lost causes

Famous Robert E. Lee Statue Time Capsule Found, for Real This Time

Crews remove a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, in Richmond, Virginia, on September 8, 2021. Photo: Steve Helber/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

George W. Bush once said, “Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” But despite these profound words, it seems that once again, Virginians have been fooled into thinking they’d stumbled on a photo of different Republican president lying in his coffin, only to come up empty handed.

For those who haven’t followed this saga: Last week, conservators with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources opened a time capsule that workers found while dismantling the pedestal of Richmond’s six-story Robert E. Lee statue, which was taken down in September. An 1887 newspaper article and records from the Library of Virginia suggested that a capsule containing various Confederate paraphernalia and a “picture of Lincoln lying in his coffin” was embedded in that pedestal during construction. But the location and appearance of the box found by workers didn’t quite match the description, and all they found inside were some soggy books, a British coin, and photo of a living man who was not Abraham Lincoln.

So it seemed we’d all learned a lesson about trusting Confederate sympathizers. But on Monday, the crew removing the pedestal found a second box. And Governor Ralph Northam, for one, was ready to believe:

However, the second capsule was also kind of a disappointment. It appears that the box opened on Tuesday afternoon is the official time capsule, and there was no water inside other than condensation. “It’s in much better shape than what we expected,” conservator Kate Ridgway said. “We thought everything would be soup and it’s not soup, so that’s great.”

But so far they haven’t found a new photo of Lincoln’s corpse (which would be a huge historical find, as we’ve only seen one photo of the assassinated president in his coffin), though the capsule did contain a drawing of a figure grieving over Lincoln’s casket from an 1865 issue of Harper’s Weekly. As the AP reports, the box only contained more Confederate documents and some ammunition:

Along with several waterlogged books, pamphlets and newspapers, the box contained an envelope of Confederate money, which conservators carefully separated, and two carved artifacts — a Masonic symbol and a Confederate flag said to have be made from the tree that grew over Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s original grave.

Conservators also pulled buttons, coins and Miniè balls, a type of bullet used in the Civil War, from the box. A bomb squad had checked the capsule Monday, partly to make sure there was no live ammunition.

Here’s some footage of the underwhelming second capsule opening:

Conservators still have more work to do, but for now it appears we were all duped once again by advocates of the Lost Cause. It’s frustrating end to this little mystery, but on the other hand, it’s Dead Week — what else did we have going on?

This post has been updated.

Robert E. Lee Time Capsule Found, for Real This Time