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Due to the graphic nature of this haunted place, listener discretion is advised this episode includes descriptions of starvation and cannibalism. We advise extreme caution for children under 13. Hank stood very, very still as he raised his Polaroid camera.


All he needed to do was grab a shot of the deer.


When the camera clicked, the Doe's head jerked up and she bounded off Hank's side, yanking the Polaroid out of the slot. He waved it around, then watched the image slowly appear. It was just the deer's hind legs disappearing into the brush. He and his wife had just moved from the city to the woodsy town of Truckee, wanting to live more simply in retirement. They deserved it. After all, they'd worked hard in their lives. It was time to kick back and relax, take up hobbies.


Hank had chosen nature photography, but he was realizing that a Polaroid camera was the wrong choice of equipment.


It was loud so far.


He had scared away more animals that he captured. Hank lumbered along looking for his next shot.


The trailhead was sunny, curving around a large rock and into a dense patch of tree cover. Hank reasoned that scenery was maybe a better place to start. You can't scare off and trail the Polaroid shot out of the slot.


Hank waved it around to hurry its development, and the picture slowly came into focus. Trees clarified the rocks, details appeared, but some mass was clouding up the center of the path. At first he thought he must have put his thumb in front of the lens or something. But as the picture became clearer, he realized the mass and the trail center wasn't a smudge. It was a figure.


A woman in a long soaked dress or a stringy hair hung about her shoulders, framing a gaunt face and her wide eyes looked hungry. Welcome to Haunted Places, a Spotify original from podcast, I'm Greg. Every Thursday, I take you to the scariest, eeriest, most haunted real places on Earth. You can find all episodes of Haunted Places and all of the Spotify originals from podcast for free on Spotify. And every Tuesday, make sure to check out urban legends, these special episodes of Haunted Places are available exclusively on Spotify.


This week, we explore the grisly history behind Döner Memorial State Park in Truckee, California. The park's pristine, tranquil beauty makes it a destination for avid campers and hikers. But this is not your average, nature filled retreat. One of the most unspeakable tragedy of the hundreds occurred in these majestic mountains. It's the site where a group of pioneers known as the Donner Party became trapped in a prison of ice and were forced to perform unspeakable acts to survive.


Coming up, we'll meet the Donners. Located off Interstate 80 in California, about 10 miles from Lake Tahoe, Donner Memorial State Park is nestled in some of the country's most jaw dropping landscapes.


Every year, thousands of tourists flock there to enjoy its wild beauty.


The park contains many trails and immigrant museum and the beautiful döner lake surrounded by towering trees.


It might be hard to believe that a place so tranquil is eternally damned, but it is said that the energy of a place, even a stunning one, can be changed forever by tragedy. And that's exactly what happened to Donner Memorial State Park in the winter of 1846.


The previous spring, 87 people from the Donner and Reid families embarked on a journey from Springfield, Illinois, heading west to California. Brothers George and Jacob Donner had carefully planned the route with James Reid, but poor leadership and a series of missteps led the men to make a few errors. The first was the decision to take the Hastings' cut off an untested shortcut that put the travelers behind schedule in fighting heavy wagons and exhausted animals slow them down further by the time they traipsed through the Sierra Nevada.


Winter had already begun and with it a fatal snowstorm. Thompson's hands trembled as she rang out the raag. The snow she'd melted on to. It had been warm just moments ago, but the wind had put the fire out and now the cold, wet cloth was stinging her fingers. Still, she squeezed the water into her husband, George's mouth, moistening his dried lips. But he didn't move. He hadn't for days. He'd just lay there with chain of obligation.


Macenta, her ankle. Tamzin had been against this journey from the start. She'd been happy in Illinois. They'd be well off with a sprawling home and happy children. She had been a teacher there, but he wanted more. He insisted on California and Tamzin could say nothing. Wives are meant to nod politely, even as they watch their husbands arrogance lead 80 plus souls into hell. And then a month ago, Hopatcong, a rescue group, had broken through the snow.


George had been bad off even then, so she'd sent her children with the rescuers to braved the wintry pass and get out of this nightmare. Take the children.


She said she'd stay waiting out starvation with him because that's what wives were supposed to do. They stood by their husbands even when it doomed them. Now George was dying and she'd be all alone. The whole thing had been selfish of him, but that was George always on to the next thing with no thought for anyone but himself. Her mouth twisted in bitterness, blame was the only feeling stronger than hunger.


