An 1887 Time Capsule May Have Just Been Discovered

by John Jamison
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

No, it’s not the beginning of National Treasure 3. But the details of the possible time capsule discovery in Richmond, Virginia on Friday (12/17) come right out of a historical fiction movie.

The discovery wasn’t a complete surprise, however. When Virginia Governor Ralph Northam ordered the removal of a huge bronze statue of General Robert E. Lee in September, old library records indicated that there could be a capsule somewhere inside the monument.

The city removed statue itself in September. According to Fox News, crews tried to identify the time capsule’s location in the pedestal. It wasn’t until today, though, that they had any luck. The governor initially ordered the pedestal to remain standing, with a future use for the Richmond community to decide.

Instead, Northam decided to remove the monument in its entirety. And work crews discovered what appears to be a square box tucked away in the center of a massive granite block, per Fox.

“It looks like it is (the time capsule). We’re hoping it hasn’t been damaged by water over the last 100-plus years,” said Northam chief of staff Clark Mercer.

They removed the box and its surrounding granite from the site. It awaits further exploration in the hands of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

What’s in the Box?

Could the box really be the time capsule from the 1887 Richmond newspapers and library archives? It’s more than likely, considering the apparent abundance of information about the time capsule.

Fox News claims that an 1887 newspaper article goes so far as to detail the individual items included in the capsule. Appropriately, the box inside the Reconstruction-era monument to General Lee likely contains Civil War-related items. The article also cites a “picture of Lincoln lying in his coffin.” Though, per Fox News, it’s probably not an actual photograph.

The Library of Virginia archives take the detail even further. Apparently, 37 Richmond citizens and establishments contributed to the time capsule. The total number of items is reportedly somewhere around 60. Of course, Richmond being the former Confederate capital, those objects are likely Civil War testaments to Robert E. Lee’s achievements.

Why Was the Statue Removed in the First Place?

The order came in the wake of the protests following George Floyd’s death. Virginia met Governor Northam’s order to remove the statue of General Lee with divided opinions. Many saw the monument, and the four other similar tributes in that area of Richmond, as symbols of racial injustice. Likewise, many felt that the statues should remain as historically significant artifacts, representative of the spirit of Reconstruction.

In fact, Fox News reports that they delayed Lee statue’s removal for so long because of ongoing lawsuits preventing it. In the end, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled in Northam’s favor, and the statue came down.