Second 1887 time capsule found under Gen. Robert E. Lee statue is REAL: Unsealed copper box contains 60 objects including Confederate memorabilia – and print showing figure grieving at Abraham Lincoln’s grave

  • Copper box opened on Tuesday was confirmed as the true 1887 time capsule left by Richmond residents
  • It did not contain a promised photo of Lincoln in his casket, but rather an illustration of Lincoln’s grave
  • Discovery of the true capsule follows opening of bogus box apparently left as a stunt by the stonemason
  • Conservators found books, coins, ammunition, documents and dozens of other artifacts

Historical conservation experts in Virginia’s capital have opened a time capsule found in the remnants of a pedestal that once held a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, finding books, coins, ammunition, documents and dozens of other artifacts.

The box opened on Tuesday appears to be the true 1887 time capsule filled with Confederate trinkets, after another container discovered earlier was revealed as a stunt apparently left by the monument’s builders.

However, the real time capsule did not contain the rare photo of President Abraham Lincoln in an open casket as historians had hoped, instead bearing an illustration of the assassinated president’s gravesite. 

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. 

The lead conservator for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Kate Ridgway, said that the measurements and material of the copper box match historical accounts. 

Conservation experts in Virginia´s capital have opened a time capsule found in the remnants of a pedestal that once held a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, finding books, coins, ammunition, documents and dozens of artifacts

A conservator shows a bookmark with an illustration of Robert E. Lee that was contained in the time capsule

Another artifact is displayed. The box opened on Tuesday appears to be the true 1887 time capsule

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

Waterlogged coins had to be carefully separated from paper relics by conservators as they processed the materials

Officials initially searched for the capsule after removing a controversial statue (above) of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in September, but were unable to find it at the time. The true capsule was discovered after the pedestal was removed

Workers recovered the 1887 time capsule that was put under Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee statue’s pedestal on Monday in Richmond, Virginia. Here is seen the hole in the northeast corner of the foundation where the box was found

The box (above) was discovered on Monday in a hole carved out below the site of the statue pedestal

As the contents inside were unpacked, they appeared to match the description of the 1887 time capsule they had been looking for.

‘It does appear that this is the box we expected,’ Ridgway told reporters.

The box was discovered and carefully extracted from the monument site a day earlier, marking the end of a long search for the elusive capsule. 

Ridgway said the box, which weighed 36 pounds, was found in water in a little alcove of the pedestal. The contents were damp, but ‘it’s not soup,’ Ridgway said.

‘I think it’s in better shape than we expected,’ she said.

Historical records had led to some speculation that the capsule might contain a rare and historically significant photo of deceased President Abraham Lincoln. 

One line from a newspaper article also listed among the contents ‘picture of Lincoln lying in his coffin.’

Instead, on Tuesday conservators found a printed image from an 1865 issue of Harper’s Weekly in the time capsule that Ridgway said seemed to show a figure grieving over Lincoln’s grave – which did not appear to be the much-anticipated photo.

Conservators removed one side of the box after finding that water expansion made removing some items difficult

An unknown item from the capsule is seen upon its removal. Ridgway said the box, which weighed 36 pounds, was found in water in a little alcove of the pedestal

A Minie ball found inside the time capsule is displayed by conservators after the unboxing on Tuesday

Virginia state conservators work on a time capsule left in the pedestal at the former site of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond on Tuesday

Harold Holzer, a historian and Lincoln scholar, had previously told The Associated Press he believed it highly unlikely that the time capsule contained an actual photograph of Lincoln in his coffin 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.

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.

‘Not ideal but it’s the way it is,’ Ridgway said.

Northam ordered the enormous equestrian statue of Lee removed in 2020, amid the global protest movement sparked by the police killing of George Floyd. 

Litigation pushed back his plans, and the statue was not removed until September, after a court cleared the way.

Contemporaneous news accounts from the late 1800s detailed the placement of the time capsule in the foundation of the pedestal, and imaging tests conducted earlier this year appeared to confirm its existence. 

But a lengthy search during the September statue removal came up empty.

The box was discovered and carefully extracted from the monument site a day earlier, marking the end of a long search for the elusive capsule

Contemporaneous news accounts from the late 1800s detailed the placement of the time capsule in the foundation of the pedestal, and imaging tests conducted earlier this year appeared to confirm its existence

Earlier this month, Northam ordered the pedestal removed as well, and crews working on the project again started to search for the artifact

The contents were damp, but ‘it’s not soup,’ Ridgway said. ‘I think it’s in better shape than we expected,’ she said

A book from the Richmond Chamber of Commerce was one of the dozens of items recovered from the box

Earlier this month, Northam ordered the pedestal removed as well, and crews working on the project again started to search for the artifact. 

Two weeks ago, crews dismantling the pedestal found a time capsule embedded in a granite block that some initially thought might have been the one placed in 1887. 

But after state conservators spent hours last week gingerly prying the box open, they didn´t find the expected trove of objects related to the Confederacy. 

Instead, conservators pulled out a few waterlogged books, a silver coin and an envelope with some papers.

The prevailing theory last week was that the lead box was left by a person – or persons – who oversaw the monument´s construction as a private ‘vanity project’.

The search for the true 1887 time capsule resumed Monday.

Devon Henry, the contractor whose company was overseeing the removal, said the second box was found inside a granite enclosure basically at ground level, surrounded by fill and other construction material. 

Workers pulled off the top of the granite enclosure to find the box, which appeared to be made of copper, sitting in water, Henry said.

The box was then covered in bubble wrap and transported by vehicle from the site for further study, he said.

