Search on for mysterious time capsule in Robert E Lee statue that could include picture of Lincoln in his coffin

According to 1887 article, time capsule is likely to hold memorabilia such as silver dollar and Confederate buttons

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Thursday 09 September 2021 18:57

Related video: Virginia removes massive Confederate monument

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Workers have been searching for a time capsule they believe can be found inside the pedestal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee, which has now been removed after being at the centre of a political fight about how to view US history.

The large statue stood in Richmond, Virginia for well over a hundred years after being erected in 1890 before it was removed to cheers from onlookers on Wednesday. The city served as the capital of the Confederate states from 1861 to 1865.

State officials were set to remove the 134-year-old time capsule from a cornerstone on Thursday morning but were unable to find the spot where it was believed to be located. Search crews had to remove a capstone weighing 2,500 pounds (1,134 kilos) and a lid weighing 500 pounds (227 kilos) to get to the spot where it was thought to be.

Radar has been used to try to find the capsule in a piece of the cornerstone. Clark Mercer, the chief of staff to Virginia’s Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, said workers would continue the search in the cornerstone and other building blocks close to it.

Officials placed a new time capsule on Thursday after digging into the lid of the cornerstone. The fresh time capsule includes items that reflect the current era, such as a vial of the Pfizer Covid-vaccine, a Black Lives Matter sticker and a picture of a Black ballerina with her fist in the air close to the statue of General Lee after racial justice protests spread across the US following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020.

State officials believed they had found the location of the time capsule – a cornerstone in the statue’s 40-foot (12-meter) granite pedestal – after looking through historical records and conducting imaging tests.

According to a newspaper article from 1887, the time capsule is likely to hold memorabilia such as a silver dollar and confederate buttons, but historians have become most interested in a line in the report that says the capsule also includes a “picture of Lincoln lying in his coffin”.

Crews dismantle the corner of the pedestal of the Robert E. Lee statue as they attempt to locate a time capsule thought to be buried in the base on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021

The article says the image was donated by “Miss Pattie Leake” who was a school principal from a well-known family in the area.

But historian and Lincoln researcher Harold Holzer told The Associated Press earlier this year that it’s unlikely that the image is an actual photo of President Abraham Lincoln in his coffin as the only known photo taken of Mr Lincoln after his death was taken by photographer Jeremiah Gurney in New York’s City Hall on 24 April 1865 following his assassination on 15 April in Washington, DC.

Mr Holzer said it’s more likely that the image is a Currier & Ives lithographic print of Mr Lincoln lying in state in New York or that it could be a sketch by someone who saw his body during its two-week tour ahead of the burial in Springfield, Illinois.

The bronze statue of General Lee upon his horse was one of five huge statues that could be found on Monument Avenue in Richmond. The statue of the general was the only one that belonged to the state of Virginia.

The other four belonged to the city of Richmond and were taken down in 2020. The removal of the statue of Gen Lee was blocked by two lawsuits but could be removed after a ruling from the Virginia Supreme Court last week paved the way for the statue to be taken down on Wednesday.

After the time capsule is found, it will be sent to a lab run by the state’s Department of Historic Resources. Historians will then try to preserve the around 60 items thought to be inside the capsule.

Mr Northam said the items in the capsule represented Virginia in 1890, but that the new capsule shows “who we are as a people in 2021”.

“The past 18 months have seen historic change, from the pandemic to protests for racial justice that led to the removal of these monuments to a lost cause. It is fitting that we replace the old-time capsule with a new one that tells that story,” Mr Northam said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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