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

Updated May 17, 2024
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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."

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."

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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