Time capsule from Richmond’s Robert E. Lee Monument opened; books, envelope & coin inside

Richmond
Gov. Ralph Northam removed the lid from the opened time capsule retrieved from the Lee Monument

Gov. Ralph Northam removed the lid from the opened time capsule retrieved from the Lee Monument. (Screengrab 8News)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Over 130 years after being buried in the Robert E. Lee Monument’s pedestal, the contents of a time capsule were unveiled today at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources lab in Richmond.

Historic preservation experts spent hours carefully and meticulously opening the lead box that historians believe was buried in 1887.

8News began live-streaming the process shortly before noon and thousands of people watched online as conservationists used electric rotary tools and hand tools to remove mortar from the lead box and eventually open the container. Around 2 p.m., Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said on Twitter that a surgical camera placed inside the still unopened box showed something that looked like a book.

About 20 minutes later, a conservator from the Department of Historic Resources who was working on the project said, “Right now from what we’re seeing it definitely looks like books.”

She also noted that moisture was present in the box so conservationists added blotting paper to protect the artifacts.

Conservators opened the box shortly after 3 p.m. and the governor removed 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.

  • A time capsule retrieved from the Robert E. Lee Monument
  • A conservator with the Virginia Dept. of Historic Resources separates pieces of paper retrieved from the Lee Monument time capsule
  • A conservator with the Virginia Dep. of Historic Resources works on artifacts retrieved from the Lee Monument time capsule
  • A book retrieved from the Lee Monument time capsule
  • A book retrieved from the Lee Monument time capsule
  • Gov. Ralph Northam removed the lid from the opened time capsule retrieved from the Lee Monument

Work crews uncovered the box on Friday while removing the monument’s pedestal from Monument Avenue. Northam said workers successfully found the time capsule about 20 feet above ground level in the pedestal tower. Removal crews previously searched for the historic time capsule in September but were unable to find it, despite temporarily removing chunks of the pedestal and digging under the monument’s base.

The box that was 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.

According to Gov. Northam’s Chief of Staff Clark Mercer, some theorize that this could be a second box and not the 1887 time capsule historians described.

  • A look inside the box shows "blotters" used to catch moisture on top of what appears to be a book.
  • The Lee Monument time capsule with moisture blotters visible under the lid
  • A look inside the lead box captured by a surgical camera
  • A look inside the lead box captured by a surgical camera
  • A look inside the lead box captured by a surgical camera

The estimated date for when the capsule was placed in the monument’s pedestal is Oct. 27, 1887. Based on Library of Virginia records, Northam said that 37 Richmond residents, organizations and businesses contributed about 60 objects for the capsule. The things stored in the pedestal are expected to be related to the Confederacy, which dissolved over 20 years before the capsule’s creation. A “Richmond Magazine” article from 2017 tells the story of the time capsule and the items that are thought to be inside.

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.

  • Conservator Chelsea Blake works on the historic time capsule
  • Close-up look at the historic time capsule
  • Workspace where conservators from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources are trying to open the historic time capsule
  • Close-up look at the historic time capsule
  • Conservator Chelsea Blake works on the historic time capsule

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