Conservators at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) opened a time capsule from the Lee Monument pedestal on Wednesday afternoon, but the capsule and its contents don’t match the description of a capsule reportedly placed in the monument in 1887, leading to speculation that there may be an additional capsule somewhere on site. Governor Ralph Northam and First Lady Pamela Northam were at the Department of Historic Resources at 12 p.m. for the opening of the box. Opening the box without damaging it took longer than expected, due to corrosion and masonry from the pedestal in the box seams.
“I’ve been asked a number of times if we’re going to use a torch,” Conservator Chelsea Blake said. “That’s not an option.”
State Archeological Conservator Kate Ridgeway joked, “Hey Devon [Henry], if you hear they found something else out there today, can you just ignore it until tomorrow?”
Northam left and returned later in the afternoon, ceremonially lifting the lid of the box. According to a DHR handout, the time capsule is a lead box four inches high, eight inches wide, and 11.5 inches deep. On Friday, it was found in the pedestal, about 20 feet high. On Tuesday, crews jack-hammered the box out of a 1,500-pound block of granite. DHR staff used a portable X-ray to try to see inside, but the box’s lead walls blocked the attempt. The box was placed in a blanket and brought inside overnight so it would slowly come up to room temperature — an effort to avoid dramatic climate shifts that could damage artifacts inside and create condensation. However, when conservators got their first glimpse in the box it was clear that there was moisture inside.
Staff are evaluating the contents of the box. On Wednesday evening, State Historic Preservation Officer Julie Langan provided an updated list of the contents. The time capsule had three books: American Ephemeris Nautical Almanac 1875; an 1888 Revised Price List and Illustrated Catalog – Department I. – G&A Bargamin – Manufacturers and Wholesale Dealers in Materials and Tools for Machinists, Miners, Plumbers, Gas and Steam Fitters, and Saw Mills; and The Huguenot Lovers: A tale of the Old Dominion by Collinson Pierrepont Edwards Burgwyn.
The capsule also contained an 1887 silver Great Britain Shilling; a cloth envelope containing photograph of James Netherwood, Master Stone Mason; and the calling card of Ino P. Bargamin of the Commandery of Saint Andrew, found on page 199 of The Huguenot Lovers.
When the Lee Monument was removed in September, crews dug up a corner of the pedestal looking for the 1887 time capsule, but they never found it. That capsule was reportedly made of copper, was 14 by 14 by eight inches, and contained memorabilia including a U.S. silver dollar, Confederate buttons, and a “picture of Lincoln lying in his coffin.” A capsule matching that description has not yet been found. After failing to find the capsule in September, a new time capsule was installed in the monument with modern memorabilia. The pedestal was left standing, as state and local officials worked on plans to reimagine Richmond’s Monument Avenue.
Set to be followed by a Republican, Northam ordered removal of the pedestal earlier this month. The pedestal and the Lee Monument will be stored. He ordered that the land be ceded to the city of Richmond.
“This is an exciting day for Virginia. As you all know we have been working together collaboratively to remove these statues over the last couple of years, and finally just a couple weeks ago we made the decision to take down the pedestal,” Northam said before the box was opened. “As the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, we are a commonwealth that embraces diversity. We are inclusive, and to have statues and monuments that have been in our capital city there to glorify the Lost Cause, to glorify those that fought for the Confederacy, that fought for the institution of slavery, we don’t need those. And so I am proud as the governor that these have come down, and we look forward to working with our museums and the City of Richmond to really make Monument Avenue a welcoming avenue as people approach the state capitol.”
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