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Story highlights

The time capsule was buried deep in a Confederate monument in St. Louis

The capsule dates to 1914, and many of its contents remain a mystery

(CNN) —  

Workers taking down a controversial Confederate monument in St. Louis have discovered a 102-year-old time capsule buried in its base.

Removal of the Confederate Memorial in Forest Park began Monday as part of an agreement between St. Louis and the Missouri Civil War Museum.

The copper time capsule was sealed in the center of the very bottom of the monument about a month before it was completed, said Mark Trout, executive director of the Missouri Civil War Museum, who knew about the capsule’s existence from historical documents.

“We knew it was in there somewhere, so we were careful as we chipped away at something like 40 tons of concrete until we got to the very bottom,” Trout said.

There, workers found a stone tablet that read, “On this spot, a monument will be erected in memory of the soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy.” The monument was dedicated in 1914.

Inside the capsule, Trout expects to find documents, a magazine with an article about the monument, as well as a letter to whomever would access the trove, he said.

Given that the time capsule was placed so far into the monument’s base, the letter’s writer must have known that future readers only would access it if the monument were destroyed or disassembled.

“That’s probably the saddest thing,” Trout said.

Still, there will undoubtedly be some surprises in the capsule.

“We know a couple things inside of it, (but) we don’t know everything,” he said.

The capsule is about 18 inches long by 10 inches deep and 10 inches tall, Trout said. It’s expected to be opened at an upcoming fund-raiser for the Missouri Civil War Museum.

Debate over Confederate symbols

The St. Louis monument’s removal comes as communities across the South have taken a more critical eye toward public symbols of the Confederacy.

Opponents say the monuments inappropriately glorify the rebellion’s history of slavery and promote the “Lost Cause” ideology, which holds that states’ rights was the Confederacy’s core driver, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Supporters claim they see the monuments as symbolic tributes to a proud Southern heritage.

The issue rose to prominence in 2015, after a self-declared white supremacist who posed with the Confederate battle flag shot and killed nine people at an iconic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. Since then, cities including New Orleans and Orlando have moved to take down Confederate monuments in their public areas.

The Confederate Memorial in St. Louis’ Forest Park features a 32-foot-high granite shaft with a relief figure of “The Angel of the Spirit of the Confederacy,” according to Forest Park. The relief, sculpted by George Julian Zolnay, depicts a family and a soldier as he heads off to war.

The monument had attracted graffiti and criticism, and the city recently decided to remove it. The Missouri Civil War Museum sued, challenging the piece’s ownership.

The two parties reached a settlement Monday under which the museum agreed to pay for the monument’s removal and storage until a new permanent location can be found, the city said.

The monument is now in protective storage, Trout said. It will need some preservation work before it can be displayed again. The museum must find a Civil War museum, battlefield, or cemetery outside St. Louis as the monument’s new home, the city said.

CNN’s Emanuella Grinberg contributed to this report.