Now that an iconic statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee has been taken down from its perch above Richmond’s Monument Avenue, crews plan to remove a piece of history from its gigantic pedestal.
Officials believe that a time capsule dating back to 1887 is hidden within the statue’s base. It will be taken down on Thursday. It will be replaced by a new capsule that includes items reflecting current times. This includes an expired vial from Pfizer COVID-19, a Black Lives Matter sticker, and a photograph showing a Black ballerina raising her fist near the Lee statue following racial justice protests in response to the killing of George Floyd last year.
State officials were able to pinpoint the capsule’s position in the cornerstone of the granite pedestal, which is 40 feet (12 meters) high, using historical records and imaging tests.
An 1887 newspaper article suggests that the copper capsule is mostly filled with memorabilia. It includes a U.S. Silver Dollar and a collection Confederate buttons. One line in that article caught the attention of historians. One of the artifacts listed is a “picture” of Lincoln in his coffin.
It is not clear what type of picture it is but the article states that it was donated by Miss Pattie Leake, a school principal from a well-known local family.
Harold Holzer, a Lincoln scholar and historian, stated to The Associated Press that he thinks it is highly unlikely that the photograph is of Lincoln in his coffin. The only known photo of Lincoln as a dead was taken by Jeremiah Gurney at City Hall in New York, April 24, 1865.
Holzer stated that it is more likely it is a Currier & Ives lithographic print or sketch of Lincoln in New York. This could have been made by someone who might have seen Lincoln’s corpse during a two week tour.
Lee’s bronze equestrian statue was one of five Confederate monuments that lined Richmond’s Monument Avenue. It was the only one that had been owned by the state. Although the four statues in the city were removed last summer, the removal of the Lee statue was blocked by two lawsuits. However, a Supreme Court of Virginia ruling last week allowed it to be taken down.
Once the time capsule has been removed, it will then be taken to a state Department of Historic Resources laboratory, where historians will immediately open and preserve the 60 items that are believed to be contained within.
Gov. Ralph Northam stated that the original time capsule was Virginia’s 1890 state, but the 39 items in the new capsule are “who we are today as a nation in 2021.”
“The last 18 months have witnessed historic change, including the pandemic and protests for racial injustice that led to the removal these monuments from a lost cause. Northam stated in a news release that it was fitting to replace the old time capsule by a new one that tells this story.