Crews end daylong search for 1887 Lee statue time capsule

Confederate_Monument_Time_Capsule_09913 Devon Henry, owner of the construction company that removed the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee statue, center, looks on as crews work on retrieving a 134-year-old time capsule at Monument Avenue, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in Richmond, Va. The time capsule will be replaced with a new one.
Confederate_Monument_Time_Capsule_10821 EDS NOTE: OBSCENITY - Devon Henry, owner of the construction company that removed the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee statue, looks on as crews work on retrieving a 134-year-old time capsule from the base at Monument Avenue, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in Richmond, Va. A new time capsule will be installed in the base.
Confederate_Monument_Time_Capsule_13386 Crew member James work on retrieving a 134-year-old time capsule from the base of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that towered over Richmond, Va., Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, for more than a century before it was taken down this week. A new time capsule will be installed in the base.
Confederate_Monument_Time_Capsule_17026 Meryem Karad, Assistant Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources, left, looks on along with Council person Katherine Jordan as crews work on retrieving a 134-year-old time capsule from the pedestal under where a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was removed this week at Monument Avenue, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in Richmond, Va. A new time capsule will be installed that includes artifacts reflective of current times, including an expired vial of a COVID-19 vaccine and a Black Lives Matter sticker.
Confederate_Monument_Richmnond_61720 Crews dismantle the corner of the pedestal of the Robert E. Lee statue as they attempt to locate a time capsule thought to be buried in the base on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. The statue was removed from the pedestal on Sept. 8.
Confederate_Monument_Richmnond_51761 Crews dismantle the corner of the pedestal of the Robert E. Lee statue as they attempt to locate a time capsule thought to be buried in the base on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. The statue was removed from the pedestal Sept. 8.
Confederate_Monument_Richmond_05849 Some of the 39 items placed inside a time capsule during a ceremony in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. On Thursday, the time capsule will replace one believed to be in the base of the Robert E. Lee statue. The statue was removed from its pedestal Wednesday. Among the items were a signed collection of columns by the Richmond Times-Dispatch's Michael Paul Williams.
Confederate_Monument_Richmond_10115 A time capsule is seen after it was filled with 39 items during a ceremony in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. On Thursday, the time capsule will replace one believed to be in the base of the Robert E. Lee statue. The statue is to be removed from its pedestal Wednesday.
Confederate_Monument_Richmond_98958 A photograph by Marcus Ingram, left, is among the items being placed in a time capsule during a ceremony in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. On Thursday, the time capsule will replace one believed to be in the base of the Robert E. Lee statue. The statue is to be removed from its pedestal Wednesday.
Confederate_Monument_Richmond_37917 Virginia first lady Pam Northam, right, places items inside a time capsule during a ceremony in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. On Thursday, the time capsule will replace one believed to be in the base of the Robert E. Lee statue. The statue is to be removed from its pedestal Wednesday.
Confederate_Monument_Richmond_76942 The General Robert E. Lee statue is lifted during its removal on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. The statue of Lee that towered over Richmond, Virginia, for generations has been taken down, cut into pieces and hauled away. It happened as the former capital of the Confederacy erased the last of the Civil War figures that once defined its most prominent thoroughfare.
Confederate_Monument_Richmnond_45167 Crews move a section of the base as they attempt to locate a time capsule said to be buried in the base of the statue of on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. The statue was removed from the pedestal on Wednesday.
Confederate_Monument_Richmnond_83376 Crews attempt to locate a time capsule said to be buried in the base of the statue of on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. The statue was removed from the pedestal on Wednesday.
Confederate_Monument_Richmnond_42030 Crews attempt to locate a time capsule said to be buried in the base of the statue of on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. The statue was removed from the pedestal on Wednesday.
Confederate_Monument_Richmond_85245 The top part of the General Robert E. Lee statue is lifted during its removal on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. The statue of Lee that towered over Richmond, Va., for generations has been taken down, cut into pieces and hauled away. It happened as the former capital of the Confederacy erased the last of the Civil War figures that once defined its most prominent thoroughfare.
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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Crews in Virginia ended a daylong search Thursday after they were unable to locate a 134-year-old time capsule state officials believe is buried in the pedestal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that towered over Richmond for more than a century.

State officials were scheduled to remove the 1887 time capsule from the pedestal a day after the massive statue was taken down. But after removing more than half a dozen large, heavy stones, crews were unable to find it.

Workers used ground-penetrating radar devices, a metal detector and other construction equipment to try to locate the copper time capsule they believed was tucked inside or under a cornerstone of a 40-foot (12-meter) tall granite pedestal that the bronze equestrian statue of Lee had been perched on since 1890.

The statue was hoisted off its pedestal on Wednesday, more than a year after Gov. Ralph Northam ordered its removal in June 2020 after protests over racism and police brutality erupted across the country following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

While the removal of the statue went quickly and smoothly, the search for the time capsule was marked by difficulties and frustration. Crews had to remove three separate pieces of the cornerstone weighing between 500 and 8,000 pounds (225 and 3,620 kilograms) each. They also removed a half dozen other large stones around the perimeter of the pedestal so they could search under the cornerstone and the area around it.

After about 12 hours of work, crews ended their search for the day, said Northam’s chief of staff, Clark Mercer. Mercer said workers planned to return Friday to put the stones they removed back in place and to insert a new time capsule in the cornerstone. He said it is doubtful workers would resume looking for the 1887 time capsule, but left open a small possibility.

“It’s disappointing not to find the time capsule,” he said.

“We looked where we thought it was. It doesn’t preclude (us) in the future from finding it, but for right now, the mystery will continue.”

Dale Brumfield, a local historian and author who has conducted extensive research on the time capsule, said he is sure the capsule is located somewhere in the pedestal, citing a newspaper account of an 1887 dedication ceremony that drew thousands of people.

“I’m positive there’s a capsule in there somewhere,” he said. “We just can’t find where.”

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 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.

The new time capsule to be placed Friday contains items reflective of current events, 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 during last summer’s protests in Richmond.

The Lee statue was one of five enormous Confederate tributes along Richmond’s Monument Avenue and the only one that belonged to the state. The four city-owned statues were taken down last summer, but the Lee statue removal was blocked by two lawsuits until a ruling from the Supreme Court of Virginia last week cleared the way for it to be taken down Wednesday.

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An earlier version of this report incorrectly said the pedestal is made of concrete instead of granite.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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