RICHMOND, Va. — Work crews are still searching for a time capsule they believe is buried inside the pedestal under a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that towered over Richmond for more than a century until it was taken down Wednesday.
State officials were scheduled to remove the 134-year-old time capsule Thursday morning from a cornerstone where they believe it is located. But after removing a 2,500-pound capstone and a 500-pound lid, crews were unable to pinpoint the precise location of the capsule.
Workers have been using ground-penetrating radar devices to try to find the capsule in a third piece of the cornerstone. Clark Mercer, Gov. Ralph Northam’s chief of staff, said crews will continue to look for it in the cornerstone and adjoining stones. They have also decided to dig into the lid of the cornerstone to insert a new time capsule.
The new time capsule contains items reflective of current times, including an expired vial of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, a Black Lives Matter sticker and a photograph of a Black ballerina with her fist raised near the Lee statue after racial justice protests erupted following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.
Historical records and imaging tests helped state officials pinpoint the capsule’s location in the cornerstone of the 40-foot-tall concrete pedestal.
A newspaper article from 1887 suggests the copper time capsule contains mostly memorabilia, including a U.S. silver dollar and a collection of Confederate buttons. But one line from that article has piqued the interest of historians. Listed among the artifacts is a “picture of Lincoln lying in his coffin.”
It is unclear what kind of a picture it is, but the article says it was donated by “Miss Pattie Leake,” who was a school principal from a prominent local family.
Harold Holzer, a historian and Lincoln scholar, told The Associated Press earlier this year that he believes it’s highly doubtful the picture is an actual photograph of Lincoln 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.
Holzer said it's more likely it could be a popular Currier & Ives lithographic print of Lincoln lying in state in New York or a sketch done by someone 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.
After the time capsule is removed, it will be brought to a state Department of Historic Resources lab, where historians will immediately open it and begin to preserve the approximately 60 items believed to be inside.
Gov. Ralph Northam said the original time capsule reflects Virginia in 1890, but the 39 items contained in the new capsule reflect “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,” Northam said in a news release.