Disappointing Confederate Time Capsule Uncovered in Richmond

It appeared to have been missing a few items…until they found the second box.

Inside the base where a statue of Confederate general, Robert E. Lee, once stood a time capsule was discovered recently in Richmond, Virginia. The statue was removed as part of a movement across the South to de-emphasize Confederate heroes and monuments. At that time Governor Ralph Northam issued a statement on the matter, “After 133 years, the statue of Robert E. Lee has finally come down—the last Confederate statue on Monument Avenue, and the largest in the South. The public monuments reflect the story we choose to tell about who we are as a people. It is time to display history as history, and use the public memorials to honor the full and inclusive truth of who we are today and in the future.”

Robert E Lee monument in 1890
The monument photographed soon after it was erected. Via: Library of Congress

In March 2021 a void in the structure was detected, leading experts to suspect that there was a time capsule hidden inside. While the massive statue itself was removed in September of 2021, it wasn’t until December 22, 2021, that removal of the 40-foot-high base began.

It was then that a time capsule was discovered sunk into the base of the statue. However, what they found inside was less than illuminating. Local library records and newspapers from the era indicated that around 60 items were supposed to have been buried inside the capsule, including a picture of President Abraham Lincoln’s open casket and artifacts from the Confederacy. Instead, when the box was opened in a livestream event it contained only 3 books, an envelope, and a coin. One of the books was a copy of The Huguenot Lovers: A Tale of the Old Dominion.

Robert E Lee monument time capsule
Via: CBS News/YouTube

Another of the books was a small pamphlet, and still another was a farmer’s almanac from 1875, 15 years before the statue was erected. All of the books were water damaged. Officials suspect that the time capsule dates from 1887.

The box that contained the items measures 4″x”8″11.5″ and is made from lead. It was covered in mortar when it was set into the monument’s granite plinth, which presented the conservators opening it will several challenges. It took hours for workers to remove the box without completely tearing it apart.

The bulk of the removal of the base is expected to be completed before the start of 2022 and Governor Northam called on the public to help create a new time capsule for the reimagined Monument Avenue where the Confederate statue once stood.

You can see the time capsule box and items from the 19th century in the video below.

UPDATE: Crews working on taking down the base found a second time capsule, this one more in line with what records had shown might be there. On December 28th, 2021, a copper box containing money, a picture, and ammunition was opened.

As with the first time capsule the contents were damp and showed signs of water damage. Lead conservator for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Kate Ridgway, told the press that the items “…were more waterlogged than we had hoped but not as bad as it could have been.”

The copper box also contained two carved items: a Masonic symbol and a Confederate flag each made from the wood of the tree that grew over Confederate General Stonewall Jackson’s grave. And, despite more numerous and interesting finds this time around, the extremely rare post-mortem photograph of President Lincoln was nowhere to be seen. Instead, a newspaper engraving of a figure grieving at his coffin was found in the box.