The wind shuttered the tent, blowing open its flap with it. A torrent of snow flurries blew inside. Outside, Tamsen could see the dim sunlight shining on the oppressive white woods. The evergreens were tall and thick and laden with snow. Tamzin thought that it looked like a cage of ice. She rose slowly to pull the flaps shut and looked at George. First she shuddered. Then he lay completely still, his eyes open and unseen. She held her hand under his nostrils, no breath.


He had died. After all that she had nearly missed it. She'd expected more of a spectacle, as George always liked attention. She should have felt sad. But all she felt was cold and the relentless throb of hunger swelling her belly. And there was no question the hunger was worse. When they arrived in this godforsaken place, the Donner and Reid family spread out through the woods to find shelter from the storm. They found cabins and erected tents hoping to wait out the punishing snow, but it never stopped.


No one had enough stores to last them through winter. And when the lake froze, their supply of fish disappeared. Thompson's family had rationed well, finally using bark to hinter off that dreadful hunger. But others had resorted to other means. Tamzin had seen the not remains of corpses in the woods, but teeth marks on bomb. Now, here she was with no meat but George's corpse. Tamsen was horrified to feel her mouth watering.


It had been so long since she'd had protein, her eyes filled with tears, and she clasped a hand to her mouth in horror.


No, George took her former life for her. She wouldn't let him change her in that way, too. She had to get out of here before the last of whoever she had been disappeared.


Tamzin gathered some things and set out into the windy snow logged woods. She moved slowly, heading west toward the setting sun. She wasn't sure if she was trying to walk her way out or find another family. She just knew she had to go. But the all white woods quickly turned her around. Everything looked the same. The bright white snow blinded her, even in the fading light. She walked for hours until finally she saw a sight that made her weary heart skip with relief, a cabin with smoke streaming out of its chimney.


Tamsen hurried toward it and knocked. Its doors swung open and a man built its frame. Lewis Keansburg. Tamsen knew Lewis, a funny man, always quick with a joke, and he looked well. His cheeks held none of the sharp solemnis that hers did. Tamsen slowed her approach. His appearance bothered her. Why was he so healthy looking? She stumbled, almost falling. Tanton glance back at what tripped her, seeing a dark object stuck out from a snow pile.


It was a human leg, half of one. Its flesh had been cut away. Tamsen stared at it dully, trying to understand what she was seeing. This leg had been meddled with. It had been carved like a cut of meat. She felt something, grabbed her hair and yanked her head back. A searing pain ripped through her scalp. She looked up to see Lewis's face is cracked, dry lips surrounded rows of steamed brown teeth. His eyes were desperate.


He whispered that he was sorry. Dear Lord, forgive him. He cried. Campton struggled, but her frail body was too weak. She pleaded, telling Lewis that there was a body not so far from here, George. He was already dead, she said. Take him instead. Lewis wasn't listening. His arm trembled as he lifted an ax. She closed her eyes, trying to bring herself far away from the snowy hill to a place she last knew.


Joy. She thought of her children playing outside in Illinois. Their happy faces turned up to the warm sun, waving to her as she watched. And then she heard the swish of the axe fly through the air.


And history sees Tamsen Donner as a hero. She sent her children ahead with one of the first rescue parties that broke through the snow and therefore ensured their survival. She stayed behind, dutifully attending to her dying husband. Tragically, her body was never found, perhaps because it was slowly digesting in the belly of one of the Donner Party survivors, Lewis Keansburg. Keansburg admitted to eating Tamzin but denied killing her Mikis Burg's account. Tamsen arrived at his cabin after George died, but passed away in her sleep.


It was only then that he used her body to stave off his hunger. According to rescuer Thomas Fowling, Keansburg described her flesh as the best he'd ever tasted. The Donner and Reed family spent five months in the snow. Of the 87 travelers who went into the mountain, only about half would come out. Those who survived lived on the sparse provisions they'd brought with them. When those were gone, they turned to their livestock and then. They're family pets until they had nothing to fill their bodies but the corpses of their kin.


