The Time Capsule Discovered Beneath Lee’s Statue Is Shrouded In Mystery


A rusty 1875 almanac, a fabric envelope, and a silver coin were discovered Wednesday in a time capsule that had been hidden for more than 130 years beneath a towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Virginia.

The water-damaged artifacts were intriguing, but they weren’t what many were expecting to see after state conservators carefully pried the time capsule open for five hours. Even the lead box coated with mortar was unexpected.

According to historical archives, the capsule contained dozens of Confederate-related artifacts and a photograph of President Abraham Lincoln, who died in 1865. However, its contents were revealed in minutes, and the things were sparse.

There were a total of three novels. Aside from the almanac, a worn book with a pink cover appeared to be an edition of Collinson Pierrepont Edwards Burgwyn’s “The Huguenot Lovers: A Tale of the Old Dominion.” A civil engineer for the city of Richmond, he worked on the plans for Monument Avenue, where the Lee statue once stood.

There looked to be a booklet of some sort that mentioned water power facilities for Manchester, which is located south of Richmond.

Devon Henry, the contractor who demolished the Lee statue and is currently working on the pedestal removal in Richmond, believes there may be a second-time capsule that has yet to be discovered.

As conservators labored to open the capsule, he stated, “I’m as curious as everyone.” “Finding it was a big relief. Second, we must determine whether it is what we are looking for.”

Work crews consumed more than 12 hours searching for the time capsule in the base of the 40-foot-tall (12-meter-tall) pedestal the day after the Lee statue was removed in September but could not find it.

On Friday, a time capsule was discovered lodged 20 feet (6 meters) high in the pedestal.

Given the container opened on Wednesday did not match the description of the time capsule they were predicting, Henry said his workgroup is still being extra cautious.

According to a newspaper story from 1887, the year the time capsule was buried in the pedestal, it contains Civil War relics and a “picture of Lincoln lying in his coffin.” According to the Library of Virginia, over 60 objects were donated to the capsule by 37 Richmond people, organizations, and corporations. Many of these are thought to be tied to the Confederacy.

That time capsule is thought to be a copper box measuring 14 by 14 by 8 inches (35 by 35 by 20 cm), larger than the lead box discovered on the pedestal last week. Aside from the fact that there were much fewer things, the lead capsule removed on Friday measured 4-by-8-by-11.5 inches (10-by-20-by-30 cm).

Julie Langan, the state’s Department of Historic Resources head, said, “We were startled to find something lead.”

The items will be cataloged by the state Department of Historic Resources, which expects additional information on their makeup and origins in a few days. The books will be placed in a freezer to avoid mold, and the silver coin, which began to tarnish as soon as the box was opened, will be kept in a dry place to prevent deterioration.

Governor Ralph Northam stated Virginia doesn’t need Confederate monuments before work on the capsule began on Wednesday.

He stated, “We are a Commonwealth that embraces variety.” “We welcome everyone.”

The Lee statue, constructed in 1890, was long regarded as a symbol of racial injustice in the Confederacy’s former capital. It was taken down in September, more than a year after Northam ordered it when rallies flared in Minneapolis following the police killing of George Floyd.

The Lee statue was the only one of five Confederate memorials along the avenue of Richmond’s Monument, which belongs to the state. The four city-owned figures were removed in 2020, but two lawsuits prevented the Lee statue from being removed until a Supreme Court of Virginia order in September cleared the way.

Northam, a Democrat, stated earlier this month that the massive pedestal would be demolished, reversing his position from September when he said the column would remain in place until a community-led project to reinvent Monument Avenue could decide its fate.

The Lee statue evolved to become the focal point of the racial justice movement in Richmond after Floyd’s assassination in 2020. Since then, the pedestal has been blanketed in graffiti, some of it critical of the police. Some protesters wanted it to stay in place as a piece of protest art.

Main Image by: Steve Helber/AP

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