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‘1887 time capsule found’ in base of controversial General Lee statue

Crews found a square box embedded in granite stone after the statue in Richmond, Virginia, was removed.

Image: PA

CREWS WORKING TO remove the pedestal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee believe they have found a time capsule buried there in 1887.

The massive bronze equestrian statue of Lee, erected in Richmond, Virginia in 1890, was taken down in September, more than a year after state governor Ralph Northam ordered its removal.

The order came amid protests over racism and police brutality across the country after 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 40ft tall pedestal, but were unable to locate it.

On Friday, Northam announced that crews had found the top of a square box embedded in a 2,000lb granite block.

It was located about 20ft 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.

Northam said in a news release that the stone must be removed and lowered to the ground before historic preservation teams can confirm whether it is the time capsule.

“It looks like it is,” said Clark Mercer, Northam’s chief of staff. “We’re hoping it hasn’t been damaged by water over the last 100-plus years.”

A newspaper article from 1887 suggests the capsule contains Civil War memorabilia and a picture of Abraham Lincoln lying in his coffin, although historians believe it is doubtful the picture is a photograph, which would be rare and valuable.

Records from the Library of Virginia suggest that 37 Richmond residents, organisations and businesses contributed about 60 objects to the capsule, many of which are believed to be related to the Confederacy.

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.

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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.

Northam announced earlier this month that the enormous pedestal would be removed, a reversal from September, when he said it 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.

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