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Now back to the story, in April 1847, the California star printed an article that would shock the world. It was an account from Donner Party rescuer Thomas Phelan that spoke of starving survivors, consuming brains and detailed grisly scenes of half eaten corpses of men, women and children. The article described children eating parents and mothers eating husbands. It went so far as to insist that when offered food, some of the survivors turned it away, preferring their new found meat sauce.


Survivors such as Tamsen Donners daughter Eliza, were disgusted by the article and called it sensationalist and misleading. Other survivors, like 12 year old Patty Reid, were quick to assert that the Reed family were the only ones who managed to survive without resorting to cannibalism. The star's article was certainly appalling. But the Donner Party story didn't need exaggeration to stand the test of time. To be starved to the point of cannibalism was horrific enough to keep even the dirtiest of minds up at night.


Bernie was hungry and bored. He longed to be in his living room playing Super Mario Brothers with a beer in hand, but he'd only just started his ranger shift. So he decided to entertain himself by annoying his partner, David. The guy was meditating on the floor of the Ranger station, which Bernie found just flat out weird. He started cracking kindling sticks to disrupt David's concentration, but found it frustrating when he didn't even wince. Bernie was only here because he hadn't been ready to go to college.


He decided to take a gap year. He needed the break. He deserved the break. But his mom said he couldn't just wallow about her house playing and 64, he had to get a job.


So here he was, the only place that would take him. It wasn't ideal for Bernie, but Woods creeped him out. No Döner Memorial State Park creeped him out. How could it not? People were like Eaton here. The thought made him glance out. The station's tiny single window at the darkening sky light had fallen quickly from his vantage point.


Only could see was the Park Visitor Center and Woods Woods, as far as the eye could see. As the sun dwindled, the trees looked like a blanket of darkness lying beneath a bright expanse of sky. He shivered. Bernie reached toward the room's tiny fireplace, grabbing another kindling stick, perhaps a bit cracked a bigger one. David would finally notice. Bernie grinned when he saw David frown. This was their first weekend working together, and Bernie didn't really care for David.


David was all hippy dippy, one with nature and all that. David wanted to be here. Bernie cracked a stick again.


David's eyes finally flew open and he gave an exasperated dude. Bernie shrugged and apologized, but he couldn't help feeling smug. But soon, Bernie stomach growled loudly. He always ate his snacks right when he got on shift and right around 7:00 p.m., he started to get hungry again. Maybe he'd have to go to the vending machine. Who was he kidding? Of course he'd go to the vending machine. Bernie glared at David as the guy started humming. No way.


Bernie jumped to his feet and grabbed the radio.


He told David he was going to get a snack, taking care not to ask if David wanted anything. Moments later, Bernie stood in front of the colorful rows of chips and candy, debating Snickers or Twizzlers or Obrad. They had fun, Deb, although maybe he should be good, didn't get pretzels. He'd put on some weight. Since he started here, his radio buzzed. Bernie grabbed the receiver from his belt. It was Jessica, another ranger.


She told them someone needed to go clean. The Pioneer Monument. There's graffiti on it. Bernie Chromed. If he had to clean up one more Nirvana tag, he'd lose it. He'd get David to do it so he could have the Ranger station to himself to eat his pretzels and peace. The thought made him grin. All right. Maybe he'd get the fun dip this night had really turned around. He should treat himself. But when Bernie stuck his head back in the station, David ignored him like completely.


He wouldn't even open his eyes. Bernie asked again.


But David's humming grew louder, drowning, burning out Bernie. See, his radio crackled again, and Jessica's voice asked Bernie if he was there yet Bernie took a calming breath and answered it. Be right there, he said through gritted teeth.


Bernie stomped down the pathway that led to the memorial. It was dark, but the sky wasn't fully black yet it still had that bluish hue from the dusk last glow. He slogged a bucket of water, a rag and a bottle of graffiti remover. The park had closed a few hours ago, giving the place an abandoned feeling as Bernie want. A light breeze rustled the trees around him, creating a whispering sound. He looked up at the towering pines high above him.


He could see the very tip of an impressive mountain in the distance. OK, it was pretty here. It wasn't such a bad gig. Sometimes the wind stopped, but Bernie could still hear her rustling. He stared up at the trees and confused. And cocked his head, it sounded almost like crying, the balmy evening here suddenly felt cold, his arms were covered in goosebumps, but he brushed it off. The monument with graffiti stood at the end of a paved pathway surrounded by a wide circle.


