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Books, ammunition, coins found in time capsule from Lee statue site

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Posted at 12:03 PM, Dec 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-28 18:43:04-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- For the second time this month, conservation experts in Virginia's capital city have opened an apparent time capsule found in the remnants of a pedestal that once held a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

State officials hope Tuesday's opening of the aged copper box, which was discovered Monday and carefully extracted from the monument site a day earlier, will mark the end of a long search for an elusive 1887 time capsule.

So far, experts have pulled out books, money, ammunition, documents and other artifacts from the capsule.

Kate Ridgway, the lead conservator for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, said the measurements and material of the box, copper, match historical accounts. The items inside appear to match the description of items detailed in a historical newspaper article about the time capsule's creation.

Ridgway said the metal objects taken from the capsule will be stabilized in silica gel before further examination. The organic objects, such as things made of paper, will be dried out between blotter sheets or put in a freezer to stabilize them from the moisture found in the box.

It has yet to be determined where the artifacts will go after they're stabilized and examined, but they are currently considered property of the Commonwealth.

“They found it! This is likely the time capsule everyone was looking for,” Gov. Ralph Northam tweeted Monday after the box was plucked from the rubble.

Northam ordered the enormous equestrian statue of Lee removed in 2020, 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.

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, Northam ordered the pedestal removed as well, and crews working on the project again started to search for the artifact. Another time capsule was discovered two weeks ago, generating excitement, but hours of painstaking and ultimately anti-climactic examination suggested that artifact was placed by someone else, perhaps someone involved with the construction.

Northam's office said the newly discovered box underwent an initial analysis Monday.

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

Records maintained by the Library of Virginia suggest that dozens of Richmond residents, organizations and businesses contributed about 60 objects to the capsule, including Confederate memorabilia. One line from a newspaper article also listed among the contents “picture of Lincoln lying in his coffin."

Harold Holzer, a historian and Lincoln scholar, previously told The Associated Press he believes it’s highly doubtful that the picture is 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.

More likely, Holzer said, it could be a popular Currier & Ives lithographic print of Lincoln lying in state in New York or a sketch done by an artist who may have witnessed Lincoln’s body during a two-week tour the president’s body was taken on before his burial in Springfield, Illinois.

The conservators did find a reprinted photo of Lincoln in what appeared to be a centerfold page from an edition of Harper's Weekly — but not the photo historians had hoped for.

Tuesday's opening could start to provide an answer — depending on the conditions of the objects inside.

Devon Henry, a contractor whose company is overseeing the pedestal removal, said Monday that the box was found sitting in water.