With Removal of Statue Comes Rare Find

Crews working to take down a Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond discovered a time capsule
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 19, 2021 5:45 AM CST
Updated Dec 23, 2021 1:29 AM CST
With Removal of Statue Comes Rare Find
A time capsule that was placed in 1887 in the pedestal that once held the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is uncovered in Richmond, Va.   (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Update: Inside the base of a Robert E. Lee statue recently taken down in Richmond, Virginia, were books and other texts, a coin, and an envelope. Conservators chipped the time capsule out of the granite box Tuesday, and preservationists unsealed it Wednesday, NPR reports. Inside, they found just a fraction of the 60 objects they estimated would be inside the box, which was made of lead, rather than the copper they had predicted. It's not yet clear what is inside the envelope. Our original story from Sunday follows:

Crews working to remove the pedestal where a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee towered over Richmond for more than a century believe they've found a time capsule that was buried there in 1887. The massive bronze equestrian statue of Lee, erected in 1890, was taken down in September, more than a year after Gov. Ralph Northam ordered its removal after protests over racism and police brutality erupted across the country following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The day after the statue was removed, work crews spent more than 12 hours searching for the time capsule in the 40-foot-tall pedestal, but were unable to locate it. On Friday, Northam announced that crews found the top of a square box embedded in a 2,000-pound granite block, per the AP.

The box was located about 20 feet off the ground in the main section of the pedestal, not in its base. Workers who searched for it in September believed it was tucked inside or under a cornerstone of the pedestal. By late Friday afternoon, workers had lowered a large piece of granite containing the box to the ground and were planning to bring it to the state Department of Historic Resources to be opened sometime next week. Mercer said the box was still encased in granite and needs to be dislodged and X-rayed before officials can be certain it is the time capsule. A newspaper article from 1887 suggests the capsule contains Civil War memorabilia and a “picture of Lincoln lying in his coffin,” although historians believe it’s doubtful the picture is an actual photograph, which would be rare and valuable.

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Records from the Library of Virginia suggest that 37 Richmond residents, organizations and businesses contributed about 60 objects to the capsule, many of which are believed to be related to the Confederacy. The Lee statue, which became a symbol of racial injustice, was one of five Confederate tributes along Richmond’s Monument Avenue and the only one that belonged to the state. The four city-owned statues were taken down in 2020, but the Lee statue removal was blocked by two lawsuits until a ruling from the Supreme Court of Virginia in September cleared the way for it to be taken down. Northam announced earlier this month that the enormous pedestal would be removed, a reversal from September, when the governor said the pedestal would stay in place so its future could be determined by a community-driven effort to reimagine Monument Avenue.

(More Robert E. Lee stories.)

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