‘The mystery will continue’: Crews unable to find time capsule in Lee statue pedestal

A new time capsule will be installed
Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 8:18 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 9, 2021 at 10:04 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Crews suspended their search for a time capsule that was placed inside the pedestal of the Lee statue more than 130 years ago.

What was expected to be a quick process, resulting in a tedious removal of the century-old pieces of granite.

According to Richmond journalist Dale Brumfield, who has done extensive research on this time capsule and is collaborating with the Virginia Department of General Services on its recovery, it is believed the time capsule was placed in the Northeast cornerstone per masonic tradition.

“The Northeast is a very symbolic direction for the early masons. The North representing the dark, East representing the ultimate light. So, Northeast is where almost all cornerstones are put in a monument or building.”

Time capsule removal
Time capsule removal(NBC12)

Several scans of the pedestal were conducted and appeared to show a void in the cornerstone for the capsule.

However, the simple removal of two pieces of the cornerstone to finding the reported capsule was anything but. For several hours, crews worked to access that final piece of the cornerstone. Once the two top pieces were removed, crews faced a thick layer of mortar on the base of the cornerstone.

“I’m confident there’s something in there, it’s just a matter of finding out where it is,” Brumfield said. “It’s pretty dense, they poured concrete all around that; they filled all the voids to make sure it was watertight. So, it makes sense they can’t readily see it.”

After several weather issues and equipment failure, crews took a new approach to lift the final piece of the cornerstone. Due to its weight of 8,000 pounds, workers were required to cut along the seams of the apron around the northeast corner of the pedestal and remove the slabs to alleviate pressure on the block.

The search for the time capsule was only expected to last a few hours, but after nearly 10 hours of work, crews were able to remove the final cornerstone piece around 6 p.m. Thursday.

A metal detector was used to scan the area for any items but proved unsuccessful.

“Based on my research it’s 14x14x8 inches deep,” Brumfield said. “It’s got about 60 items inside. I don’t know how they fit so many items inside… all kinds of things. Most of it is Confederate memorabilia, coins, dollar bills, Lee family history, monumental church history, and this picture of [Abraham] Lincoln, whatever it is.”

After a full day’s work, Governor Northam’s Chief of Staff, Clark Mercer, called it a night.

“Disappointing to not find the time capsule, but the new time capsule will be put back tomorrow,” he said. “We’re going to regroup with the contractors and work to the put the pedestal back together then open up the circle and move forward.”

Crews will start to work again on Friday morning, putting the new time capsule in place and then re-assembling the blocks.

On Thursday morning, First Lady Pamela Northam was joined by a handful of lawmakers, and state employees to ceremonially place the new time capsule in a piece of the granite cornerstone that was removed.

“The poet Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote, “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story”, that’s what history is all about,” said Senator Jennifer McClellan. “Who is reporting it, not only through scholarly works but through public art, public spaces, newscasts.”

Gov. Northam announced which artifacts will be going into the new time capsule. Thirty-nine artifacts have been chosen to go into the capsule by a committee.

Artifacts such as a vaccination card, a photo of a Black ballerina in front of the statue, a Black Lives Matter sticker and even a special edition of the National Geographic magazine with the iconic photo of George Floyd’s picture being projected onto the statue following his death.

The following items were placed in the new capsule:

