RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Historic documents, a Bible, books, coins and ammunition from the Civil War were found inside the elusive and mysterious 1887 time capsule that was found Monday on the site where Richmond’s Robert E, Lee Monument once stood. Experts opened the 36-pound copper box this afternoon as Virginians and history buffs everywhere watched while its contents were revealed live online.
A team of conservators began the process of opening the box prior to Tuesday’s live event held at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources lab in Richmond. After an initial attempt at opening the time capsule following its recovery, it was quickly closed because of water condensation, according to State Archaeological Conservator Kate Ridgway. She said that blotter paper and silica gel were then used to keep the historic artifacts dry.
Watch as the time capsule is opened and historic artifacts are carefully removed.
Although the container was partially opened on Monday, the top of the box was left intact in order to open the final piece today – more than 130 years after the time capsule was buried.
Conservators started removing the lid around 1 p.m. and the last item was removed from the time capsule around 2:45 p.m. Ridgway said the box contained the artifacts they expected to see based on historical records. The time capsule contained a variety of items including:
- “Harpers Weekly” from April 1865. The paper already had wear and tear before it was put into the box.
- A photo inside the “Harpers Weekly” showing a figure grieving over Lincoln’s grave (not exactly the original photo of President Lincoln in his coffin conservators were expecting to find)
- Constitution of the Lee camp (where veterans stayed)
- A photo
- Five or six minie balls used in muskets
- Confederate money in an envelope
- Twelve copper coins
- A copy of the Richmond Dispatch newspaper and other newspapers
- Several books including a Richmond directory
- Small Bible with an impression of a coin on its cover
- Wood-carved Masonic symbol and flag. Historian Dale Brumfield said both items were carved out of wood from a tree that grew over Stonewall Jackson’s grave.
- Badges from the Army of Northern Virginia
- Reports of Chamber of Commerce, Richmond, 1886 and 1887 (two volumes)
- Several rubber bands
- Commemorative ribbon from the day the monument’s cornerstone was laid with Lee on it
- Book titled “The Immigrant’s Friend” published by Manning C. Staples and Company, 1104 1/2 Main St.
Ridgway said that after the time capsule was retrieved yesterday, it was photographed and a portable X-ray machine was used to confirm that the box is copper. A bomb squad also evaluated the box to make sure that there was no live ammunition inside.
Historic records approximate that the time capsule was buried in October 1887. Earlier this month Gov. Ralph Northam noted that based on Library of Virginia records, 37 Richmond residents, organizations and businesses contributed about 60 objects for the capsule. A “Richmond Magazine” article from 2017 tells the story of the time capsule and the items that were thought to be inside.
The copper time capsule was located Monday beneath the statue’s pedestal on the site where the Robert E, Lee statue once stood. Construction crews removing the pedestal from Monument Avenue were successful this time after a previous effort to locate the vessel failed after hours of digging at the site.
After the artifacts were taken from the copper box, Ridgway and other conservators put the box in a silica gel. Next, they said some artifacts will be put in a freezer and others will be placed between blotter paper to soak up water that remains around the items.
A lead box was found at the site earlier this year and opened last week with the expectation that it was the 1887 time capsule from historic reports. After its contents were revealed, it was determined to be a second “time capsule” placed inside the pedestal by people who worked on the construction project. The box contained three books, an envelope and a coin. One of the books is an 1875 almanac and another appeared to be an 1889 novel titled “The Huguenot Lovers.”