Robert E. Lee monument removal team finds what is believed to be 1887 time capsule

Contemporaneous news accounts indicate the capsule was placed during a cornerstone-laying ceremony

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Crews finishing up the removal of a pedestal where a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee once stood in the middle of Richmond, Virginia have found what appears to be a time capsule that was buried there more than a century ago. 

"They found it! This is likely the time capsule everyone was looking for," Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam tweeted Monday morning, along with several photos of a box being removed from the site. 

If there are contents inside, their condition wasn’t immediately clear. Northam said conservators are studying the box and it would be opened on a later date.  

The time capsule’s discovery marked the latest development in a months-long search for it. Contemporaneous news accounts indicate the capsule was placed during a cornerstone-laying ceremony in 1887 attended by thousands of people. News accounts described its dozens of donated artifacts, including Confederate memorabilia. 

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Crews dismantling the pedestal earlier this month found a time capsule embedded in a granite block that some initially thought might have been the one placed in 1887. 

Crews move a section of the base as they attempt to locate a time capsule said to be buried in the base of the statue of on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.

Crews move a section of the base as they attempt to locate a time capsule said to be buried in the base of the statue of on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

State conservators spent hours last week prying the box open but didn't find the expected trove of Confederacy-era objects they had hoped. Instead, conservators pulled out a few waterlogged books, a silver coin, and an envelope with some papers. The search for the 1887 time capsule resumed Monday.

Devon Henry, the contractor whose company was overseeing the removal, said the box was found inside a granite enclosure at ground level, surrounded by fill and other construction material. 

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Workers pulled off the top of the granite enclosure to find the copper box, sitting in water, Henry said. The box was then covered in bubble wrap and transported by vehicle from the site for further study, he said.

The Lee statue, depicting the general atop a horse, was erected on the soaring pedestal overlooking Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, in 1890. 

Its removal in September came more than a year after Northam ordered it be taken down in the wake of nationwide protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis. Floyd’s death sparked a debate over racial injustice in the United States and renewed calls to tear down Confederate statues. 

The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is bathed in the late sun on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., Monday, Sept. 6, 2021. 

The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is bathed in the late sun on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., Monday, Sept. 6, 2021.  (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The statue of Gen. Lee was one of five enormous Confederate tributes along Monument Avenue, and the only one that belonged to the state of Virginia. The four city-owned statues were taken down in 2020, but the Lee statue's removal was blocked by two lawsuits until a ruling from the Supreme Court of Virginia in September cleared the way for it to be dismantled.

Crews searched for the time capsule then, digging and removing some massive stones, but were unable to locate it.

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Henry said it was found Monday in the northeast corner of the pedestal, about 4 feet below the area initially searched. Finalizing the removal work at the site will likely take another week, he said. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.