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Gary IN — Coney Dogs and Urban Decay

Gary IN — Coney Dogs and Urban Decay
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  • Gary IN — Coney Dogs and Urban Decay

    Post #1 - January 9th, 2007, 9:12 pm
    Post #1 - January 9th, 2007, 9:12 pm Post #1 - January 9th, 2007, 9:12 pm
    Coney dogs are all but extinct in Chicago but I'm not sure they ever gained much of a foothold here. Decades ago, a few Coney parlors were scattered around in areas like W Madison (then Skid Row) and Back of the Yards. In other Midwestern cities, most notably Detroit (here's an article by the Tribune's Alan Solomon), Coney Island restaurants from the 1920s and before are thriving today. Closer to Chicago, Coney Island Hot Dog Restaurant in Milwaukee, remains much as it was 80 years ago. Why these places never proliferated in Chicago (if that is indeed true) could be due to the already-strong frankfurter culture in Chicago early in the 20th century.

    Looking over fairly recent compilations of restaurants in Gary, I was struck by the number of Coney Islands still listed. When Cathy and I began exploring northwest Indiana we found some still around in various degrees of operation. Why are there so many in Gary of all places? I suspect at least part of the reason is that not much gets torn down. Fans of early 20th century architecture and mid-century signage will find plenty of interest in Gary.

    The most robust example is Koney King on Broadway toward the southern edge of Gary. This business began in 1920 although I'm not sure it's at the original location.

    Image

    In any case the interior has certainly been remodeled but the curving counters and spinning stools speak of an earlier era.

    Image

    The menu and friendly service, too, seem from another time. For those who might be interested, grilled ham sandwiches are not available Friday or Saturday.

    Image

    I enjoyed my Koney Dog, an admittedly nondescript frankfurter blanketed in chili with the right levels of spice and grease.

    Image

    Driving north on Broadway from Koney King you'll pass dozens of notable buildings and signs including the abandoned Lincoln's Submarine.

    Image

    Charlie's Coney Island, another old Gary business, is on 25th just west of Broadway. It went by the name of Brother's Coney Island before Charlie took over.

    Image

    It seems the focus has shifted away from Coney dogs (although chili dogs are still listed) toward diner fare and soul food.

    Image

    For some reason I ordered a chili burger and was rewarded with a pretty good but very sloppy version. Its picture can be found in the NWI Burger thread, here (it may not look that sloppy but just try to eat the thing). Cathy was more adventurous and got the special of neck bones, potato, and corn bread.

    Image

    I'm not sure the last time I've seen more food for $4. It was plain cooking to be sure but really quite satisfying.

    Just past 18th is LL's Coney Island. I don't know how long LL's has been in business but it looks like it's been a while.

    Image

    They seem to keep erratic hours. We had but one chance to visit and passed it up, not realizing it may have been our last opportunity. It's a cool-looking old place and I hope we get another chance.

    At Broadway and 17th is the old Lovell's Barber College, the façade apparently remodeled in the 1960s and not touched since.

    Image

    Also on Broadway is the old Palace Theater with its ever-hopeful marquee.

    Image

    You can see the window facings with cheery flower pots are peeling off the boarded up windows.

    If you turn off Broadway onto 5th, heading toward Jimmie's Coney Island, you should make a slight detour to see what's left of Frank Lloyd Wright's Wynant House at 600 Filmore (between Broadway & Grant).

    Image

    This is one of Wright's extremely rare prefabricated homes and if you want to see it you'd better hurry. There were restoration efforts underway but it was further damaged by fire a year ago. I spent a little time poking around inside, all the while wondering if there was a basement and hoping I wasn't about to find out.

    Image

    At this point you won't be far from Peerless Potato Chip.

    Image

    Might as well stop and pick up a case as Cogito suggested.

    Jimmie's Coney Island, on 5th Avenue near the western edge of Gary (not far from Tennessee Country Meats) is interesting in that it opened in 1973, relatively recent by Coney Island standards.

    Image

    As the sign says it's more than just hot dogs, and many of the offerings are southern style dishes. I can't say I was overly impressed with their biscuits & gravy or catfish & spaghetti but I enjoyed sides of collard greens and johnnycakes.

