History
Fact-checked

At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What Was Buried Beneath Richmond’s Robert E. Lee Monument?

Beneath Richmond's Robert E. Lee Monument lay a time capsule, a snapshot of the Confederacy, intended to immortalize a contentious era. Its contents, a mystery for over a century, promised a unique glimpse into 19th-century Southern society. What secrets do these artifacts hold, and how might they reshape our understanding of American history? Join us as we uncover the past.

The old riddle that asks "Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?" might be trite by now, but the question of what was buried underneath Confederate General Robert E. Lee's monument in Richmond, Virginia, has a surprising answer.

On Tuesday, conservators opened a copper time capsule that was buried at the site in 1887. The box had been uncovered on Monday by workers digging up the monument's 40-foot (12.2-m) stone pedestal. Lee's statue was removed back in September on the orders of Governor Ralph Northam, in the culmination of months of protests over the monument's ties to the legacy of Confederacy and the so-called "Lost Cause."

Historians have opened a 134-year-old time capsule buried in the pedestal of Richmond's Robert E. Lee monument, (shown here covered in Black Lives Matter graffiti before its removal).
Historians have opened a 134-year-old time capsule buried in the pedestal of Richmond's Robert E. Lee monument, (shown here covered in Black Lives Matter graffiti before its removal).

Although speculation had hinted at the possibility of the time capsule containing a very rare photograph of Abraham Lincoln in his coffin, the only similar item was a folded magazine picture of a woman grieving at the coffin. In fact, most of what was found was far from impressive – a real estate brochure, chamber of commerce yearbooks, and other Civil War-era artifacts.

Conservators said the real find was the capsule itself (technically a "cornerstone box" as it wasn't necessarily intended to be dug up by future generations), which was still in great shape after 134 years. "We thought everything would be soup, and it’s not soup, so that’s great," said Kate Ridgway, archaeological conservator for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

Some time capsule flops:

  • In 2019, residents of Derry, New Hampshire, opened a time capsule from 1969 to find nothing inside.

  • The superintendent of an elementary school in Westport, Missouri, buried a time capsule in 1947, but forgot to leave any information on its location.

  • The most obvious thing found inside a Long Island, NY, time capsule buried in 1965 and opened in 2015 was a "horrible smell."

You might also Like

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register:
    • Historians have opened a 134-year-old time capsule buried in the pedestal of Richmond's Robert E. Lee monument, (shown here covered in Black Lives Matter graffiti before its removal).
      By: Mobilus In Mobili
      Historians have opened a 134-year-old time capsule buried in the pedestal of Richmond's Robert E. Lee monument, (shown here covered in Black Lives Matter graffiti before its removal).