Three bronze figure sat atop it, a man, woman and child. The man shielded his eyes as if bravely looking toward his future. But the woman cowered behind him with a baby in her arms and a terrified child at her heels. Bernie waved his flashlight at its base. Take the Children was written in red paint. Bernie shivered. She she's. The graffiti looked kind of like blood. He sprayed it with the graffiti remover and started scrubbing a sobbing sound made Bernie whip around, but there was no one behind him.


He was positive he'd heard someone crying, but the forest was silent. PIN drop silence.


The fresh mountain air suddenly felt heavy, almost that birds stood slowly, his hands shaking a glance at the graffiti told him he wasn't even halfway done, but he suddenly wanted to be back at the station with David and his stupid humming birds stiffened. Someone was humming. Bernie whipped around, expecting to see David. Instead, a shivering woman stood in front of the monument. Her clothes were soaked at her lower lip quivered, stringy hair hung along her shoulders.


She yelled desperately to him, asking if he would take her children. Ernie froze, confused. Had this mom drawn on the monument, she looked totally unhinged. His anxiety pricked. She stood there staring. He wasn't paid enough to handle crazies. He grabbed his radio. But when he looked up, the woman had inexplicably moved ten feet and was standing directly in front of him. Her bloodshot eyes peered earnestly into his. Berney could feel the sadness coming off of her in waves like a static energy prickling his skin.


And that smell rancid and rotten, he gagged, backing away, the woman grabbed his wrist, asking again to please, please take the children or he tucked his arm from her, but her grip was unrelenting.


Suddenly, his stomach growled, the woman's face immediately filled with pity. She lunged forward, her arms outstretched, to wrap Bernie in a tight embrace. She whispered that she was hungry to. Ernie Fletcher, bony arms encircle him, his heart pounded as her frail form gripped him tighter and tighter until he couldn't breathe. He gasp for air, trying to push her off, but her hold strengthened, wrapping around him like a cage of bones. And then, without warning, she released him.


Bernie staggered backwards and ran his heavy legs, moved as fast as they could. His chest burned. Finally, he reached the Ranger station door. But before he flew inside, he looked back. He was certain that he'd see the strange corpse woman standing there watching him. But all he saw was the pioneer monument high up against the night sky. The bronze people that sat at its top stared down at him, it might have been a trick of the darkness, but he was sure that the woman no longer cowered behind the man.


Instead, she stood straight beside him, pointing in the opposite direction, as if begging him to go back the way they came. The pioneer monument honors the people who lost their lives in the winter of 1847. It's a bronze statue standing at 22 feet tall to reflect the height of the snowfall that trapped the Donner Party in an icy hell.


Visitors to Donner Lake claimed that the ghostly image of a woman in 19th century clothing appeared in some of their vacation photos. Many believe this is Tamsen Donner, doomed to forever roam the woods of her demise. Complaints of overwhelming sadness and chills are common near the monument. This could be explained easily enough. Walking around the park where so many lost their lives in such a horrific way no doubt gives most people chills. But electromagnetic field detectors, a tool ghost hunters use to detect spirits, have had abnormally high readings at Pioneer Rock and at the settlers former camp sites.


Even after 150 years later, it seems the tormented souls of Donner Lakes Woods still want us to know the horrible story of what happened there.


Coming up, a rest stop isn't always for rest. Now back to the story. History looks at the Donner Party with a mix of sympathy and disgust, we can't imagine the horrible dilemma parents had to face. They could either let their children starve or feed them the only sustenance available, the bodies of their fallen friends and relatives. But those who survived were doomed to live out their days with the taste of human flesh on their tongues. They are deserving of our sympathy, but that doesn't mean they're all without blame.


Jacob and George Donner and James Reid's arrogance led their families into a nightmare. The Donner Parties first mistake started with a book, The Emigrants Guide to Oregon and California, written by Lansford Hastings. The guide references a route called the Hastings Cutoff, claiming that it would save travelers at least 300 miles on the California Trail. But Hastings had never attempted the route himself. Seasoned traveler James Claman, a friend of James Reid, warned Reid not to take an interest cut off, but his warnings fell on deaf ears.


