Crews remove a towering statue of Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. (AP/Steve Helber)

Crews remove a towering statue of Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. (AP/Steve Helber)

Virginia First Lady Pam Northam, right, places items inside the new time capsule. (AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown).

Virginia First Lady Pam Northam, right, places items inside the new time capsule. (AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown).

Crews look for the 1887 time capsule in the base of the statue. (AP)

Crews look for the 1887 time capsule in the base of the statue. (AP)

People watch workers remove the statue on September 8, 2021. (AP/Steve Helber)

People watch workers remove the statue on September 8, 2021. (AP/Steve Helber)

Singers perform during the unveiling of the new Emancipation and Freedom Monument at Brown’s Island in Richmond, Virginia. (AP)

Singers perform during the unveiling of the new Emancipation and Freedom Monument at Brown’s Island in Richmond, Virginia. (AP)

General Lee Time Capsule

Posted: November 1, 2021

Where is it? A time capsule dating from 1887 is supposed to be inside the pedestal—or base—of a Virginia Civil War statue. Historians felt sure it was there. But so far, no one has found it.

The search began after crews removed a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Workers spent about 12 hours moving huge stones from the base. They dug through dirt, looking for the time capsule. A newspaper article from 1887 suggests Civil War trinkets are tucked inside the capsule. The paper says the container holds a photograph of President Abraham Lincoln.

The General Lee statue stirred up people’s emotions. The famed Civil War figure owned kept enslaved people. He fought for the South in the Civil War. The huge monument honoring General Lee stood in Richmond, Virginia’s capital. Many people felt divided over its place there.

Some say the statue was a painful reminder of a dark time. Before and during the war, some of God’s image-bearers—the enslaved people—were used and often abused by others—the owners who kept those people as if they were property. That’s why one side wanted the statue taken down.

Others think the statue helped people remember American history—even the bad parts. That side wanted it to stay.

Government leaders removed the statue when people began fighting over it. It was lifted off its base in early September. They left the pedestal in place—at least for a time. It was covered in graffiti from protesters. Two weeks later, two miles away, a new statue went up. It celebrates emancipation. That means freedom for the people who were forced to serve others as slaves.

Crews working at the Lee statue used ground-penetrating radar to search for the time capsule. They also had metal detectors and other construction equipment. Though they didn’t find it, workers hid a new time capsule inside the pedestal. The modern capsule contains items from the year 2021. They include an expired vial of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Capsule contents also document the way people felt about race-based disagreements too. That is one way to remember history without giving it public glory.

Good time capsules keep contents safe for decades. They can be fun and informative to open later! Psalm 77:11 tells us to remember what God does in our lifetimes. It says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.”

Why? Sometimes there is a tension—or a stress to manage—between remembering history well and treating its less honorable events rightly.