After last week’s false alarm, 1887 time capsule unearthed after months-long search

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va (WRIC) – After a months-long extensive search, the more than 130-year-old, copper time capsule underneath the former Robert E. Lee monument was found Monday morning.

Construction workers gave 8News crews a big thumbs up Monday morning around 11:40 a.m. after they found the heavy, 30-pound box. Team Henry Enterprises, LLC construction superintendent Michael Spence was a part of the crew pulling the box from the rubble.

“I walked quickly and I’m like, ‘they’ve got it’,” Spence said, calling the moment another victory for the Commonwealth of Virginia and for Team Henry Enterprises, LLC.

The copper box is said to include a photo of a dead President Abraham Lincoln inside, among other things.

“You’ve got this large, 3,000-pound capstone and we slid that to the side. Immediately my company owner Devon Henry went stop, and I mean, everybody stopped,” Spence described the moments leading up to the capsule being pulled from the concrete, revealing the beveled edge around it.

Spencer Sherry, traveling from Saratoga, New York to Florida, stopped at the site of the time capsule search during his trip Monday.

“I know that they were talking about Lincoln’s, some shot of Lincoln in his coffin or something like that, and that just struck me as that would be an important American thing to attend,” he said.

Historian Dale Brumfield said he can see why they decided to put the picture of a dead Lincoln in the time capsule, calling the time capsule a window into the Confederacy.

“This is a thumb in the nose of Lincoln in the north putting them in the bottom of the statue that’s dedicated to the glorification of this marvelous, almost deified Confederate general,” he described.

This time, the discovery isn’t a false alarm, much like the box conservators found last week was.

“We’ve been hoodwinked by this thing before, I mean, it’s like, you know, cue Nicolas Cage, it’s National Treasure going on, we’ve got to find another clue, and another clue, and another clue,” Brumfield laughed.

Conservators opened the previously found smaller box shortly after 3 p.m. on Wednesday, beginning with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam removing the lid. Three books, an envelope and a coin were removed. All appear to have been affected by water damage. The title of one of the books is partly visible on the spine – it’s an almanac from 1875.

The first box retrieved is 4 inches high, 8 inches wide, 11-and-a-half inches deep and was found encased in a 1,500-pound block of granite, according to the Dept. of Historic Resources. The department also noted that there are differences between this box and the historical account of the time capsule – this box is smaller and made of lead instead of copper.

Sherry remembers the false alarm from last week where crews found the smaller lead box with books inside.

“Largely disappointing, I think. Everyone kind of shrugged,” Sherry said.

Brumfield said he took one look at the smaller lead box last week and said, “That’s not the right box.”

The copper time capsule from 1887 was found in the base of the statue, sitting in water Monday. It is twice as big as that smaller box that Brumfield said, could’ve even been a personal time capsule.

“It looks like they reached the halfway point of the monument and decided to have their own little celebration to commemorate themselves and the work that they were doing,” he said.

Brumfield said James Netherwood and Collinson Pierrepont Edwards Burgwyn, who designed the circular area the monument once sat in, were in charge of construction. He said they are the ones who put the smaller time capsule in the monument.

“It’s like writing your name in wet cement on a sidewalk,” Brumfield described. “You know, just a way for people to know you were here.”

He said that lead box had to have been placed in there around 1889 or 1890. A book inside the box, the Huguenot Lovers, by Burgwyn, was published in 1889, so Brumfield said the time capsule had to be placed in the monument after the book was published, two years after the cornerstone of the monument was laid in the pedestal.

In reference to the personal time capsule, Brumfield said he imagines Netherwood and Burgwyn had a ‘pretty good sized ego’.

“Netherwood actually had another sculptor create a life-size granite sculpture of himself while he was still alive, and that sculpture’s now on top of the monument at his gravesite,” Brumfield explained.

Crews took the 1887 capsule found Monday to the lab once they found it and Department of Historical Resources conservator Kate Ridgway was able to cover it in bubble wrap. 8News is told the governor’s office will handle when it is opened.

Governor Northam tweeted a few hours after the capsule was found saying, “They found it! This is likely the time capsule everyone was looking for. Conservators studying it—stay tuned for next steps! (Won’t be opened today)”

Crews spent a little over four hours at the site Monday looking for the time capsule.

A new time capsule was placed in the base of the pedestal in September and initial plans from Northam’s office state that if the pedestal were to be removed from its current location, the time capsule would be stored somewhere else at the Lee Circle site on Monument Avenue.

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