  • “Ballerina at the Lee Statue” photo taken on June 5th, 2020, captured and submitted by Marcus Ingram
  • Expired Vial of COVID-19 Pfizer Vaccine and CDC Vaccination Record Card suggested by Craig Fifer and contributed by the Virginia Department of Health
  • National Geographic Special Issue “2020 in Pictures” with the cover image of Lee. Monument in Richmond, VA suggested by Hope Wolf submitted by Connor Freche
  • “Black Lives Matter” sticker submitted by Tangee Augustin and Abby Admete
  • Collection of Michael Paul Williams’ Pulitzer prize-winning columns on Monument Avenue suggested by Michael Baker and contributed by Michael Paul Williams
  • “Writing a new history” Kente cloth worn by the Commissioners of the Congressionally-chartered 400 Years of African-American History Commission and Ghanian emissaries that participated in the 400th commemoration of 1619 at Point Comfort in Hampton, Virginia, now part of Fort Monroe National Monument, submitted by Gov. Northam.
  • “New Virginians” booklet with portraits of 24 immigrants whose interviews formed the core of the Library of Virginia’s 2020 exhibition, submitted by the Library of Virginia
  • General Assembly Acts of Assembly from the 2020 Special Session submitted by Senator Jennifer McClellan
  • Virginia is for Lovers “pride” pin and sticker submitted by Virginia Tourism Commission
  • “The protagonist” poem in uncontracted Unified English Braille written and submitted by Laura Minning
  • “Better Together” LED Board coded by middle school girls at Patrick Henry Community College and submitted by Amanda Broome
  • VA Ratify ERA sash and ERA 2020 pins submitted by Christine DeRosa and Julia Tanner
  • “YOU ARE NOT ALONE” pink heart print found on Broad Street in front of the Institute of Contemporary Art on May 30, 2020, after a night of protests in Richmond, created by Studio Two Three and submitted by the Teele-Jordan Family
  • Election Officer Badge for 2020 General Election submitted by Stephanie Hunter
  • “Monument Avenue” Hip Hop Album by Noah-O and Taylor Whitelow suggested by DeMario Spurlock and contributed by Noah-O
  • Prayer beads left by a family member who passed away from COVID-19 submitted by Tanzing Lahdon
  • Danville Public Schools “First Lady” face mask submitted by First Lady Pamela Northam
  • Photos of the June 4, 2020 press conference announcing the removal of the Lee Statue taken by Jack Mayer and submitted by Office of Governor Ralph S. Northam
  • Steel railroad spike talking piece found near African Ancestral Burial Ground in Shockoe Bottom and used to promote conversations on racial healing, submitted by Coming to the Table RVA
  • Photos and fliers from “Stop Asian Hate” protests in May 2021 submitted by Shawn Soares
  • Program and video from the dedication of Arthur Ashe Boulevard featuring a keynote from former Congressman John Lewis submitted by the Virginia Museum of History and Culture
  • A letter describing VUUs history and commitment to the Richmond community-written and submitted by Virginia Union University’s Student Government Association President Joydan Lyons Parker
  • Photo of the Virginia State Police at 14th and F Street NW in Washington helping DC Metro Police Department patrol the city for unrest after the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, submitted by Office of Governor Ralph S. Northam
  • Essays and poems from Arcadia Middle School students reflecting on the experience of being a student during a pandemic submitted by the Eastern Shore Public Library
  • Senate Resolution Commending the League of Women’s Voters agreed to by the Senate on February 6, 2020, to commemorate LWV’s centennial and the centennial of the 19th amendment, submitted by the 2019-2021 LWV Board of Directors
  • “Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee Monument is Coming Down, Thanks to Me and Black Women Like Me” July 10, 2021, Teen Vogue article written and submitted by Zyahna Bryant
  • A hard copy of the Virginia Poet Laureate Luisa Igloria’s work “Dear America” presented during Governor Ralph. S. Northam’s commemoration of Juneteenth in 2021 at Fort Monroe submitted by Luisa Igloria
  • Gifts from the dedication ceremony from the Mattiponi and Pamunkey nations, a hand-painted gourd rattle and handcrafted earrings with sturgeon scale and beading, submitted by First Lady Pamela Northam
  • Booklet which outlines Virginia’s first One Virginia Plan for Inclusive Excellence submitted by Dr. Janice Underwood
  • “Rumors of War Wasn’t a Rumor” photolithographic plate with oil-based ink & sealant created by Marshal Turner, Jade Gibbens, and Studio Two Three and submitted by Studio Two Three
  • Copy of the LGBTQ Richmond Walking Tour created by Blake McDonald submitted by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources
  • First Presbyterian Church Session 2020 minutes approving the formation of a Dismantling Racism - Building The Beloved Community Advisory Group, submitted by Amy Starr Redwine
  • Video of the One Commonwealth Many Virginians: Uniting in Interfaith Prayer for Healing and Unity event submitted by the Governor Ralph S. Northam’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Piece of tarp from the unveiling of Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War Statue and photos from the unveiling event, submitted by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
  • Document describing selected student submissions from the Governor’s Inaugural Black History Month Historical Marker Contest submitted by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources
  • “Post-Colonial Love Poem” by 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry Winner Natalie Diaz suggested by Dana Chesser and submitted by Natalie Diaz
  • New Legacy Postcard created and submitted by Marc Cheatham and Noah Scalin
  • List of artifacts in the previous capsule as described in a Richmond Dispatch article dated October 26, 1887, submitted by the Library of Virginia
  • Photo collage of individuals who contributed artifacts to the new time capsule and thank you note submitted by Tori Feyrer

The capsule was crafted by Richmond sculptor Paul DiPasquale, who also created Richmond’s Arthur Ashe monument and Virginia Beach’s King Neptune statue.

While the original time capsule, believed to have been placed inside the pedestal on Oct. 27, 1887, was not found, Brumfield is confident it still exists, but its whereabouts are unknown.

“The ceremony [for it] was too big,” Brumfield said. “There were ceremonial ribbons from that day, we know it happened, there was a ceremony that day and a time capsule was placed, we just can’t find where.”

“We looked where we thought it was, doesn’t preclude in the future for finding it, but for right now, the mystery will continue,” Mercer said.

Crews are expected to returned Friday to continue a limited amount of digging, but ultimately work on putting the granite blocks, slabs and steps back together.

“After a long hard day, it’s clear the time capsule won’t be found—and Virginia is done with lost causes,” said a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office. “The search for this moldy Confederate box is over. We’re moving on.”

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