‘Today is the real deal’: 1887 time capsule found beneath Lee statue in Richmond

A pile of rubble is all that is left after the removal of the pedestal that once held the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Ave., Thursday Dec. 23, 2021, in Richmond, Va. Workers will continue their search for a famed 1887 time capsule that was said to be buried under the massive monument. A box found in the pedestal did not contain items described in historic papers. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
A pile of rubble is all that is left after the removal of the pedestal that once held the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Ave., Thursday Dec. 23, 2021, in Richmond, Va. Workers will continue their search for a famed 1887 time capsule that was said to be buried under the massive monument. A box found in the pedestal did not contain items described in historic papers.

A pile of rubble is all that is left after the removal of the pedestal that once held the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Ave., Thursday Dec. 23, 2021, in Richmond, Va. Workers will continue their search for a famed 1887 time capsule that was said to be buried under the massive monument. A box found in the pedestal did not contain items described in historic papers. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
A pile of rubble is all that is left after the removal of the pedestal that once held the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Ave., Thursday Dec. 23, 2021, in Richmond, Va. Workers will continue their search for a famed 1887 time capsule that was said to be buried under the massive monument. A box found in the pedestal did not contain items described in historic papers.

Katherine Ridgway, state archaeological conservator, prepares to wrap and remove a box believed to be the 1887 time capsule that was put under Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee statue's pedestal Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, in Richmond, Va. In back, Everett Mercer, 10, son of Governor Ralph Northam's chief staff Clark Mercer, stands by to help. Crews wrapping up the removal Monday of the giant pedestal that once held a statue of Gen. Lee found what appeared to be a second and long-sought-after time capsule, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said.  (Eva Russo/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)
Katherine Ridgway, state archaeological conservator, prepares to wrap and remove a box believed to be the 1887 time capsule that was put under Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee statue’s pedestal Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, in Richmond, Va. In back, Everett Mercer, 10, son of Governor Ralph Northam’s chief staff Clark Mercer, stands by to help. Crews wrapping up the removal Monday of the giant pedestal that once held a statue of Gen. Lee found what appeared to be a second and long-sought-after time capsule, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said.

Michael Spence, construction superintendent with Team Henry Enterprises, moves a box believed to be the 1887 time capsule that was put under Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee statue's pedestal and recovered on Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, in Richmond, Va. (Eva Russo/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)
Michael Spence, construction superintendent with Team Henry Enterprises, moves a box believed to be the 1887 time capsule that was put under Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee statue’s pedestal and recovered on Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, in Richmond, Va.

Workers recovered a copper box believed to be the 1887 time capsule that was put under Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee statue's pedestal Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, in Richmond, Va. Here, the hole in the northeast corner of the foundation where the box was found. Crews found what appeared to be a second and long-sought-after time capsule, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said.  (Eva Russo/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)
Workers recovered a copper box believed to be the 1887 time capsule that was put under Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee statue’s pedestal Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, in Richmond, Va. Here, the hole in the northeast corner of the foundation where the box was found. Crews found what appeared to be a second and long-sought-after time capsule, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said.

A time capsule from 1887 was found at the former site of the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Virginia, on Monday.

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A pile of rubble is all that is left after the removal of the pedestal that once held the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Ave., Thursday Dec. 23, 2021, in Richmond, Va. Workers will continue their search for a famed 1887 time capsule that was said to be buried under the massive monument. A box found in the pedestal did not contain items described in historic papers. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
A pile of rubble is all that is left after the removal of the pedestal that once held the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Ave., Thursday Dec. 23, 2021, in Richmond, Va. Workers will continue their search for a famed 1887 time capsule that was said to be buried under the massive monument. A box found in the pedestal did not contain items described in historic papers. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Katherine Ridgway, state archaeological conservator, prepares to wrap and remove a box believed to be the 1887 time capsule that was put under Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee statue's pedestal Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, in Richmond, Va. In back, Everett Mercer, 10, son of Governor Ralph Northam's chief staff Clark Mercer, stands by to help. Crews wrapping up the removal Monday of the giant pedestal that once held a statue of Gen. Lee found what appeared to be a second and long-sought-after time capsule, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said.  (Eva Russo/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)
Michael Spence, construction superintendent with Team Henry Enterprises, moves a box believed to be the 1887 time capsule that was put under Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee statue's pedestal and recovered on Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, in Richmond, Va. (Eva Russo/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)
Workers recovered a copper box believed to be the 1887 time capsule that was put under Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee statue's pedestal Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, in Richmond, Va. Here, the hole in the northeast corner of the foundation where the box was found. Crews found what appeared to be a second and long-sought-after time capsule, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said.  (Eva Russo/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

Crews working at the site of what was the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Virginia, made a historic discovery late Monday morning. 

They found a time capsule buried in 1887. This news comes after there was a false alarm regarding the time capsule last week.



“This isn’t an everyday occurrence,” said Julie Langan, director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

The 36-pound copper box — which measures 13.5 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches — was found by construction workers at the site, she said.

Devon Henry, the contractor whose company was overseeing the removal, told the Associated Press that the box was found inside a granite enclosure basically at ground level, surrounded by fill and other construction material. Workers pulled off the top of the granite enclosure to find the box sitting in water, Henry said.

The box was then covered in bubble wrap and transported by vehicle from the site for further study, he said.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s office said in a news release that the box had been X-rayed, and images appear to show that it might contain books, coins, buttons and perhaps a type of Civil War-era ammunition.

There have been references to explosive materials in there, so before they open it, they’re having the Richmond’s bomb squad check it out.

The process of opening the capsule will begin at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, according to a statement from Northam.

Dale Brumfield — a historian, journalist and author in central Virginia — happened to be in the area when it was discovered.

“I said, ‘Oh my gosh, he found the capsule,'” Brumfield said.

Brumfield was excited by a recent discovery that, when opened last week, turned out to be a false alarm of sorts.

“They found a lead box, 20 feet up high in the pedestal, and I thought, ‘Oh, maybe this is the time capsule.'” But instead, Brumfield said, it was a personal project for those who constructed the monument.

“Today is the real deal,” the historian added.

So what could be in it?

According to Brumfield, 60 items could be inside.

“Most of them are Confederate paraphernalia. There are some bullets, musket balls, some paper products,” Brumfield said.

What’s he looking forward to possibly being in there?

“A picture of Lincoln lying in his coffin. I’m really anxious to see what that turns out to be,” said Brumfield.

Langan, who works at the state’s Department of Historic Resources, is excited about what the box could teach us about that time period.

“Time capsules are really meant to be found by people who wouldn’t go to the trouble of collecting items and putting them somewhere if they weren’t hoping that someday they would be discovered,” she said.

The Northam administration originally planned to leave the pedestal of the statue in place but announced earlier this month that it would removed and the traffic circle where it had stood will be transferred to the city of Richmond. The pedestal will be stored until “next steps” have been determined, The Associated Press reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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