Robert E Lee statue: Variety of artefacts recovered from time capsule found under Confederate monument

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  • Robert E. Lee
    General in Chief of the Armies of the Confederate States
  • Abraham Lincoln
    16th president of the United States (1809−1865)

Books, coins, ammunition, and documents from the 1880s were among artefacts found in a time capsule uncovered beneath a statue of a Confederate leader in Virginia.

Crews finishing up the removal of a statue of General Robert E Lee made the discovery on Monday, with the contents matching a time capsule historians had long been looking for.

Records from the library of Virginia suggests that dozens of Richmond residents, organisations and businesses contributed 60 objects to the capsule - including Confederate material - which was placed under the statue in 1887.

The lead conservator for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Kate Ridgway, said the contents were damp, "but it's not soup", adding: "It's in better shape than we expected."

The box, which weighed 36 pounds, was found in water in a little alcove of the statue's pedestal.

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.

Historical records had led to some speculation that the capsule might contain a rare and historically significant photo of deceased President Abraham Lincoln, with one line from a newspaper article listing among the contents a "picture of Lincoln lying in his coffin."

However, conservators found a printed image from an 1865 issue of Harper's Weekly, which seemed to show a figure grieving over Lincoln's grave, but it did not seem to be the much-anticipated photograph.

Harold Holzer, a historian and Lincoln scholar, previously said he believed it highly unlikely the capsule contained an actual shot of the former president in his coffin because the only known such picture was taken by photographer Jeremiah Gurney in New York City Hall on 24 April 1865.

Lee is a deeply divisive figure in the US, with a number of places removing reference to him from public spaces in light of George Floyd's murder last year and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Richmond's statue was removed in September, with crews continuing to work to dismantle the plinth and search for the buried artefact.

A similar box was found earlier in the month, but once pried open was found only to contain a few books and coins.

Investigators theorised it was left by construction staff and was not the trove of artefacts they were hunting for.

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