RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A time capsule from inside the Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond, Virginia, has finally been opened over a century after being buried inside the statue’s pedestal. Nexstar’s WRIC was there to see what was in the box.

In September, the country’s largest Confederate statue, which depicted Robert E. Lee atop a horse, was removed from Richmond’s Monument Avenue. Days later, workers installed a new time capsule within the statue’s massive pedestal after efforts to locate one from 1887 were suspended.

Crews uncovered the capsule unexpectedly about 20 feet above ground level while taking the monument’s pedestal down. It had previously been searched for in lower sections of the statue in September but wasn’t found, despite crews removing chunks of the pedestal and digging feet under the base.

Historical conservationists retrieved three books, an envelope and a coin from inside. One of the books is an 1875 almanac and another appears to be an 1889 novel called ‘The Huguenot Lovers.’

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The contents were different than what records from the Library of Virginia suggested the time capsule would contain. Historians expected to find about 60 objects, many of which were believed to be related to the Confederacy. Records also suggested the capsule was buried in 1887, two years before one of the books appears to have been published.

“I just think it’s an important day for the history of Richmond and Virginia to have this box,” Governor Ralph Northam said. “Whether this is the time capsule that has been written about, I’m not sure but certainly these are some very interesting documents.” 

Experts work to open the time capsule. (8News Reporter Jackie DeFusco)

It took hours for experts to carefully open the lead box on Wednesday. The conservationists started pulling items from inside at around 3 p.m., after starting the process of removing mortar around 10 a.m. They used small and delicate tools to work their way around the box’s edges and eventually remove the top.

The time capsule was opened by historic preservation experts at the Department of Historic Resources Lab in Richmond. In the days and weeks ahead, they’ll be working to restore the water-damaged artifacts.

“We’re trying to prevent any kind of mold damage and putting it into a freezer buys us time to make a plan so that is our goal today, is to make sure everything is stable,” said Kate Ridgway, state archaeological conservator with the Department of Historic Resources.

The box is 4 inches high, 8 inches wide and 11-and-a-half inches deep. It was confirmed to be made of lead even though historians expected the time capsule to be made of copper. A conservation team used a portable X-ray fluorescence machine to analyze the materials from which the box was made.

“Was the contemporary account a red herring and something that was never actually implemented? Was there something put in the pedestal that was later removed? These are questions that we will do our best to answer but that won’t happen quickly,” said Julie Langan, director of the Department of Historic Resources.

Governor Ralph Northam made a stop by to check on the progress. (Via 8News livestream)

Here is what they found:

A small camera was inserted into a corner of the box after enough of the lead casing was stripped away. Governor Ralph Northam tweeted photos from inside the box.

The conservation team continued to make steady progress. The photo below is from 2:30 p.m. when most of the top casing was cut open.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is book-and-dust.png

Once the box was opened the first item found inside was a book. Conservationists carefully placed a tray under the book and removed it slowly.

  • A time capsule retrieved from the Robert E. Lee Monument
  • A time capsule retrieved from the Robert E. Lee Monument
  • A time capsule retrieved from the Robert E. Lee Monument
  • A time capsule retrieved from the Robert E. Lee Monument
  • A time capsule retrieved from the Robert E. Lee Monument