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Historian hopes removal of Lee pedestal will unearth lost time capsule

Posted at 4:17 PM, Dec 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-07 07:45:55-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- As work began to remove the massive pedestal on which Robert E. Lee once stood in Richmond, it gave a Richmond historian renewed hope that a time capsule believed to be buried underneath it will be found.

"I believe it's there. I just believe it's down further than the state wanted to go two months ago," said Dale Brumfield, who added he found out from a friend about the announcement. "My social media blew up after that. 'Hey, Dale. Did you see they're going to take out the time capsule?'."

Confederate Monuments Richmond
Workers install scaffolding as they prepare to remove the pedestal that once held the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue Monday, Dec 6, 2021, in Richmond, Va.

Crews spent that September day digging in the northeast corner based on an 1887 newspaper article from when the cornerstone was laid. But when the 8,000-pound block was lifted, no capsule was found, only a support pillar.

Crews Dig for Lee Monument Time Capsule.png

But Brumfield, who has researched the capsule, said that discovery gave him new insight as to the time capsule's likely location.

"When I saw that the cornerstone sat on top of a...granite column filled with concrete all of a sudden, the historical accounts made sense. Ah, they said they put the time capsule, they laid it in place, then they buried it in concrete. So I believe that that's where it is," recalled Brumfield. "I am positive it is in the northeast corner that that corner is so significant in Masonic tradition, that I really don't think they would deviate from it. And the news accounts all said the northeast corner I believe it's there."

Based on reports, Brumfield said the capsule contains things like coins and pamphlets and possibly a photo of President Abraham Lincoln in his coffin.

"If that is salvageable, and you can still see what it is, that would be amazing," the historian said. Hut he added that while he hopes it is a glass plate negative it is more likely a print or paper copy, which has less chance of surviving over the past 130-plus years — especially if the capsule has been breached in any way, something Brumfield said he is concerned about.

"Because with a copper box that's been sealed, placed in that column with all that poured concrete poured on top — I worry if the seal has been compromised by the concrete. If it has, water is going to be inside of it, everything's going to be ruined," added Brumfield.

Back in September some excavation work was done to the top of that support pillar before crews gave up. Brumfield said if crews decide to dig deeper, they will have to be careful in case the copper box still is intact.

"Because that time capsule, you know, breaching, it would be critical," he said.

A spokesperson for the Department of General Services said crews would be removing the foundation, but did not have details as to how that work would progress.

A spokesperson for Governor Ralph Northam added that the new time capsule that was interred in the cornerstone back in September, will be moved during the pedestal's removal but will be put back by the city as part of its long-term plan for the circle.

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