    Image

    The Coney dogs ($2.50 for a pair) were rather unexceptional though I liked the nontraditional addition of fresh jalapeño slices.

    There are plenty of non-Coney hot dogs and such in NWI but we didn't sample much. One vendor I should mention is Polish on Wheels we came across in an empty lot on Route 12/20 in Gary.

    Image

    The owner couldn't have nicer and his $2 Polish was really quite good.

    Image

    It came dressed with three types of peppers. What's not to like?

    There are quite a few interesting Coney threads on LTHForum (search!) and there are still other Coney Islands left to explore in NW Indiana. I'm not sure these Coney Islands in Gary will make Detroiters forget Lafayette and American but it's interesting to note a little cluster so close to Chicago.

    Koney King
    4601 Broadway
    Gary IN
    219-887-1843

    Charlie's Coney Island
    2490 Broadway
    Gary IN
    219-883-2117

    LL's Coney Island
    1744 Broadway
    Gary IN
    219-882-2287

    Jimmie's Coney Island
    3350 W 5th Av
    Gary IN
    219-944-1321
    Last edited by Rene G on January 10th, 2007, 8:42 pm, edited 2 times in total.
  • Post #2 - January 9th, 2007, 9:51 pm
    Post #2 - January 9th, 2007, 9:51 pm Post #2 - January 9th, 2007, 9:51 pm
    Rene,

    I'm very much enjoying your reports and pictures from NW Indiana, Cathy's as well.

    Love the picture of the Coney dog with fresh jalapenos, I think I pop over to Herm's tomorrow jalapeno in hand. :)

    Speaking of Herm's, I went there a few years ago with a native Detroit friend, of course he ordered chili dogs. He thought they were good, but was disappointed the chili was missing the slight hint of cinnamon that makes a Detroit chili dog a Detroit chili dog.

    Enjoy,
    Gary

    Herm's Hot Dog Palace
    3406 Dempster St
    Skokie, IL 60076
    847-673-9757
    Sauce on the side, always, implied, axiomatic..........never a doubt, BBQ sauce without.

    Low & Slow
  • Post #3 - January 9th, 2007, 10:32 pm
    Post #3 - January 9th, 2007, 10:32 pm Post #3 - January 9th, 2007, 10:32 pm
    Great pics, Rene G. I wonder when the Jackson Five last played the Palace.
    Man : I can't understand how a poet like you can eat that stuff.
    T. S. Eliot: Ah, but you're not a poet.
  • Post #4 - January 10th, 2007, 3:02 pm
    Post #4 - January 10th, 2007, 3:02 pm Post #4 - January 10th, 2007, 3:02 pm
    HI,

    Great report of our activities, Rene G!

    Charlie's Coney Island's special of pork neck bones, potatoes and cornbread was very sturdy stuff. Initially I was surprised it arrived in a take-out container, when I fully expected to eat on the premises. When I realized how much food it represented, not like I arrived starving, I simply took home the container.

    Charlies had some promising offerings listed proudly on the walls, such as home made fried pies. Southern fried pies were the inspiration for the original McDonald's hot apple pies. They used to be fried, which caused the filling to be molten hot, not baked like they are today. Outside of the south, you almost never find home made fried pies. Sadly, Charlies is no longer an outpost of fried pies. His Mother was responsible for these who no longer makes them. In my mind the question was begging, "Why don't you learn how to make them?"

    ***

    If you look on the Tower of the Palace Theater, you will observe missing bricks as if punched out. We found a lot of decaying buildings where inexplicably there would be holes in the exterior like this.

    My personal favorite was an almost totally demolished school building where they stopped demolition just short of completion. What remains is the ghostly exterior of the auditorium entrance, which by its design and ornamentation was clearly once a jewel of civic pride. Puzzling why they stopped short, Rene G reminded me, "Remember Gary once ran of funds to pay their police." I can only guess the partial demolition was a contractor's stopping short to collect their fees before completing the job. The strategy didn't appear to work. (I hope ReneG will supply the picture, because I damaged the disk it was on.)

    More later!