It may have been a more direct route, but a combination of the group's heavy wagons, untraveled terrain and poor trail markings put the Donner Party more than a month behind schedule. Additionally, they let their ox and graze for days before attempting to pass through the Sierras, pushing them even further into the depths of winter. By the time they trekked through the mountains, a vicious snowstorm was ready to bear down on them. The Donner Party's dead haunt the grounds of Donner Memorial State Park.


But perhaps what haunts those who hear their tale is knowing it could have been avoided. As soon as something romantic came on camera, leaned over from the passenger seat to change the radio station she hated when Andy had romance on the mind, it made him kind of touchy. Soon, she found a peppy top 40 jam. Perfect. She glanced at Andy behind the wheel. He hadn't noticed he was too busy inspecting his hair in the rearview. Then he saw her looking at wage.


Khandala looked away out the window, ignoring him. The imposing pines of the Sierra Nevada mountains, blue by the velvety midnight sky above it made everything seemed so big. Portland was nature free, but this was a whole different experience. The grandeur of the landscape made her feel small, insignificant, just like candy. She cracked the window, letting the fresh, cool air hit her in the face. Caitlin and she had been together since college. Same freshman dorm, same friend group, same city after college, same apartment, same same same.


But somehow she just couldn't end it.


Each time she got the courage to break things off, he'd managed to talk her out of it. They're destined for greatness, he'd say, with a wink, and then she'd wonder how she could have doubted it.


She think about how dumb she was for not seeing it until more weeks passed and they fell into their routine of the same Andy telling her what to do, and Kayla nodding along like he knew everything.


And now here they were on their way to Lake Tahoe to spend time with their group of friends, friends who all went on about what a great couple they were while Landis soaked up the attention like the relationship was his accomplishment. Out the window, a sign announced their impending pass at Donner Memorial State Park, she'd forgotten they'd be passing it. She pointed and told auntie they were in Donner Party land and she said, Oh, yeah, but Kayla could tell he didn't know what it meant when in doubt.


And he always said he knew even when he didn't, she filled him in, telling him a bunch of pioneers got stranded here in the winter and had to eat each other. She'd written an article about it. She reminded him Manifest Destiny today. It was about how we always think we deserve better for ourselves, she said. Can't stop talking to consider the article. It had proposed that the manifest destiny of yesteryear is the white privileged entitlement of today.


It might seem like aspiration, but without humility it can lead you into ruin. The article had been great, but andI hadn't read it. He said he'd get to it but never had.


He was so busy, he claimed not so busy, that he couldn't spend hours online looking for the perfect pair of boat shoes, though, and he quickly changed the subject before she had a chance to go on. They should make a pit stop, he said. He had to go for like an hour Kayla side and he hated talking about things he didn't know about.


They parked in front of the Donner Park's visitor center and hopped out, kind of looked around uneasily, writing about the Donner Party was one thing. Standing on the ground where they died was another. She could hear the faint zooming of the highway not far away, but the thick woods surrounding the center muffled it like a cold, dark blanket. She shivered. If she told Andy it gave her the creeps, he'd give her that overexaggerated pitying look and tell her he'd protect her, she hated that Kayla stepped into the deserted restroom.


She was surprised the visitor center even had the bathrooms open. She walked into a stall and shut the door.


Kayla froze. Someone else had just come in. She flushed and stepped out, but there was no one there. She looked under the stalls for a pair of feet, but she didn't see any. She frowned, a little nervous. She was sure she heard someone.


She washed your hands, drying them on her shirt, and she hustled for the door.


But when she stepped out into the cold, blustery night, the ground was covered in snow. The evergreens around the visitor center were laden down.


Drifts fell, knocked away by the wind. She stopped confused. She hadn't been in there that long, not long enough for an entire snowfall. For Jean Jacket, it was no match for the colder weather. She shivered and turned toward the car, but it was gone. The whole parking lot was gone. Kayla shook her head, wondering if she'd gotten turned around inside and came out a different door. She looked back at the visitor center, but that was gone, too.


She was surrounded by nothing but deep, endless woods. Kayla called out to Andy, but the only thing that answered her was the Wailing Wind.


Everything looked the same, just white, snowy, freezing through the trees. She caught a sight of a faint glow, a campfire.


