By MICHAEL E. RUANE | The Washington Post

First, conservator Caitlin Smith carefully drilled a hole in the sealed copper box that had just been removed from the cornerstone of the century-old amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery.

With a special viewing scope, she peered inside. There sat another mysterious box, held with metal bands. She cut off the lid of the outer box, and historian Tim Frank lifted the inner box.

Smith, wearing a white lab coat, white mask and blue surgical gloves, was nervous. She knew she might be the first person to see inside this box in 105 years. She drilled a hole and took a look.

What she saw in there was the lost world of 1915 — a signed photograph of President Woodrow Wilson, copies of Washington’s four newspapers and a program from the 1915 “encampment” of thousands of Civil War veterans near the U.S. Capitol.

There, too, was a tiny silk American flag, with an outdated number of stars. In 1915, there were 48 states. But this flag only had 46 stars.

“Was it sort of a last-minute add, like somebody had this flag, and it was handy, and they just kind of rolled it up and placed it in?” cemetery command historian Steve Carney wondered. “It’s something that we all have been thinking a lot about.”

Also packed inside were a thick Washington city directory, a Bible wrapped in brown paper and tied up in a red string, a copy of the congressional hearings into the amphitheater labeled “to be put in cornerstone,” and a pamphlet labeled “Confederate Dead.”

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