RICHMOND, Va. — Workers returned Friday to the site in Richmond where a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee stood for more than a century, but won’t resume their search for a 134-year-old time capsule state officials believe is buried in the statue’s enormous granite pedestal.
Crews spent about 12 hours Thursday removing massive stones and digging in search of the 1887 time capsule, but were unable to find it.
Work was underway Friday to reassemble the pedestal pieces that were removed, but crews do not plan to spend any more time digging for the capsule, said Dena Potter, a spokeswoman for the state agency managing the job.
“It’s going well but slowly, as we anticipated it would,” Potter said of the reassembly work.
Workers also planned to place a new time capsule in a cornerstone of the pedestal.
The statue was taken down Wednesday, more than a year after Gov. Ralph Northam ordered its removal after protests over racism and police brutality erupted across the country, including in Richmond, following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
On Thursday, crews used ground-penetrating radar devices, a metal detector and other construction equipment to try to locate the 1887 copper time capsule they believed was tucked inside or under a cornerstone of the 40-foot tall pedestal.
A newspaper article from 1887 suggests the capsule contains Civil War memorabilia and a “picture of Lincoln lying in his coffin,” although historians believe it’s doubtful the picture is an actual photograph, which would be rare and valuable.
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.
State officials said they plan to leave the pedestal in place, at least for now, with the expectation that a community-involved rethinking of the whole of Monument Avenue will kick off soon.
The Lee statue 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 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.