Conservators Just Cracked Open a 134-Year-Old Confederate Time Capsule

There’s a livestream, and it’s fascinating.

Sarah Rankin/AP

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Yesterday, crews who were working to remove the base of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, made an exciting discovery beneath the monument: a copper box from 1887 believed to contain dozens of pieces of historic memorabilia.

As I write this, conservation experts in the state’s capital are opening and examining the time capsule’s contents, which turn out to be slightly waterlogged but in surprisingly good condition. The artifacts uncovered thus far include a small Bible, Confederate money, a book entitled Minutae of Soldier Life, a Civil War bullet called a Minié ball, and a printed image from an 1865 issue of Harper’s Weekly depicting someone grieving over Abraham Lincoln’s grave.

This isn’t the first time this month that the same team of conservators has opened a container beneath the Lee monument, which departing Gov. Ralph Northam had ordered taken down in September. Last week, they pried open a lead box found in the pedestal, but the box did not match historical descriptions of the formal time capsule. It contained few artifacts and was likely placed by the people who erected the monument.

As lead conservator Kate Ridgway prepared to slice open the side of the copper box to free its waterlogged contents today, she had some advice for anyone considering creating one. “Next time capsule,” she said, “maybe not so much stuff in it.” 

Check out the livestream here.

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