Books, cloth envelope & coin found in Robert E. Lee monument time capsule

Published: Dec. 21, 2021 at 5:18 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 22, 2021 at 11:46 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - 134 years of history is uncovered as members of the Department of Historic Resources open a box believed to be the time capsule placed inside the Robert E. Lee monument in 1887.

The team started their work to open the lid of the lead box on Wednesday morning. The box took nearly four hours to remove from the 1,500-pound granite block it was found in within the tower of the pedestal where Robert E. Lee’s statue once stood.

It took the preservation team at the Department of Historic Resources three hours to remove the...
It took the preservation team at the Department of Historic Resources three hours to remove the top of the 134-year-old box(WWBT)

The conservation team used a portable X-ray fluorescence machine to analyze the materials the box was made of, which turned out to be lead.

On Wednesday afternoon, the conservation team and Governor Ralph Northam lifted the lid of the box containing three books, a cloth envelope, and a coin.

“Just a really important and exciting day for the history of this Commonwealth,” said Northam.

Of those three books, one was identified as an almanac from 1875 and another one appears to be an edition of, “The Huguenot Lovers: A Tale of the Old Dominion.”

The conservation team also uncovered a cloth envelope.

“Everything is very damp,” said Kate Ridgway, lead conservator for the Department of Historic Resources. “It looks like there’s possibly a piece of paper and then under that, it looks like there may be some kind of picture.”

Ridgway also said a coin was stuck on one of the books.

“The corrosion process is clearly already started,” she said. “When we opened the box, it was very silver-colored and now it’s starting to tarnish.”

It took nearly five hours to open the lid of the box, which the conservation team believes was wrapped in lead to keep the lid in place.

Ridgway said their mission is to preserve the box and the items inside as much as possible, which they’re able to accomplish using a variety of tools, including one that almost resembles a blade.

“It’s very controlled, so she can sort of chip around the lead parts of the box,” Ridgway said. “We also have bamboo skewers, sharpened popsicle sticks.”

One of the challenges the team faced was going through the mortar and corrosion.

The time capsule was found last Friday as crews were dismantling the pedestal the held the Lee monument. It was found about 20 feet above ground in the pedestal’s tower, not the base.

The box and artifacts inside the box also lead to more questions about the accuracy of the historical records and newspapers.

Historians believed the time capsule was in a copper box, but the box found in the pedestal was made of lead. The size of the box found is also smaller than what the records indicate.

Records from the Library of Virginia also indicate almost 60 objects from more than 30 Richmond residents, businesses, and organizations were placed in the time capsule.

Was there something put in the pedestal that was later removed?” said Julie Langan, director of the Department of Historic Resources.

These are questions Ridgway hopes they can answer in the near future as they continue their work to preserve these items.

“We want to get it to the point where that it’s stabilized so the historians can come in and understand what these books mean,” she said.

The artifacts will be placed in a freezer to prevent mold and stabilize them before historians can take a closer look at them.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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