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #5 - January 10th, 2007, 8:44 pm
    Post #5 - January 10th, 2007, 8:44 pm Post #5 - January 10th, 2007, 8:44 pm
    Josephine wrote:I wonder when the Jackson Five last played the Palace.

    I think the theater closed in 1972. I'm not sure but I think the sign and false windows might date from 2001 when the Miss USA pageant was held in Gary.

    Cathy2 wrote:Charlies had some promising offerings listed proudly on the walls, such as home made fried pies. … Outside of the south, you almost never find home made fried pies.

    I'd completely forgotten about those pies. It was disappointing they no longer served them. I heard about an old bakery in Milwaukee that specializes in fried pies and other southern baked goods. I haven't been but will report if I try it.

    Cathy2 wrote:My personal favorite was an almost totally demolished school building where they stopped demolition just short of completion.

    I was going to post a picture of Memorial Auditorium but didn't want to overdo the derelict buildings. It's an impressive structure so here it is.

    Image

    To get an idea what it looked like many years ago take a look at this old postcard. I think what's left of the building is being maintained with the hope of renovating it someday.

    I should add there are some hopeful signs in Gary such as the beautiful little baseball stadium right downtown. On a food-related note Woo Woo's Barbecue (formerly in Chicago) has opened a brand new place on Broadway at 11th, next to the old City Castle.
  • Post #6 - January 10th, 2007, 8:57 pm
    Post #6 - January 10th, 2007, 8:57 pm Post #6 - January 10th, 2007, 8:57 pm
    To get an idea what it looked like many years ago take a look at this old postcard. I think what's left of the building is being maintained with the hope of renovating it someday.


    I like that idea better. I hope they pull it off someday. I'm glad the building is as beautiful as I thought it must have been.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #7 - January 10th, 2007, 9:14 pm
    Post #7 - January 10th, 2007, 9:14 pm Post #7 - January 10th, 2007, 9:14 pm
    Rene G wrote:I was going to post a picture of Memorial Auditorium but didn't want to overdo the derelict buildings. It's an impressive structure so here it is.


    I love the derelict buildings, or more correctly,all of your non-food photo documentation -- and the rest of the reports too -- really top notch stuff and it makes me definitely want to get out and check out some of those spots.
    Joe G.

    "Whatever may be wrong with the world, at least it has some good things to eat." -- Cowboy Jack Clement
  • Post #8 - January 10th, 2007, 10:56 pm
    Post #8 - January 10th, 2007, 10:56 pm Post #8 - January 10th, 2007, 10:56 pm
    germuska wrote:I love the derelict buildings, or more correctly,all of your non-food photo documentation -- and the rest of the reports too -- really top notch stuff and it makes me definitely want to get out and check out some of those spots.


    I would suggest you exercise caution when visiting Gary,it can be a very dangerous place. I certainly would advise against entering any abandoned buildings.
  • Post #9 - January 10th, 2007, 11:09 pm
    Post #9 - January 10th, 2007, 11:09 pm Post #9 - January 10th, 2007, 11:09 pm
    Artie wrote:
    germuska wrote:I love the derelict buildings, or more correctly,all of your non-food photo documentation -- and the rest of the reports too -- really top notch stuff and it makes me definitely want to get out and check out some of those spots.


    I would suggest you exercise caution when visiting Gary,it can be a very dangerous place. I certainly would advise against entering any abandoned buildings.


    Artie,

    The only vacant building given a closer inspection was the Frank Lloyd Wright. On a separate note, we were approached by neighbors in a neighborhood-alert-type style in Hammond, Indiana when photographing a historical home, which will be discussed in a later post. They relaxed after Rene G explained our interest in the community's history sparked by the local historical society. If we hadn't passed muster, then they were going to report us to the home's owner who was also their landlord.

    You are certainly not the first one from this community to warn us on the area. Our very first venture into Indiana was at a restaurant where the bartender actively discouraged us from exploring the area. Any reticence the bartender tried to instill has melted more and more with every trip. Yet there have been a few occasions where we treaded carefully, which happens sometimes just about anywhere you go.