She hurried toward it, her mind racing. What happened? Could she have been drugged? But she didn't remember feeling ill. Kayla stepped into the clearing. It was empty. Save for the fire. The trees that surrounded the space glowed orange from the flames. A movement caught her eye and one of the far trees, a pair of dirty hands appeared gripping the trunk like someone was hugging the tree from behind. Kayla gasped and backed away, more hands appeared around the tree beside it, Kayla turned to see that all the trees in the clearing had disembodied arms wrapped around their trunks, arms that were slowly followed by faces peering out at her.


Their sharp cheekbones and pale skin looked at her hungrily as they stepped out from behind the trees.


They wore old clothes, really old Kayla felt a spike of anxiety in her stomach. The way they were all staring at her made her skin crawl. She told herself not to panic.


It was just some weird reenactment, probably, but no one said a word by weren't they speaking? Kayla stammered that she was looking for the visitor center. She somehow got lost. A man stepped forward. His cheeks looked almost hollow, his mouth open, slowly revealing blackened, stained teeth. He grabbed her wrist and pulled her toward the fire. She screamed and fell into the snow, kicking at him frantically. Then she felt his grip release and another hand take its place.


Kayla screamed again, but once you looked up, she was staring at a woman. Her long, stringy hair framed a face that once might have been pretty but had been badly marred by grief. The woman looked angrily at the man who grabbed Kayla, muttering under her breath that women are always stuck following their men.


Then she looked at Caillat, her gaunt face, almost sympathetic, she was bitter as she told Keila to go, and she said she hoped Kayla wouldn't stay with him.


Caleb was on her feet in an instant, she ran through the snow branches toward her face and her breath came out and hot, misty clouds. Then her feet hit something solid, concrete, bright lights suddenly blinded her and she shielded her eyes. She was standing on a road. A car was idling on its shoulder. Kayla stared at it, dazed, and he poked his head out of the driver's window, angry and asked where she'd been. Kayla realized the woman's words still rattled around in her mind.


She called out to Andy to say she wasn't going to Tahoe. She wasn't going anywhere with him again. The Donner Party never expected tragedy to befall them when they set out on their journey across the American West. They believed that they were exceptional.


But part of the 19th century movement called Manifest Destiny pioneers, trailblazing territory untouched by civilized man. In truth, they were ambitious but foolish.


The supposed virgin land they traversed on their journey had been inhabited by Native Americans for generations before the Donner set foot on a trail. But to the Donners, the native people of the American West were not people at all. And it was this dehumanization of the tribes they encountered that ultimately contributed to their demise. According to some accounts, the washow people who lived near the Nevada California border where the Donner Party was trapped approached the Donners with food. But the family shot back at the tribe even as they lay dying in the snow.


The Donner Party story warns us against arrogance and ignorance. A group of families dreamed of a better life, but their overconfidence and lack of regard for the people and advice of those before them led them to a horrific end. It is said that history is often doomed to repeat itself.


We struggle with the sins of the past, ignoring them rather than learning from them. But if we listen to nothing else, perhaps the words of survivor Patti Reid can stick with us. Remember, never take no cut offs and hurry along as fast as you can. Thanks again for tuning into haunted places. We'll be back on Thursday with a new episode. And don't forget to come back on Tuesday for Urban Legends series available only on Spotify. You can find more episodes of Haunted Places and all other Spotify originals from podcast for free on Spotify.


I'll see you next time. Haunted Places is a Spotify original from podcast. Executive producers include Max and Ron Cutler, Sound Design by Russell Nash with production assistance by Ron Shapiro, Carly Madden and Erin Larson. This episode of Haunted Places was written by Kate Murdoch with writing assistants by Alex Garland, fact checking by Cheyenne Lopez and research by Adriana Gomez and Mikki Taylor. I'm Greg Polson.


Bad omens, good fortune, pure luck. Take a closer look at what you believe in and follow the Spotify original faux pas, caste superstitions, new episodes, Air Weekly every Wednesday. Listen free on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Hi, it's Vanessa again. Before you go, don't forget to check out the new Parkhurst Limited series. Criminal couples from apocalyptic cult leaders to bank robbing bandits to married mafiosos. These couples give new meaning to till death do us part.


Enjoy two part episodes every Monday starting February 1st. Follow criminal couples free and exclusively on Spotify.