Time capsule dating from 1887, possibly found in the statue of Robert E. Lee

For about four years, there were rumors in Richmond, Virginia that an 1887 time capsule – believed to contain a rare photo of Abraham Li...


For about four years, there were rumors in Richmond, Virginia that an 1887 time capsule – believed to contain a rare photo of Abraham Lincoln in his coffin – was hidden under a towering statue of Robert E. Lee.

After an unsuccessful attempt to find the time capsule in September, when the statue was taken down, historians are almost certain to have discovered it on Friday. What they’re less sure of is how to retrieve the artifact from the 1,500-pound granite block it’s nestled in.

Julie Langan, director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, said the agency’s conservation lab is used to processing tiny pieces of pottery, bone or glass, but never had to handle a stone like this.

“It wasn’t hard to get him to the building and take him to the conservation lab and drop him off, but he’s there,” Ms. Langan said. “And it’s not like you can pick it up and move it easily, so that’s the dilemma.”

Conservators also cannot bring a jackhammer or sledgehammer to the slab. If they do, they could damage the 134-year-old time capsule that may or may not be embedded inside or its contents, about 60 objects, mostly related to the Confederate States of America, according to historical documents.

Ann Morton, owner and director of Morton Archaeological Research Services in Macedon, NY, said that even a huge granite boulder like the one in Richmond should have some sort of access mechanism, because the people who created it had to have a way to place it in the rock.

She added that time capsules from the Civil War era were relatively common, as it was a time of major social and political upheaval. “Time capsules were part of creating memory and sustaining that memory by putting something important into the ground and hoping that future generations would examine this material,” Dr. Morton said.

Time capsules are said to have been found in Confederate statues in Louisiana, Missouri, Caroline from the south and Texas. In July 2020, the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources opened a time capsule which had been buried in a Confederate monument since 1894.

Journalist and author Dale M. Brumfield, written in Richmond magazine in December 2017, described finding references to the Richmond time capsule in historical documents, including suggestions that it may contain a photo of Lincoln in his coffin.

Believing the capsule to be embedded in the northeast corner of the pedestal, state officials gathered reporters and conservationists on a September day. After about 12 hours, the search was called off, the mystery of the time capsule stubbornly intact.

That changed on Friday, when a team dismantled the 40-foot-high plinth the statue had rested on. They chiseled up to the granite slab, which has a lead rectangle on one side. It was discovered at a height of about 20 feet and appeared to be largely in good condition, according to the office of Governor Ralph S. Northam.

In a small procession down Monument Avenue, a forklift truck transported the granite slab to the conservation lab.

Ms Langan said all indications suggested the lead rectangle was part of a lead box housing the time capsule, although it is too early to say with 100% certainty. She said the lead box could house the time capsule, which is described in historical records as a copper box.

“You can bang on the lead faceplate, so to speak, and you can tell there’s a void underneath,” Ms. Langan said.

Once the granite slab is reduced by at least half, it will be subjected to an x-ray machine to determine the orientation of the box and the location of its cover, Ms. Langan said. “It will be a delicate process to reach it and then open it without damaging it,” she said.

But first, they have to struggle with the granite.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Time capsule dating from 1887, possibly found in the statue of Robert E. Lee
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