(Reuters) – Historic preservation experts on Wednesday worked to open a time capsule believed to date back to 1887 that was encased in the pedestal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that formerly stood in Richmond, Virginia’s capital.
Conservators in a laboratory at the state’s Department of Historic Resources caught a glimpse of paper and textile materials inside the lead box when they pried open one corner after hours of meticulous scraping and drilling.
It was unclear how long it would take the experts to open the entire capsule, which was discovered on Friday.
Historians believe a time capsule containing about 60 objects was placed in the statue pedestal on Oct. 27, 1887, according to a news release from Northam’s office.
The governor’s office referred to the box being opened as an 1887 time capsule. But state conservators said they were not sure whether the capsule being opened on Wednesday was the one said to contain the 60 objects, since that box had been described as a copper box of slightly different dimensions than the one being opened.
The memorial to Lee was erected at Monument Avenue in Richmond, the former capital of the pro-slavery Confederacy, a group of Southern states that fought against Union forces in the 1861-65 Civil War.
The six-story tall statue was removed from its base in September after a year-long legal battle. The monument, which activists say glorified the South’s racist past, had been the focus of protests against racial injustice. Advocates of keeping Confederate monuments and symbols say they honor the Southern heritage and the sacrifices made by those who fought during war.
Northam, a Democrat, announced plans to remove the statue in June 2020, 10 days after a white Minneapolis policeman killed George Floyd, who was Black, sparking nationwide protests.
Crews discovered the time capsule on Friday while disassembling the pedestal that formerly held the statue.
The lead box was found about 20 feet above the ground, encased in a 1,500-pound block of granite, according to the state’s Department of Historic Resources.
(Reporting by Julia Harte; Editing by Richard Chang)