1887 time capsule from Robert E. Lee pedestal brings mysteries to the Department of Historic Resources

IMG-0965 (1)-min

It’s the size of a shoebox, made of hard metals + discovered out of luck, curiosity, and hard work. The 134-year-old time capsule found in the pedestal of the Robert E. Lee statue is keeping the experts guessing as they slowly work to conserve the box itself and the artifacts found inside it.
The 134-year-old time capsule found in the pedestal of the Robert E. Lee statue is keeping the experts guessing as they slowly work to conserve the box itself and the newly revealed materials.

The inside of the time capsule, a closeup of a book of some kind.

A surgical camera caught the first images of the book. | Photo by @GovernorVA

The conservation team, led by Katherine Ridgeway, has been working in the Historical Resources Lab on Kensington Avenue since the box’s extraction on Dec. 17. Yesterday, three books, an envelope + a coin were discovered inside.

According to Julie Langan, the director of the State Dept.of Historical Resources and preservation officer, there’s many anomalies to the metal box buried in the 1,500-pound boulder of granite.

Records show it was supposed to be made of copper. Some of the researchers have speculated that this box may be something entirely different than the cornerstone from the 19th century.

Local newspapers of the time, like the early iteration of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, said the time capsule was placed on Oct. 27, 1887. A crowd of 25,000 was in attendance.

The contents of the box were thought to include Confederate bullets, paraphernalia + maps of the city. Still no word on the supposed rare photo of President Abraham Lincoln in his coffin, which could be worth thousands of dollars.

IMG-0965 (1)-min

Gov. Ralph Northam oversaw the lab work around noon. | Photo by @therictoday

With so much American history taking place in Richmond, it comes as no surprise that this isn’t the first time capsule to be discovered, unearthed or placed across the city.

In April 2010, workers chiseled out a 1936 capsule from the old A.D. Williams Clinic. VCU archivists say there was an old anonymous fundraising donation to the Medical College of Virginia from A.D Williams and his wife. There was also a letter by then MCV President William T. Sanger.
Four years ago, the facade of Temple Beth Ababah’s Barbara and William B. Thalhimer, Jr. Religious School was being demolished for an expansion. Workers discovered a copper box in its cornerstone placed in 1957.

Opened in 2019, it was filled with books of sermons, programs, a mezuzah + a report called “Through the Years: A Study of the Richmond Jewish Community,” published in 1955. The temple replaced the box with a new capsule to be opened in 2069.

We want to know, what would you place in a time capsule of Richmond 2021?

More from RICtoday