Treasures of second time capsule from 1887 found under Robert E. Lee statue shown to public

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A second time capsule from the year 1887 was found Monday in Richmond, Va., in the remnants of the pedestal that held the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, and after opening the aged copper box on Tuesday historians believe this is the actual time capsule that was expected to be found.

The box contained books, money, ammunition, documents and other artifacts, but speculation that the capsule contained a photo of deceased President Abraham Lincoln proved not to be true.

Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the enormous equestrian statue of Lee removed in 2020 during the Black Lives Matter rioting in 2020 that followed the death of George Floyd and after prolonged court battles, the statue was shamefully removed in September 2021. Northam ordered the pedestal to be removed earlier this month and crews working on the project were on the lookout for the artifact.

News accounts from the late 1800s detailed the placement of the time capsule in the foundation of the pedestal, WTVR reported. And while imaging tests appeared to confirm its existence, nothing was found during the September statue removal.

Somewhat ironic, Northam took to Twitter on Monday to excitedly announce that the real time capsule had been found.

Another time capsule was found embedded in a granite block two weeks ago by crews working on the project. Initial hopes that this was the container being sought were soon dashed when conservators carefully opened the box and did not find the expected trove of objects, according to WTVR. Instead, they found waterlogged books, a silver coin and an envelope with papers, and the general belief is that the artifact was placed by someone else, perhaps someone involved with the initial construction.

The second box was found inside a granite enclosure at ground level and Devon Henry, a contractor whose company is overseeing the pedestal removal, said it was found sitting in water.

“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,'” the CBS affiliate reported.

What conservators found on Tuesday was a printed image from an April 25, 1865 issue of Harper’s Weekly in the time capsule that reportedly showed a figure appearing to be grieving over Lincoln’s grave.

Harold Holzer, a historian and Lincoln scholar, was skeptical of the reports that the time capsule contained a photo of Lincoln, having previously told The Associated Press he believed it highly unlikely 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.

Kate Ridgway, the lead conservator for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, confirmed that the box and its contents match historical accounts and said the items would be stabilized. The artifacts are considered property of the Commonwealth, according to WTVR, but it has not been determined where they will go from here.

Here is video of the box being opened, shared on Twitter by the television station:

Among the item found was a Bible and Richmond Directory, as well as a wooden Confederate flag and square and compass (masonic symbol) that were reportedly made from the tree that grew over Stonewall Jackson’s original grave.

Additional video footage of the opening shared by the CBS affiliate can be seen below:


Tom Tillison


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