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Second time capsule found under Lee monument in Richmond

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 12/27/2021 Gregory S. Schneider
A time capsule was found under the base of the Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond on Dec. 27. © Office of the Governor of Virginia A time capsule was found under the base of the Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond on Dec. 27.

RICHMOND — Lesson learned: Dig deeper.

Workers removing chunks of granite that had once supported this city’s Robert E. Lee monument finally found what appears to be an elusive 1887 time capsule shortly before noon on Monday. It was in the spot where experts had looked for it unsuccessfully in September, but farther down in the ground.

This is the second time a capsule was discovered under the monument; a small lead box opened last week contained mementos of several men who had designed the memorial.

Time capsule found under Lee monument contained books, envelope — but no Lincoln photo

The good news: The latest box was made of copper and is roughly the right dimensions to be the long-rumored official time capsule, which is expected to contain some 60 items of Confederate memorabilia — including, possibly, a rare photo of President Abraham Lincoln in his casket.

The bad news: It was found sitting in water.

“It’s not clear whether water is in the box or not,” said Grant Neely, a spokesman for Gov. Ralph Northam (D).

X-ray images released Monday evening by Northam’s office suggest that at least some items inside the box remain intact. Shapes that seemed to represent coins, buttons and Minié balls — or bullets — appear clearly outlined, along with at least one book.

The box is slated to be opened 1 p.m. Tuesday in a conservation lab at the state Department of Historic Resources.

Officials say the copper box appears to match the description of the original time capsule in historical news accounts. © Office of the Governor of Virginia Officials say the copper box appears to match the description of the original time capsule in historical news accounts.

Northam, who ordered the statue removed in September after condemning it as a racist relic of the Lost Cause, was on a coronavirus-related call with the National Governors Association when word of the find arrived, Neely said.

The box was located beneath the northeast corner of the monument, which is where historians expected it to be, following Masonic tradition. Workers spent an entire day in September probing this spot but did not dig deeply enough into the granite rubble below the ground.

The statue of Robert E. Lee is gone, but the mystery of the time capsule remains

A smaller time capsule found inside the granite pedestal of the monument was opened last week to great fanfare, but it was apparent that it was not the official artifact that had been touted in historical news reports. The smaller box contained three books, at least one pamphlet, a photograph and a silver coin.

Most of the items appeared to relate to the men who designed or constructed the original monument. They were wet, but surprisingly intact, and they are undergoing conservation so historians can better understand the tale they tell.

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The bright copper box unearthed Monday was quickly whisked away to the historic resources department, where conservators X-rayed it to gauge its condition and formulate a plan for getting it open. If the contents have been soaking in water, any paper items might have been severely damaged.

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