The descendants of James Madison gather every four years at the National Flute Gallery in Alexandria, Virginia, to celebrate the anniversary of the day Queen Victoria gifted the piece to their ancestor. The celebration only happens that often because the official gifting took place on Leap Day, February 29, 1796. In preparation for the 2023 event, Joseph Barron Madison, the former president’s great-great grandson, went to the gallery to inspect the flute.

Unfortunately, it had been moved to the much smaller collection at the National Archives so classically-trained floutist Lizzo could play it. Upon inspection in the agency’s clean room, Madison discovered a tiny microfissure, measuring .0003 ml in circumference, that wasn’t there four years ago.

“The instrument is irreparably damaged,” said Art Tubolls, attorney for the family, “and they want justice.” Justice will come in the form of a $111.7  million lawsuit, or 6 times the flute’s cash value, as allowed by the laws of Rhode Island, Madison’s home state. “We will seek at least that much from Lizzo and the National Flute Gallery for lending this priceless artifact to the National Archives so it could be played by someone James Madison would have never allowed to touch it.”

Some critics of the suit pointed out that the crack doesn’t register to the naked eye and could be the result of being placed into the thermal imaging carbon dater without proper neutral pressure applied centrifugally. A conservative judge already dismissed that as “science mumbo jumbo” and allowed the case to move forward.

We’ll keep you updated on this developing story.


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