    Thank you for your kind thoughts, I (we) promise to be careful.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #10 - January 10th, 2007, 11:29 pm
    Post #10 - January 10th, 2007, 11:29 pm Post #10 - January 10th, 2007, 11:29 pm
    Cathy2 wrote:You are certainly not the first one from this community to warn us on the area. Our very first venture into Indiana was at a restaurant where the bartender actively discouraged us from exploring the area. Any reticence the bartender tried to instill has melted more and more with every trip. Yet there have been a few occasions where we treaded carefully, which happens sometimes just about anywhere you go.

    Thank you for your kind thoughts, I (we) promise to be careful.

    Regards,


    Cathy,I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from visiting Gary. They need all the economic help they can get. When I do travel there I am keenly aware of my surroundings and drive with the doors locked and windows rolled up. That may sound extreme but unfortunately it's good advice.
    On a happier note,I like going to see the Gary Railcats Baseball team during summer. Beautiful 53 million $$ ballpark and excellent safety,although the worst stadium food I've ever encountered.
  • Post #11 - January 18th, 2007, 7:11 pm
    Post #11 - January 18th, 2007, 7:11 pm Post #11 - January 18th, 2007, 7:11 pm
    I grew up in NWI during the period when Gary went from being an upscale, prosperous, attractive, safe place to live, to a slum-ridden, crime-infested ghetto where safety was a pipedream and something that existed only outside the city limits. But for a while, there were quite a few good restaurants to be found, and a small number have managed to survive. One of the phenomena that occurred when Gary started deteriorating, and the successful old-standby places with great food died off and disappeared like the buffalo herds in the late 19th century, was what might be called the concept of "If it worked, copy it." That's what came to mind when I read this thread about the Coney dog places, et. al., in the Gary area.

    When I was a kid, none the places mentioned in this thread were around. There was a place called Coney Island, on the west side of Broadway just north of 11th Ave. though. And it was the BOMB. It had been there as long as I could remember, and was known as THE place for Coney dogs. I’m not sure when, but that original Coney Island eventually succumbed to the urban blight which consumed that entire area in downtown Gary. I guess the other places mentioned in this thread eventually sprung up to fill the gap left by its void. As far as the Koney King’s claim to have been around since 1920, all I can say is not at that location, and nowhere by that name.

    BTW, visiting Gary is hardly the death-defying experience that some have made it out to be. Gary bottomed out and has cleaned up their act somewhat as of late. There are some dicey hoods to be sure, but they are no worse than their counterparts in Chicago. If you have common sense and employ the standard rules of engagement for urban travel, you should be fine.
    What if the Hokey Pokey really IS what it's all about?
  • Post #12 - January 18th, 2007, 10:48 pm
    Post #12 - January 18th, 2007, 10:48 pm Post #12 - January 18th, 2007, 10:48 pm
    Artie, are you from the Region? I have to agree with Cogito that it's not as horrifyingly dangerous as you seem to think it is. I grew up in Hammond, another part of the area that many insist should be traveled through only in an emergency and only with the doors locked, the windows up and the speed always kept above 35 mph. Of course I think that's complete and utter hogwash.

    Sorry to sound so confrontational, but Gary, Hammond and much of the rest of far NWI are still inhabited by plenty of good, honest, hardworking people that don't deserve such a bad reputation.

    And now back to the food discussion...
  • Post #13 - January 18th, 2007, 11:35 pm
    Post #13 - January 18th, 2007, 11:35 pm Post #13 - January 18th, 2007, 11:35 pm
    SMT wrote:Artie, are you from the Region? I have to agree with Cogito that it's not as horrifyingly dangerous as you seem to think it is. I grew up in Hammond, another part of the area that many insist should be traveled through only in an emergency and only with the doors locked, the windows up and the speed always kept above 35 mph. Of course I think that's complete and utter hogwash.

    Sorry to sound so confrontational, but Gary, Hammond and much of the rest of far NWI are still inhabited by plently of good, honest, hardworking people that don't deserve such a bad reputation.

    And now back to the food discussion...


    I agree with you that most of NWI doesn't deserve the bad reputation and the potshots it gets from people in other parts of the Chicago area. I cannot think of a single street in Hammond that is unsafe during the daytime. A few might be iffy at night, but there are streets in Oak Park and Evanston that I wouldn't walk alone at night!

