Time capsule believed to be from 1887 uncovered under Robert E Lee statue

Conservation experts in the US state of Virginia have pulled books, money, ammunition, documents and other artefacts from a time capsule found in the remnants of a pedestal that once held a statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee.

Key points:

  • Local residents, organisations and businesses contributed objects to the capsule
  • There was speculation the capsule might contain a rare photo of deceased US president Abraham Lincoln
  • The statue of Lee was removed in September

The lead conservator for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Kate Ridgway, said the measurements and copper construction of the box match historical accounts.

As the contents inside were unpacked, they appeared to match the description of the 1887 time capsule they had been looking for.

"It does appear that this is the box we expected," she told reporters.

Records maintained by the Library of Virginia suggest that dozens of residents, organisations and businesses in the state capital of Richmond contributed about 60 objects to the capsule, including confederate memorabilia.

The box was discovered and carefully extracted from the monument site a day earlier, marking the end of a long search for the elusive capsule.

Ms Ridgway said the box, which weighed 16 kilograms, was found in water in a little alcove of the pedestal.

Buttons, coins, documents and other artefacts were found in the time capsule.(AP: Steve Helber)

The contents were damp, but "it's not soup", Ms Ridgway said.

"I think it's in better shape than we expected," she said.

Historical records had led to some speculation that the capsule might contain a rare and historically significant photo of deceased president Abraham Lincoln.

One line from a newspaper article listed among the contents a "picture of Lincoln lying in his coffin".

On Tuesday, conservators found a printed image from an 1865 issue of Harper's Weekly in the time capsule that Ms Ridgway said seemed to show a figure grieving over Lincoln's grave — but did not appear to be the much-anticipated photo.

Harold Holzer, a historian and Lincoln scholar, had previously said he believed it highly unlikely that the time capsule contained an actual photograph of Lincoln in his coffin because the only known photo of Lincoln in death was taken by photographer Jeremiah Gurney in City Hall in New York on April 24, 1865.

The contents of the tightly packed box had expanded from the damp and stuck together, making unpacking difficult, so conservators decided to relieve pressure by cutting down one side.

"Not ideal, but it's the way it is," Ms Ridgway said.

A pile of rubble is all that is left after the removal of the pedestal that once held the statue of Robert E Lee on Monument Ave.(AP: Steve Helber)

Along with several waterlogged books, pamphlets and newspapers, the box contained an envelope of Confederate money, which conservators carefully separated, and two carved artefacts — a Masonic symbol and a Confederate flag said to have been made from the tree that grew over the original grave of general Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's original grave.

Conservators also pulled buttons, coins and Miniè balls, a type of bullet used in the Civil War, from the box.

A bomb squad had checked the capsule on Monday, partly to make sure there was no live ammunition.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam ordered the enormous equestrian statue of Lee removed, amid the global protest movement sparked by the police killing of George Floyd.

Litigation pushed back his plans, and the statue was not removed until September after a court cleared the way.

Calls for the statue to be removed reignited after George Floyd's death.(AP: Steve Helber)

Contemporaneous news accounts from the late 1800s detailed the placement of the time capsule in the foundation of the pedestal, and imaging tests conducted earlier this year appeared to confirm its existence. But a lengthy search during the September statue removal came up empty.

Earlier this month, Mr Northam ordered the pedestal removed as well, and crews working on the project again started to search for the artefact.

A time capsule was discovered two weeks ago, generating excitement, but hours of painstaking and ultimately anti-climactic examination suggested that artefact was placed by someone else, perhaps someone involved with the construction.


Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

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