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Search for Time Capsule in Lee Statue Is a Bust

Crews in Richmond found no sign of the items from 1887
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 9, 2021 10:10 AM CDT
Updated Sep 10, 2021 1:17 PM CDT
Lee Statue Is Gone, but Search for 'Piece of History' Continues
Crews work to remove a towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue on Wednesday in Richmond, Va.   (AP Photo/Steve Helber, Pool)

(Newser) Update: They couldn't find it. Workers who dismantled the giant Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Va., struck out Thursday in their search for a time capsule thought to have been tucked into the pedestal more than a century ago, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. It's possible, though unlikely, the time capsule will turn up as work at the site continues, but the search is officially over. "We're moving on," says the governor's office. Our original story follows:

story continues below

The Robert E. Lee statue has been lifted off its pedestal in Richmond, Va., but work at the site isn't quite done yet. State officials believe a "piece of history" from 134 years ago remains buried inside the 40-foot-high concrete pedestal, and on Thursday, crews will try to find and retrieve it, reports the AP. That artifact: a time capsule from 1887, which, if found, will be opened at the state's Department of Historic Resources by experts who will analyze and preserve the five dozen or so items believed to be inside.

What the capsule is thought to contain, based on an 1887 newspaper article: memorabilia such as currency of that time period and plenty of Confederacy-themed items, despite, as WRIC notes, "the Confederate army losing the Civil War over 20 years prior to the capsule being buried." Really capturing attention is a mention in the article of a "picture of Lincoln lying in his coffin," supposedly donated by a local school principal, per the AP. One historian, however, think it's less likely to be an actual photo of Lincoln reposing and more likely to be a sketch or a Currier & Ives lithograph print.

What will go into a new time capsule being placed inside the pedestal, per WBBT: nearly 40 items from current times, including a Black Lives Matter sticker, a vaccination card, an expired vial of Pfizer vaccine, and a photo of one of the Black ballerinas who posed at the statue with their fists raised after the murder of George Floyd. "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," Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam says in a release, per the AP. "It is fitting that we replace the old time capsule with a new one that tells that story," and that it reflects "who we are as a people in 2021." (Read more Confederate statues stories.)

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