Experts open time capsule found at Gen. Lee statue site

·3 min read

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Conservation experts in Virginia’s capital have opened a time capsule — the second this month — found in the remnants of a pedestal that once held a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Tuesday’s opening of the aged copper box could mark the end of a long search for the elusive 1887 time capsule. Historical records have led to some speculation that the capsule could contain a rare photo of a dead President Abraham Lincoln in his casket.

The box was discovered Monday in the foundation of the pedestal that previously held the Lee statue in Richmond. Another time capsule was found there earlier this month, but a painstaking examination suggested it was not the sought-after one from 1887.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

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

The lead conservator for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Kate Ridgway, said that the measurements and material, copper, match historical accounts, so they believe it’s the 1887 time capsule they’ve been looking for.

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

She said that they will have to cut the box open and had already made several cuts before the media was invited to observe the final cut.

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

“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. A 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. Its dimensions match the size listed in the historical record and X-rays showed it appeared to include items such as books, coins, buttons and perhaps a type of Civil War-era ammunition, according to a news release.

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.

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

Sarah Rankin, The Associated Press

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