Work Crew Believes It Has Found Time Capsule That Might Contain Rare Abraham Lincoln Photo

Crews working to take down the pedestal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, believe they found a time capsule from 1887.

The bronze statue of Lee seated on a horse was removed in September, when crews searched for the capsule and could not find it. As it turned out, the square box was inside a 2,000-pound block of granite, not in or under one of the 40-foot tall pedestal's cornerstones, like they originally thought.

According to an 1887 newspaper article, the capsule contains a "picture of Lincoln lying in his coffin" as well as other Civil War relics. Historians said if the "picture" is an actual photograph, it would be very rare and valuable, but it is more likely to be a drawing.

Library of Virginia records say that 37 Richmond residents put about 60 mostly Confederate-related objects inside the time capsule.

The statue was constructed and put up in 1890, but following nationwide protests against racism last year due to the police killing of George Floyd, the public wanted the city's largest Confederate monument gone, prompting Governor Ralph Northam to order its removal.

The block the crews found the capsule in was 20 feet off the ground. In a news release, Northam said the block must be at ground level before preservation teams can confirm that it is the capsule. But Clark Mercer, Northam's chief of staff, expressed optimism that it will be.

"It looks like it is [the time capsule]," Mercer said. "We're hoping it hasn't been damaged by water over the last 100-plus years."

time capsule, Robert E. Lee statue
Workers believe they found a time capsule that was placed in 1887 in the pedestal that once held the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Above, the time capsule is uncovered on Monument Avenue on December 17, 2021, in Richmond, Virginia. Steve Helber/AP Photo

If workers confirm the box is the time capsule, it will be transported to the state Department of Historic Resources to be opened using best practices for historic preservation to maintain the integrity of the artifacts.

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.

After Floyd's murder in 2020, the Lee statue became a focal point of the racial justice movement in Richmond. Since then, the pedestal has been covered in graffiti, some of it profane and much of it denouncing the police. Some activists wanted to see it remain in place as a work of protest art.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Robert E. Lee, statue, pedestal
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam ordered a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and its pedestal removed and the land granted to the City of Richmond. Above, workers begin the disassembly of the pedestal that once held the statue on Monument Avenue on December 8, 2021. Steve Helber/AP Photo