    However, there are small parts of Gary that are FAR more dangerous than anything you will encounter in Chicago, and in those specific areas Artie is correct...common sense dictates advance knowledge of those areas and staying out of them if at all possible.

    Anyway, I enjoyed seeing the pictures in the original post. But part of me is saddened by them, because......(reason edited out because I will not inject politics into the discussion). I look forward to additional food-related pictures of NWI, and perhaps I will add a few of my own in the near future. I just found out that the Whiting Elks has opened their Friday night fish frys to the public, and $18 AYCE fresh lake perch sounds like something I might do tomorrow!
  • Post #14 - January 19th, 2007, 1:21 am
    Post #14 - January 19th, 2007, 1:21 am Post #14 - January 19th, 2007, 1:21 am
    I used to think your statement about Gary was right until I got to know Chicago a little better. There are hoods in Chicago that are just as bad as anything Gary has to offer, the difference is Daley keeps things quiet.

    There are never enough AYCE Friday night fish frys ASAIAC. Where's the Whiting Elks?
  • Post #15 - January 19th, 2007, 11:00 am
    Post #15 - January 19th, 2007, 11:00 am Post #15 - January 19th, 2007, 11:00 am
    Meh, I agree with Cogito that there are areas of Chicago that are at least as dangerous as the most dangerous parts of Gary. Of course I may excercise some additional caution in certain areas, but that is because I actually know them to be on the dangerous side as a result of being from the area. It just gets my hackles up when the whole place is painted with the same wrong, broad, and sweeping brush.

    Cathy, I would love to hear more about your encounters in Hammond and Gary, especially with the neighborhood watch group. It definitely sounds like an interesting adventure. :P
  • Post #16 - January 19th, 2007, 8:50 pm
    Post #16 - January 19th, 2007, 8:50 pm Post #16 - January 19th, 2007, 8:50 pm
    SMT wrote:Meh, I agree with Cogito that there are areas of Chicago that are at least as dangerous as the most dangerous parts of Gary. Of course I may excercise some additional caution in certain areas, but that is because I actually know them to be on the dangerous side as a result of being from the area. It just gets my hackles up when the whole place is painted with the same wrong, broad, and sweeping brush.


    SMT, The primary reason that I posted caution was that I believe that a lot of people reading this have never been to Gary,and thus might not be aware of neighborhoods to steer clear of. Thus,I suggested that they exercise caution and be aware,but not avoid the area entirely.
  • Post #17 - January 19th, 2007, 9:25 pm
    Post #17 - January 19th, 2007, 9:25 pm Post #17 - January 19th, 2007, 9:25 pm
    G Wiv wrote:Love the picture of the Coney dog with fresh jalapenos

    Chicago is clearly the Domain of the Sport Pepper. It seems that NW Indiana is more open minded when it comes to garnishing tube steaks.

    germuska wrote:I love the derelict buildings, or more correctly,all of your non-food photo documentation -- and the rest of the reports too -- really top notch stuff and it makes me definitely want to get out and check out some of those spots.

    Thanks, I hope you get out and explore, that's the main reason I post this stuff. Fans of derelict buildings will want to look at the Forbidden Places website. I linked to the Gary page but you should explore the entire site. Spectacular stuff.

    Cogito wrote:When I was a kid, none the places mentioned in this thread were around. There was a place called Coney Island, on the west side of Broadway just north of 11th Ave. though. And it was the BOMB. It had been there as long as I could remember, and was known as THE place for Coney dogs. I’m not sure when, but that original Coney Island eventually succumbed to the urban blight which consumed that entire area in downtown Gary. I guess the other places mentioned in this thread eventually sprung up to fill the gap left by its void. As far as the Koney King’s claim to have been around since 1920, all I can say is not at that location, and nowhere by that name.

    Thanks for all these interesting comments. The old place you mention sounds like Coney Island at 930 Broadway. It was in business in the early 1950s (and probably well before that). In the early 1960s (or slightly before), Coney Island No 2 opened at 1744 Broadway. I don't know if it was directly affiliated with the one at 930. In any case, 1744 Broadway is the address of the current LL's Coney Island. Thus it seems there is some continuity between the old and the new Coney Islands in Gary (LL's sure doesn't look like new construction!).

