RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Conservation experts in the Virginia capital on Tuesday removed books, money, ammunition, documents and other artifacts from a much sought-after time capsule found in the remains of ‘a pedestal that once contained a statue of the Confederate General. Robert E. Lee.

For about two hours, the team sliced ​​open the 36-pound copper box and meticulously disassembled and documented the wet contents. The box had been nestled in a foundation cornerstone of the massive – and now largely deconstructed – Richmond Monument since 1887.

The time capsule had generated considerable interest, both because it had proven elusive in previous research and because historical documents had led to speculation, it might contain a rare photo of President Abraham Lincoln after his death. Ultimately, such a photo was not found.

The conservation team were able to identify many objects immediately when they were removed from the box, although some materials were warped by water damage and require further study. Experts were on hand to sort the artifacts.

“They were more saturated with water than we had hoped, but not as bad as it could have been,” said Kate Ridgway, chief curator of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

The time capsule had been found a day earlier – buried and sitting in the water – by workers completing the removal of the pedestal from the statue of Lee.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam ordered the removal of Lee’s massive equestrian statue in 2020, amid the global protest movement sparked by the police murder of George Floyd. Litigation pushed back his plans and the statue was not removed until September, after a court cleared the way.

Contemporary news articles from the late 1800s detailed the placement of the box in the cornerstone of the pedestal, but a lengthy search while removing the statue turned out to be empty.

Earlier this month, Northam also ordered the pedestal removed, and teams working on the project began to search for the artifact again. A different time capsule was discovered two weeks ago, generating excitement, but hours of scrutiny and ultimately anti-climatic suggested the artifact was placed by someone else, possibly. be someone involved in construction.

Ridgway said the measurements and copper material of the box opened on Tuesday matched historical records. As the content inside unpacked, it largely aligned with the articles listed in a newspaper article of the time.

A snippet in that newspaper article had led to speculation that the capsule might contain a historically significant photo of Lincoln. It listed among the contents a “photo of Lincoln lying in his coffin”.

Conservators on Tuesday found a printed image of an 1865 issue of Harper’s Weekly that they said appeared to show a grieving figure from Lincoln’s grave – but it was not the long-awaited photo.

“It was not an original. It might be from a photograph, but it’s an engraving, ”said Sue Donovan, curator of special collections at the University of Virginia library.

The contents of the well-packed box had expanded from the moisture and stuck together, making it difficult to unpack. The restorers therefore decided to reduce the pressure by cutting one side.

“Not ideal, but it’s like that,” Ridgway said.

After Ridgway and other members of the team meticulously extracted each object, other conservators transported the pieces to the back of the lab for further study and cataloging. The team made sure to photograph each object before handling it.

Along with several waterlogged books, brochures and newspapers, the box contained an envelope of Confederate money, which the Conservatives carefully separated, and two carved artifacts – a Masonic symbol and a Confederate flag allegedly made from the tree that grew on General Stonewall Jackson’s original grave.

The Conservatives also removed Minié buttons, coins and bullets, a type of bullet used during the Civil War, from the box. A bomb squad had checked the capsule on Monday, in part to make sure there were no live ammunition inside.

Ridgway told reporters after the box was emptied that there was a question whether calling the ship a time capsule was the most accurate terminology, as it didn’t appear to have a definitive date it should have been. open.

“A cornerstone box is probably more precise,” she said.

No inscriptions were visible inside or outside the box, although Ridgway said it is possible that such a sculpture corroded over time.

The Lee Monument was once part of a collection of Confederate statues that dot historic Monument Avenue in Richmond, which was the capital of the Confederacy during most of the Civil War. The other Confederate statues, which were owned by the city, were removed last year.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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