Confederate Money, Lincoln Image From 1865 Harper's Weekly Found in Second VA Time Capsule

Conservators on December 28 opened a second time capsule found in the pedestal of a Robert E. Lee statue formerly standing in Richmond, Virginia, finding coins, documents and other artifacts from the 1800s.

The box was found the day before in water at the monument site, and experts believe this is the 1887 capsule that historical accounts describe.

An 1887 news article said the capsule would contain a picture of former President Abraham Lincoln "lying in his coffin" along with other Civil War memorabilia. Researchers were excited about the prospect of uncovering the "rare and historically significant" photo. Library of Virginia records said there would also be about 60 objects in the box from 37 Richmond contributors.

Kate Ridgway, lead conservator for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, said the box's contents were damp, but "it's not soup."

The highly anticipated photograph, however, isn't actually a photograph, but a printed image from Harper's Weekly from 1865, which seems to show a figure grieving over Lincoln's grave.

The box also contained waterlogged books and newspapers, buttons, Civil War "Miniè ball" bullets and an envelope of Confederate money.

Additionally, there were wood carvings of a Masonic symbol and a Confederate flag. The flag carving was reportedly made from a tree that grew over General Stonewall Jackson's grave.

On December 22, Newsweek reported that conservators opened the first time capsule, which was found inside the removed statue's pedestal.

However, when opening the first box, conservators only found three water-damaged books, a silver coin and a cloth envelope. Officials theorized this box was placed by someone involved in the pedestal's construction and not the one they were looking for.

After finding the second time capsule, history enthusiasts found a renewed hope that this box would contain the items the historical documents promised.

Ridgeway said she believes the new box is the one they had been looking for, as it matched the descriptions from historical accounts.

time capsule, Civil War era
Crews wrapping up the removal Monday of the giant pedestal that once held a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee found what appeared to be a second and long-sought-after time capsule, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said. Above, workers recover the box believed to be the 1887 time capsule in Richmond, Virginia, on December 27, 2021. Eva Russo/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP

Conservators had already made several cuts before the media was invited to observe Ridgway make the final cut.

The contents of the tightly packed box had expanded from the damp and stuck together, making unpacking difficult, so conservators decided to relieve pressure by cutting down one side.

"Not ideal, but it's the way it is," Ridgway said.

The box was discovered and carefully extracted from the monument site a day earlier, marking the end of a long search for the elusive capsule. Ridgway said the box, which found 36 pounds, was found in water in a little alcove of the pedestal.

"They found it! This is likely the time capsule everyone was looking for," Governor Ralph Northam tweeted Monday after the box was plucked from the rubble.

Northam ordered the enormous equestrian statue of Lee removed in 2020, amid the global protest movement sparked by the police killing of George Floyd. Litigation pushed back his plans, and the statue was not removed until September after a court cleared the way.

Contemporaneous news accounts from the late 1800s detailed the placement of the time capsule in the foundation of the pedestal, and imaging tests conducted earlier this year appeared to confirm its existence. But a lengthy search during the September statue removal came up empty.

Earlier this month, Northam ordered the pedestal removed as well, and crews working on the project again started to search for the artifact.

Northam's office said the newly discovered box underwent an initial analysis Monday. Its dimensions match the size listed in the historical record and X-rays showed it appeared to include items such as books, coins, buttons and perhaps a type of Civil War-era ammunition, according to a news release.

Harold Holzer, a historian and Lincoln scholar, previously told the Associated Press he believes it's highly doubtful that the Lincoln picture is an actual photograph of him in his coffin because the only known photo of Lincoln in death was taken by photographer Jeremiah Gurney in City Hall in New York on April 24, 1865.

More likely, Holzer said, it could be a popular Currier & Ives lithographic print of Lincoln lying in state in New York or a sketch done by an artist who may have witnessed Lincoln's body during a two-week tour the president's body was taken on before his burial in Springfield, Illinois.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Richmond, Virginia, time capsule, conservators
Conservation experts in Virginia’s capital Tuesday pulled buttons, coins, documents and other artifacts from the time capsule found in the remnants of the pedestal at the former site of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Above, Virginia state conservators work on the time capsule left in the pedestal in Richmond, Virginia, on Tuesday, Dec. 28. Sarah Rankin/AP Photo