Crews may have found elusive 1887 time capsule under Robert E. Lee statue

RICHMOND, Va. — The second time may be the charm.

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Crews in Virginia believe they have found the elusive 1887 time capsule that had been placed in the pedestal of the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond.

Last week, workers discovered a lead box and its contents in the stone base of the 131-year-old statue of the Confederate general. It was not the box historians had hoped to find, but on Monday a second box was retrieved from beneath the pedestal, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

The copper box was found underground in the northeast corner of the foundation, matching the descriptions of newspaper accounts when the statue was dedicated on Monument Avenue in 1890.

The box will be opened Tuesday at 1 p.m. at the Department of Historic Resources lab, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said in a news release.

The governor tweeted photos of a box being removed from the site and said conservators were studying the artifact.

“They found it! This is likely the time capsule everyone was looking for,” Northam tweeted.

The successful excavation was the third attempt to find the time capsule, which newspaper accounts said holds 60 artifacts mostly from the Confederacy, the Times-Dispatch reported. That includes a potentially rare image of President Abraham Lincoln in his coffin after he was assassinated in April 1865.

>> Coin, 3 books, envelope found in time capsule under Robert E. Lee statue

A newspaper article in 1887 published a complete list of the materials placed inside, the Times-Dispatch reported. The contents included:

• A picture of Lincoln lying in his coffin, donated by Pattie Leake;

• A history of Monumental Church donated by George Fisher;

• A collection of Confederate buttons from Cyrus Bossieux;

• A copy of Carlton McCarthy’s “Detailed Minutiae of Soldier Life in the Army of Northern Virginia” given by J.W. Randolph & English publishers;

• A guide to Richmond with a map of the city and a map of Virginia;

• Three bullets, a piece of shell and a Minié ball lodged in a piece of wood from a Fredericksburg battlefield, given by Frank Brown;

• A Bible from Thomas J. Starke;

• Statistics of the city of Richmond from J.B. Halyburton;

• A battle flag and a square and compass made from a tree over Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s grave from J.W. Talley;

• A $100,000 Confederate bond from John F. Mayer;

• An English penny from 1812 from W.T. Moseley;

• The Oct 26, 1887, edition of The Richmond Dispatch.

The first box was found on Dec. 17 and opened five days later, WTVR-TV reported.

State conservators found an almanac from 1875, a book with a pink cover that appeared to be an edition of “The Huguenot Lovers: A Tale of the Old Dominion” by Collinson Pierrepont Edwards Burgwyn, and a pamphlet that referenced water power facilities in Manchester, a city located south of Richmond. Historians also found a cloth envelope and a silver coin, according to The Associated Press.

They also found an 1887 Victoria Dei Gratia silver coin from England, the Times-Dispatch reported.

Historian Dale Brumfield said he believed the first box was more of a personal commemorative collection for the men behind the statue’s construction, according to WTVR.

Devon Henry, the contractor whose company was overseeing the removal, said the second box was found inside a granite enclosure at ground level, the AP reported. The box appeared to be made of copper and was sitting in water, Henry told the AP.

The image of Lincoln in his coffin was one more way for the South to spite the Union and carry on the idea of the Confederacy, Brumfield told the TImes-Dispatch.

Only one genuine photo of Lincoln after his death exists, Brumfield wrote in a 2017 Richmond Magazine article. It was taken in 1865 in New York by Jeremiah Gurney while Lincoln’s body was on its way for burial.

Mary Todd Lincoln, the president’s widow, had demanded that no photos be taken of her husband’s corpse, and Gurney was ordered to destroy his photo, the article stated.

But Secretary of War Edwin Stanton held on to the photographic plate and hid it in his office. It was forgotten until 1952 when it was rediscovered in a box in Lincoln’s presidential library.

If the picture in the time capsule is an original photographic print from 1865, it could be worth $250,000, appraiser Cliff Krainik told the Times-Dispatch.

Northam ordered the removal of Lee’s statue in September, more than a year after protests that erupted after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020, the AP reported.