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Possible time capsule discovered in Lee monument 'wasn’t meant to be found easily,' historian says

'They went out of their way to bury it [so]... destroying the monument was the only way it could be found'
Lee Statue Time Capsule
Posted at 5:21 PM, Dec 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-17 18:20:43-05

RICHMOND, Va. — Dale Brumfield rushed to the Gen. Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond after hearing the news about the possible discovery within the granite pedestal.

“It was pretty stunning it was found,” Brumfield said.

That “it” is a 134-year-old time capsule that the Richmond historian believed was hidden somewhere inside the 40-foot granite pedestal on Monument Avenue.

His research and study of newspapers from the 1880s revealed the artifact was installed during the construction of one of the largest Confederate monuments in the United States.

“It wasn’t that it wasn’t meant to be found,” Brumfield explained. “It wasn’t meant to be found easily and they went out of their way to bury it in the monument in a way that only destroying the monument was the only way it could be found.”

Confederate Monuments Richmond
Workers continue to dismantle the pedestal that once held the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue Tuesday Dec 14, 2021, in Richmond, Va. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the pedestal removed and property given to the City of Richmond. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Governor Ralph Northam’s office said at 7 a.m. Friday crews that were taking apart the granite pedestal noticed something “different” 20 feet high in the monument.

Construction site lead Mike Spence said a plaster or cement cap covered what appeared to be a copper box, just like the newspapers at the time described.

“I’m thrilled to hear it’s there. It’s the first of three parts to this mystery. The first one is finding it, the second one is finding out if the contents are okay. The third one is finding out if that Lincoln picture is really in there.”

Lee Statue Time Capsule
A time capsule that was placed in 1887 in the pedestal that once held the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is uncovered on Monument Avenue, Friday Dec. 17, 2021, in Richmond, Va. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the pedestal removed and the land given to the city of Richmond. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Brumfield said more than 30 Richmond families and groups donated Confederate items like bullets, money, and a picture of President Abraham Lincoln lying in his coffin. The picture could be worth upwards of $300,000, according to the price tag of a similar photo.

“I think it’s part of the mystery of the Lost Cause,” he said. “What were they thinking back then? Why would you put a picture of a deceased president in a pedestal in a statue to the glorification of a Confederate general unless it was a big middle finger to the north and everything Lincoln stood for.”

However, if the box is truly the time capsule, then the newspapers of the past have already been proven wrong.

Brumfield told CBS 6 in a 2020 interview that his research revealed the time capsule would be buried close to the ground in a corner of the monument.

“It wasn’t just one paper,” he said. “It was at least two newspapers got all these facts wrong. So, were they trying to mislead us to protect the item possibility or was it moved during construction for some reason?”

Lee Statue Time Capsule
A stone containing a time capsule that was placed in 1887 in the pedestal that once held the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee was placed on a pallet on Monument Avenue, Friday Dec. 17, 2021, in Richmond, Va. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the pedestal removed and the land given to the city of Richmond. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Crews lifted the stone with the box sealed inside at 2 p.m. Friday and then placed it on the ground. The state said they will x-ray the box and deliver it to the Department of Historic Resources to be opened on Monday.

Now, it’ll be up to the historians to find out if the box really could hold the treasures of the Confederate past.

“There were no open by dates prior to the 1920s, 1930s. They put these time capsules in with the expectation they would last in perpetuity. So, it’s like why would they do that?,” Brumfield asked. “Why would they bother to put one in if that’s the case? That’s one of the questions of the past that we grapple with.”