Why historians believe time capsule found in Richmond isn't the one they were searching for

Sue Donovan
Posted at 11:02 AM, Dec 23, 2021

RICHMOND, Va. -- Since September, crews searched with no luck to find the historic time capsule believed to be hidden under the Robert E. Lee Statue in the Northeast corner. Last week, they thought they found what they were looking for embedded in the pedestal.

After a major unveiling Wednesday -- they learned that probably wasn't the case.

It was a long-awaited moment. After five hours of work, Governor Northam helped open the lid amid dozens of onlookers.

But what was inside, and what wasn't inside, had Julie Langan, director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, doubting it was the artifact they'd been searching for.

Conservators spent hours on Dec. 22, 2021, opening a time capsule that sat beneath the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on Richmond's Monument Avenue.

"There are so many anomalies here, the location wasn’t what was expected, the size didn’t appear to be what we thought it would be, the material was different," Langan said.

A newspaper from 1887 suggested that the capsule would contain dozens of objects, civil war memorabilia and a picture of Lincoln lying in a coffin that historian Dale Brumfield said could be worth upwards of $300,000.

"Nothing on that inventory matches what we found today," said Langan. "So what did we find today?"

The answer to that -- an English penny from 1887, three books including an 1875 almanac, and a Collinson Pierrepont Edwards Burgwyn novel called “The Huguenot Lovers: A Tale of the Old Dominion."

That book was published in 1889, two years after the original time capsule was said to be placed.

What’s more, conservators also uncovered a photo of the stonemason behind the construction.

"Yeah, he put a photo of himself in an envelope and stuck it in a box too. Like I said, it looks like a big ego-trip," said Brumfield with a laugh.

Conservators spent hours on Dec. 22, 2021, opening a time capsule that sat beneath the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on Richmond's Monument Avenue.

Brumfield believed the box found was less of a time capsule and more of a personal commemorative collection for the men behind the statue's construction. Langan said still, a snapshot of history was uncovered.

"We have had our offices full of people who are excited about history. That’s a great day," said Langan.

As for the real capsule, Langan said she wasn't convinced there was one to be found.

"Maybe it once was, and maybe somewhere along the way it was removed, stolen. Who knows?" She said.

However, Brumfield firmly believed there was no question the capsule was still there -- buried deeper in the ground.

"Eventually, if that foundation comes out, I think we’ll eventually get to the bottom of it and find the real time capsule. I sincerely believe it’s still buried under there," he said. "It is a lot like a national treasure I mean bring in Nicolas Cage now because this thing is winding all over the place and we just can’t seem to get to the end of it."

As for what's next, Langan said they'd be stabilizing the items to make sure they don't deteriorate and start doing the research to put together the pieces of the puzzle.