Crews uncover copper box believed to be 1887 time capsule at Lee monument site

Published: Dec. 27, 2021 at 2:05 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 28, 2021 at 6:18 AM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The months-long search and mystery behind the time capsule at the former Robert E. Lee monument may be over.

Around 7:30 a.m. on Monday morning, crews started their search efforts again to look for the copper box believed to be the time capsule placed in Robert E. Lee’s monument in 1887.

Mike Spence, a construction superintendent with Team Henry Enterprises, said the team focused their search efforts on the Northeast corner of the monument, where historical records showed the time capsule was buried.

“Eventually, we got down to the bottom and found all this harder material,” Spence said. “It seemed like it was fabricated. It was harder to move, so obviously, it was trying to protect something.”

Nearly four hours later, Spence said they were able to uncover the lid of a copper box found underneath a capstone.

“We got the large excavator with the thumb,” he said. “The capstone slid off and there it was.”

The discovery marks another turn in the months-long search for the 1887 time capsule.

In September, crews spent nearly 10 hours searching the base of the monument for the time capsule with no luck.

Spence said the location of this box was in the same area, but they had to dig a little deeper.

Governor Northam says that a date for when the time capsule will be opened has yet to be...
Governor Northam says that a date for when the time capsule will be opened has yet to be confirmed.(WWBT)

“It was much deeper,” Spence said. “It was as much as six meters inside.”

On Dec. 17, construction crews believed they found the time capsule buried in the pedestal’s tower within a 1,500-pound granite block.

The box was taken to the Department of Historic Resources for further examination.

On Wednesday, a team of conservators opened the lead box and found a coin, a cloth envelope and three books, including an almanac from 1875 and an edition of, “The Huguenot Lovers: A Tale of the Old Dominion.”

Historian Dale Brumfield believed this wasn’t the time capsule because it was twice as small as the time capsule described in the historical records and was made of lead, not copper.

“It’s like cue Nicolas Cage. It’s National Treasure going on,” Brumfield said. “We have to find another clue, and another clue and another clue.”

Brumfield believes the lead box was placed in the monument as a vanity project done by those who helped build it, including James Netherwood.

“Netherwood, in particular, was a stonemason in charge of building the monument,” Brumfield said. “It looks like they reached the halfway point of the monument and decided to have their own little celebration to commemorate themselves and the work that they were doing.”

Records from the Library of Virginia indicate there’s about 60 items related to the Confederacy placed inside the time capsule by 37 Richmond residents, businesses and organizations in 1887.

Brumfield even believes one of those artifacts includes a rare photo of Abraham Lincoln lying in his coffin.

“It’s going to be a real window into that mindset, the thinking of the Confederacy,” he said.

A member of the Department of Historic Resources wraps a copper box believed to be the 1887...
A member of the Department of Historic Resources wraps a copper box believed to be the 1887 time capsule in bubble wrap to take to the lab for further examination.(Source;NBC12 | NBC12)

Governor Ralph Northam announced that the capsule would be opened at 1 p.m. on Dec. 28 at the Department of Historic Resources lab.

Northam tweeted X-ray images of the time capsule on Monday afternoon, saying experts believe there may be coins, books, buttons and even ammunition from the Civil War inside.

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