Time capsule from 1887 found at site of former Robert E Lee statue

Conservation experts pulled documents, books, coins and other artefacts from copper box

Workers disassemble the pedestal that once held the statue of Confederate Gen Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. AP

Conservators in Richmond, Virginia, on Tuesday pulled out a trove of books, documents and other Civil War-era artefacts from an 1887 time capsule discovered near the site of where a statue of Confederate Gen Robert E Lee once stood.

Kate Ridgeway, lead conservator for the Virginia Department of Historic Records, said the weight of the copper box matched historical records.

“It does appear that this is the box we expected,” she told reporters.

Records suggest that Richmond residents, organisations and businesses contributed about 60 items to the capsule.

Historical records led some to believe that the box would contain a rare photograph of former president Abraham Lincoln lying in his coffin, but it appears the box only contained a printed image of Harper's Weekly showing a figure mourning over Lincoln's grave.

In addition to waterlogged books and letters, the box also contained Confederate money and two carved artefacts — one depicting a Masonic symbol and the other a Confederate flag.

Conservators also pulled buttons, coins and Minie balls — a type of bullet used in the Civil War — from the box. A bomb squad had checked the capsule on Monday, partly to make sure there was no live ammunition.

Workers discovered the time capsule while dismantling the pedestal on which the Lee statue once stood.

“They found it! This is likely the time capsule everyone was looking for,” Virginia Governor Ralph Northam tweeted on Monday.

The square box weighed 16 kilograms and measures about 34 x 34 centimetres, with a depth of about 20cm, CNN reported.

Another time capsule was discovered on December 17 which experts first thought to be the one placed in 1887. But the box did not contain the Confederacy-era objects conservators had expected to find. Instead, the box contained a few waterlogged books, a silver coin and an envelope with some papers.

Devon Henry, the contractor whose company was overseeing the removal, said 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, which appeared to be made of copper, sitting in water, Mr Henry said.

The statue, which depicted Robert E Lee on top of a horse, was erected on the pedestal in 1890. The statue was removed in September, a year after Mr Northam ordered it taken down following protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Updated: December 28, 2021, 11:00 PM