Virginia State Seal Virginia Department of Historic Resources

DHR Releases Inventory of Contents in 1887 Richmond Lee Statue Time Capsule

Department of Historic Resources
For Immediate Release
January 18, 2022

Katherine Ridgway
State Archaeological Conservator
(804) 482-6442

A series of blog posts is also slated to run every week on the agency’s website featuring new research on the artifacts

RICHMOND – Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources has released an inventory of the objects found inside one of the cornerstone boxes that was buried beneath where the Robert E. Lee monument stood in Richmond. Experts retrieved the copper box from the statue’s foundation in late December and sent it to DHR’s headquarters for a televised opening. State conservators then began the process of identifying, documenting, and preserving its contents.

Workers at the former Lee monument site discovered the box on December 27, 2021, just over a week after they removed a smaller lead box from the pedestal containing books, coins, and other documents deposited by the statue’s builders. DHR plans to launch weekly articles on its website detailing new research on the artifacts from both boxes.

The inventory, now published on DHR’s website, includes 71 objects altogether. More than 50 of the items are paper-based artifacts and books. The box also contained 19th-century–era bullets, silver and copper coins, badges, wood-made items, and a “piece of a stone wall.”

Conservators compared the box contents to the list of items recorded in an 1887 Richmond Dispatch article that circulated during the time the box was laid under the monument. Twenty out of the total number of objects that conservators catalogued were not mentioned in the article.

The copper cornerstone box was placed in the Lee statue foundation in 1887. Virginia Freemason William Bryan Isaacs (1818-1895) oversaw the collection of its items in Richmond. He chose objects that he believed represented the “present age” of the time. Isaacs and his contemporaries did not intend for the box to be accessed and opened at a later date in the future. Contrary to the modern-day notion of time capsules, the cornerstone box was, simply put, meant for an eternity.

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Originally posted: January 18, 2022
Updated: January 18, 2022