    From 1962/63 Telephone Book
    Image

    That's interesting about Koney King. What you say fits with the fact that I wasn't able to track down earlier references to it (can't say I tried terribly hard though). I wonder if the "Since 1920" claim is completely bogus or if there were name changes etc.

    I wonder if anyone knows anything about what businesses were at the NW corner of 25th & Broadway, current home of Charlie's (formerly Brother's) Coney Island. The address is 2490 Broadway but the building is on 25th. It looks like it's been a restaurant/diner of some sort for quite a few years.
  • Post #18 - January 19th, 2007, 10:02 pm
    Post #18 - January 19th, 2007, 10:02 pm Post #18 - January 19th, 2007, 10:02 pm
    Rene G wrote:The old place you mention sounds like Coney Island at 930 Broadway. It was in business in the early 1950s (and probably well before that). In the early 1960s (or slightly before), Coney Island No 2 opened at 1744 Broadway. I don't know if it was directly affiliated with the one at 930. In any case, 1744 Broadway is the address of the current LL's Coney Island. Thus it seems there is some continuity between the old and the new Coney Islands in Gary (LL's sure doesn't look like new construction!).

    I remember the Coney Island No 2 that you mention above. As I recall though, I thought that their signage read "Jimmy's Coney Island No 2." I never ate at the No 2, so I cannot comment about whether their food was the same as the original Coney Island.
    What if the Hokey Pokey really IS what it's all about?
  • Post #19 - January 20th, 2007, 12:33 am
    Post #19 - January 20th, 2007, 12:33 am Post #19 - January 20th, 2007, 12:33 am
    The building photos put me in mind of Detroit, which share both a tragic urban decline with Gary as well as Coney Dogs. If you're interested, check out:

    http://www.forgottendetroit.com/index.html

    http://www.detroityes.com/home.htm
    for a tour of spectacular buildings. Some of these are just heartbreakers, the opening one of the demolition of Hudsons is hard for anyone who remembers downtown Detroit when it was a place to go.

    http://detroityes.com/webisodes/2006/02 ... ns/010.htm

    I can't seem to find what was one of my favorites, a collection of photos I looked at almost daily for months, of magnificent old buildings in detroit, primarily theatres IIRC, that had been turned into parking lots.

    So as to keep it not too far from the food, if these intrigue you enough to travel to the Motor City, eat a dunker while you're there.
  • Post #20 - January 20th, 2007, 8:52 am
    Post #20 - January 20th, 2007, 8:52 am Post #20 - January 20th, 2007, 8:52 am
    DetroitBlog is a fantastic site for pictures of Old Detroit as well. A lot of great "urban exploration" photos and great stories as well.

    As far as Coneys in Chicago go, Hoagie Hut at 2850 N. Lincoln will sell you a "Detroit Dog" but I can't recommend it.
    Writing about craft beer at GuysDrinkingBeer.com
    "You don't realize it, but we're at dinner right now." ~Ebert
  • Post #21 - June 22nd, 2007, 3:39 pm
    Post #21 - June 22nd, 2007, 3:39 pm Post #21 - June 22nd, 2007, 3:39 pm
    I live in Las Vegas but return home to NW Indiana roughly twice a year and a visit (or two) is in order everytime I return. This is the pinnacle of "bad food". I can only speak of the Koney Dog (chili w/o beans), mustard and onion. And don't forget some Chili as well....
    Last edited by KMAC on June 27th, 2007, 8:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #22 - June 27th, 2007, 5:29 pm
    Post #22 - June 27th, 2007, 5:29 pm Post #22 - June 27th, 2007, 5:29 pm
    Rene G and Cathy 2,
    Did you ever get to visit some of the neighborhoods in Hammond that I posted pictures of? The Forest Ave and Purdue Cal area.
    You should also check out the Gary air and water show in July. It is along the lake in the Miller Beach section and is really fantastic.
    Thank you for posting on places deemed dangerous and scary but that are beautiful once you get to know them.

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