by A. Vail.
    • Report of the Joint Committee on the Library, May 4, 1848, and an engraving; by M. Vettemare.
    • Morse's North American Atlas.
    • African Repository and Colonial Journal, 1848.
    • Military Laws of the United States, 1846; by G. Templeman.
    • Appleton's Railroad and Steamboat Companion.
    • Daguerreotype likeness of General and Mrs. Mary Washington, with a description of the Deguerreotype process; by John S. Grubb, Alexandria, Va.
    • True Republican; the likeness of all the Presidents to 1846, and inaugural addresses; by G. Templeman.
    • Silver medal, representing General Washington and the National Monument; by Jacob Seegar.
    • Copies of the Union Magazine, National Magazine, Godey's Lady's Book, Graham's Magazine, and Columbian Magazine, for July, 1848; by Brooke & Shillington.
    • Constitution of the Smithsonian Association, on the Island, instituted November 9, 1847.
    • Harper's Illustrated Catalogue; by S. Colman.
    • Smithsonian Institution - Report of the Commissioners on its organization; Reports from the Board of Regents; by W. W. Seaton.
    • American Archives; A Documentary History of the American Colonies to the present time; fourth series, vol. 5; by Peter Force.
    • Guide to the Capitol; by R. Mills.
    • An American dollar; by Miss Sarah Smith, Stafford, N. J.
    • American State Papers, 1832; National Intelligencer for 1846 (bound); by Gales & Seaton.
    • Abstract Log for the use of American Navigators; by Lieut. M. F. Maury, U. S. Navy; by M. F. Maury.
    • Report of Professor Bache, Superintendent of the Coast Survey; by Coast Survey Office.
    • Facsimile of Washington's accounts; by Michael Nourse.
    • Claypole's American Daily Advertiser, December 25, 1799, and the Philadelphia Gazette, December 27, 1799, containing a full account of the death and funeral ceremony of General Washington, the official proceedings of Congress, Executive, etc.; by G. M. Grouard.
    • Publication No. 1, Boston, 1833.
    • A cent of 1783 of the United States of America; by W. G. Paine.
    • United States Fiscal Department, vols. 1 and 2; by R. Mayo, M. D.
    • Maps and Charts of the Coast Survey; by Survey. Office.
    • Letters of John Quincy Adams to W. L. Stone, and introduction; letters of J. Q. Adams to Edward Livingstone, Grand High Priest, etc.; Vindication of General Washington, etc., by Joseph Ritner, Governor of Pennsylvania, with a letter to Daniel Webster and his reply, printed in 1841; American Anti-mason, No. 1, Vol. 1, Hartford, Conn., 1839, Maine, Free Press; Correspondence Committee of York, Pa., to Richard Rush, April, 1831; his answer, May 4, 1841; Credentials of a Delegate from Jefferson County, Mo. and proceedings of a meeting of citizens to make the appointment of a delegate; by Henry Gassitt, Boston, Mass.
    • Annual Report of the Comptroller of the State of New York, January 5, 1848; Tolls, Trade, and Tonnage of the New York Canals, 1847; State of New York—first report of the Commissioner, Practice and Pleadings; by. Hon. Washington Hunt.
    • Specimens of Continental money, 1776; by Thomas Adams.
    • Report of the Commissioner of Patents, 1847; by Edmund Burke.
    • Walton's Vermont Register and Farmers' Almanac, 1848; by Hon. Mr. Henry.
    • Maury's Wind and Current Charts of the North Atlantic; by M. F. Maury.
    • Astronomical Observations for 1845, made under M. F. Maury, at the Washington Observatory; by M. F. Maury.
    • Casts from the seals of the S. of T. and I. O. R. M.; by; J. W. Eckloff.
    • Journals of the Senate and House of Representatives of the Thirtieth Congress and Documents; by R. P. Anderson.
  • I am awed by Washington's prayer for America. Have you never read it? Well now is your opportunity ... read on!
  • The words quoted in the example above are inscribed on a bronze tablet adjoining the Washington pew in St. Paul's chapel in New York City, but they are not "Washington's prayer for America." They are taken from the last paragraph of a circular letter dated 8 June 1783, addressed to the governors of the thirteen states by General Washington upon his disbanding of the Continental Army at the end of the Revolutionary War. There are three significant problems with the version of the words presented in the example cited at the head of this page, however: They weren't written by Washington, they weren't a prayer, and they have been substantially modified from the original.

    The letter from which the "prayer" passage was taken was written not by George Washington, but by his aide de camp, David Cobb. (How much of the letter reflected Washington's own thoughts and how much of it was created by Cobb — is unknown, but the style is very much unlike Washington's typical writings.) The passage was not written as a stand-alone statement, but rather was merely the concluding paragraph of a considerably longer letter. And finally, the wording has been altered to make the passage appear to be a prayer addressed to Almighty God, when in fact was a direct statement from Washington to a governor.

    Compare the original and modified versions:
    ORIGINAL:

    Now I make it my earnest prayer that God would have you and the State over which you preside, in His holy protection, that He would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, to entertain brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow citizens and the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the field, and finally, that He would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. I have the honor to be, with much esteem and respect, Sir, your Excellency's most obedient and most humble servant. George Washington.
     

    MODIFIED:

    Almighty God; We make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection; that Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United states at large. And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
    (Note that nowhere in George Washington's extant writings did he ever refer to Jesus Christ by name.)
  • It is clear when one studies the history of our great nation that Washington's America was one of the few countries in all the world established under the guidance, direction and banner of Almighty God, to whom was given all praise, honor and worship by the great men who formed and fashioned her pivotal foundations. And when one stops to observe the inscriptions found in public places all over our nation's capitol ... one will easily find the signature of God.
  • One last point to clear up a misleading impression one might form after reading the above paragraph: although many of the inscriptions associated with the Washington Monument do indeed include religious references and sentiments, they reflect the tenor of public thought in mid-19th century America, not the America of George Washington's time. Washington died in 1799, and the country he helped found was a very different place half a century later.

    Additional information:
        A History of the Washington Monument   A History of the Washington Monument
      (U.S. Park Service)
    Last updated:   25 January 2005

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      Sources Sources:
        Allen, Thomas B.   The Washington Monument: It Stands for All.
        New York: Discovery Books, 2000.   ISBN 1-56331-921-7.

        Bowling, Kenneth R.   The Creation of Washington D.C.
        Fairfax, VA: George Mason Univ. Press, 1991.   ISBN 0-913969-29-X.