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Historical items recovered from site of former Korean legation in Washington

An invitation to the 1906 wedding of a daughter of then-U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and other historical items have been recovered from the site of the former Korean legation in Washington, officials said Thursday.

The 15 items, which were found during restoration work on the building that was used as the Korean legation from 1891 to 1910, before Korea was colonized by Japan, show active diplomacy Korean envoys were engaged in at the time, the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation said.

The agency said that the invitation to the White House wedding of Alice Roosevelt is of particular historical importance as it came after Japan deprived Korea of its diplomatic power in 1905 in the lead-up to the formal annexation in 1910.

The wedding also came just five months after Alice Roosevelt visited Korea and paid a courtesy call on King Gojong, the 26th king of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and the first emperor of the Korea Empire. The Korean Empire was the name of the Joseon Dynasty during its final 13 years.

Other recovered items include an invitation to an exhibition of art work by George Robert Bruenech, a Christmas card from American painter Edith Haworth as well as an invitation to a Bible school of the Church of Covenant in Washington that then-U.S. President Benjamin Harrison attended.

A 1892 article in the Sun newspaper said that then-Acting Korean Minister Lee Chae-yeon and his wife attended the church, "occupying seats directly back of President Harrison." The paper also said that Lee's home became a "social center among the diplomats."

King Gojong bought the legation building in 1891 for US$25,000, a huge sum at that time. But Japan took over the ownership of the building for just $5 as soon as Korea went under its colonial rule, and sold it to an American for $10.

In 2012, the South Korean government bought the red brick, three-story Victorian-style building in the Logan Circle Historic District, some 10 minutes' drive from the White House, from an American for US$3.5 million in an effort to preserve a symbol of diplomacy of the Joseon Dynasty.

It is the only former overseas establishment of the Korean Empire that still has its original shape.

Restoration work has been under way since October, and is expected to be completed by year's end before it formally opens to the public early next year. (Yonhap)