A team of historians opened what they thought to be a 19th-century time capsule placed in the pedestal of where a Robert E. Lee statue once stood in Richmond, Virginia, Wednesday afternoon and found an 1875 almanac among its contents.

Other items in the lead box included two books, a coin, and a cloth envelope containing a photograph of a man involved in the design of the pedestal, according to Julie Langan, the director and state historic preservation officer at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

But Langan told the Washington Examiner the time capsule was different than a storied container believed to have been placed in the Confederate monument in 1887.

"There are numerous discrepancies between the contemporary description of the time capsule and the metal box that has been recovered," Langan said. "Based on the historical account, we were expecting a larger copper box that contained as many as 60 items. Instead, a smaller lead box was found with a handful of items, none of which were included in the published inventory of the time capsule. The items are an odd assortment and appear to have perhaps been placed in the pedestal by someone involved in its construction."

An 1887 article in the Richmond Dispatch said there would be a photo of Abraham Lincoln lying in his coffin, along with an almanac for 1887 among the 60 items in the box. However, historians said an actual photograph would be extremely rare.

Sue Donovan
Conservator for Special Collections from the University of Virginia Sue Donovan, removes paper from a photograph that was removed from a time capsule that was removed from the pedestal that once held the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Two other discrepancies included the box being lead instead of copper and the location of the box in the pedestal. According to a press release from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, the box was found in the tower of the pedestal instead of the base.

Langan said it is not known if someone removed the copper box and replaced it or where the time capsule as described in the article could be located.

"One of the reasons that history is so intriguing and appealing to the public is that there are many unknowns and mysteries to unravel," Langan said. "For Virginians, the time capsule is one of those mysteries."


Northam said opening the box marked an important event in the state's history.

"Virginia has over 400 years of history. Our Commonwealth was both the birthplace of democracy and the capital of the Confederacy," Northam said in a statement obtained by the Washington Examiner. "Today was a tremendously important day for Virginia as we learn about — and learn from — our history."

The box was found unexpectedly Friday by workers who were dismantling the pedestal, according to CNN. The statue portion had been removed in September after it became the focal point of social justice protests stirred by the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, last year.

Langan said the items are now under conservation to avoid further degradation. The items were wet when they were discovered, so an expert is helping to preserve the items, after which further research will be done to try and explain the discrepancies.


Northam, a Democrat, called off the search for the time capsule in September after a dozen workers spent more than 12 hours looking through the base. Over the summer, Northam announced plans to replace the capsule with a new one filled with 39 modern artifacts. Those chosen included a Black Lives Matter sticker, a "Virginia is for Lovers" pride pin, a booklet with photos of 24 immigrants, prayer beads that belonged to someone who died of COVID-19, a mask, a vaccination card, and an expired vial of the Pfizer vaccine.

The discovery came at the end of Northam's term as governor. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, will begin his term as governor Jan. 15.