Virginia state conservators work on a time capsule left in the pedestal at the former site of a statue of General Robert E. Lee

A ribbon is seen that was found in the box, which was discovered by work crews under the pedestal site on Monday

The Lee statue was one of five enormous Confederate tributes along Monument Avenue, and the only one that belonged to the state

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

The Lee statue was one of five enormous Confederate tributes along Monument Avenue, and the only one that belonged to the state. 

The four city-owned statues were taken down in 2020, but the Lee statue´s removal was blocked by two lawsuits until a ruling from the Supreme Court of Virginia in September cleared the way for it to be dismantled.

Crews searched for the time capsule then, digging and removing some massive stones, but were unable to locate it.

Henry said it was found Monday in the northeast corner of the pedestal, about 4 feet below the area initially searched.

Northam’s administration initially planned to leave the pedestal in place but announced in early December that contractors would remove the behemoth, now covered in graffiti, and transfer the grassy traffic circle it inhabited to the city of Richmond. 

The administration has said it will be stored until ‘next steps’ have been determined.

Finalizing the removal work at the site will likely take another week, Henry said.

Once the site is clear and workers either find the famed capsule or give up their search, a new capsule will be buried at the site.

The 2021 time capsule that will be buried at the same site includes a You Are Not Alone flyer found in the street after a George Floyd protest last year, a COVID mask worn by Virginia’s First Lady Pam Northam, photos from a Stop Asian Hate protest, a Virginia is for Lovers sticker, and a hand painted gourd rattle that was a gift from the Mattiponi and Pamunkey nations

The new capsule contains 39 items that were proposed by residents of the city and selected by a group that included the state’s First Lady Pamela Northam. 

Items include a photograph of a black ballerina dancing in front of the vandalized statue and a copy of the National Geographic ‘2020 in Pictures’ issue with a photograph of the Lee monument on the cover.

It also will contain a ‘Kente cloth worn by the Commissioners of the Congressionally chartered 400 Years of African-American History Commission’. 

Other 2021 artifacts in the capsule will include an expired COVID-vaccine, photos from Stop Asian Hate protests, BLM stickers and a ‘Virginia is for Lovers’ Pride badge.  

THE 39 ARTIFACTS INSIDE RICHMOND’S 2021 TIME CAPSULE TO GO IN BASE OF ROBERT E. LEE STATUE 

1. ‘Ballerina at the Lee Statue’ photo taken on June 5th, 2020

2. Expired Vial of COVID-19 Pfizer Vaccine and CDC Vaccination Record Card 

3. National Geographic Special Issue ‘2020 in Pictures’ with cover image of Lee Monument in Richmond 

4. Black Lives Matter sticker 

5. Collection of Michael Paul Williams’ Pulitzer prize-winning columns on Monument Avenue

6. ‘Writing a new history’ Kente cloth worn by the Commissioners of the Congressionally chartered 400 Years of African-American History Commission and Ghanian emissaries that participated in the 400th commemoration of 1619 at Point Comfort in Hampton

7. New Virginians’ booklet with portraits of 24 immigrants

8. General Assembly Acts of Assembly from the 2020 Special Session

9. ‘Virginia is for Lovers’ pride pin and stickers 

10. The Protagonist poem in uncontracted Unified English Braille

11. Better Together LED Board coded by local schoolgirls 

12. VA Ratify ERA sash and ERA 2020 pins 

13. YOU ARE NOT ALONE pink heart print found on Richmond street after George Floyd protests in May 2020 

14. Election Officer Badge for 2020 General Election 

15. Monument Avenue Hip Hop Album by Noah-O and Taylor Whitelow 

16. Prayer beads left by a family member who passed away from COVID-19 

17. Danville Public Schools ‘First Lady’ face mask, donated by Pam Northam 

18. Photos of the June 4, 2020 press conference announcing the removal of the Lee Statue 

19. Steel railroad spike talking piece found near African Ancestral Burial Ground 

20. Photos and fliers from Stop Asian Hate protests in May 2021 

21. Program and video from the dedication of Arthur Ashe Boulevard featuring a keynote from former Congressman John Lewis

22. Letter describing Virginia University Union’s history and commitment to the Richmond community 

23. Photo of the Virginia State Police at 14th and F Street NW in Washington helping DC Metro Police Department patrol the city for unrest after the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 

24. Essays and poems from Arcadia Middle School students reflecting on the experience of being a student during a pandemic 

25. Senate Resolution Commending the League of Women’s Voters 

26. ‘Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee Monument is Coming Down, Thanks to Me and Black Women Like Me’ July 10, 2021 Teen  Vogue article written and submitted by Zyahna Bryant 

27. Hard copy of the Virginia Poet Laureate Luisa Igloria’s work Dear America

28.  Gifts from the dedication ceremony from the Mattiponi and Pamunkey nations, hand painted gourd rattle and hand crafted earrings with sturgeon scale and beading

29. Booklet which outlines Virginia’s first One Virginia Plan for Inclusive Excellence 

30. Rumors of War Wasn’t a Rumor photo lithographic plate with oil-based ink & sealant 

31. Copy of the LGBTQ Richmond Walking Tour created by Blake McDonald 

32. First Presbyterian Church Session 2020 minutes approving the formation of a Dismantling Racism 

33.  Video of the One Commonwealth Many Virginians: Uniting in Interfaith Prayer for Healing and Unity event

34. Piece of tarp from the unveiling of Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War Statue and photos from the unveiling event

35.  Document describing selected student submissions from the Governor’s Inaugural Black History Month Historical Marker Contest 

36. Post-Colonial Love Poem by 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry Winner Natalie Diaz 

37. New Legacy Postcard 

38. List of artifacts in the previous capsule as described in a Richmond Dispatch article 

39. Photo collage of individuals who contributed artifacts to the new time capsule and thank you note     

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