LEWISTON – Rusted and stained after 76 years behind a church cornerstone, the metal time capsule looked like a relic from a Depression-era grocery.

Lionel Guay opened it like an old can, using a blade from his jackknife to peel off the top. Then, he reached inside and pulled out a chunk of brown dirt.

“What is it?” asked an eager voice on the other end of the conference table.

“I don’t know,” Guay replied, gently sifting the dirt through his fingers.

Workers renovating the former church, the Franco-American Heritage Center at St. Mary’s, unearthed the box a week ago. It had sat behind the cornerstone of the Little Canada Catholic church.

Eva LaCroix remembers when it was placed there. She was a girl of 16 when leaders, among them her father, Louis Malo, placed the box behind the stone.

Her family attended because her father was the lead contractor on the project.

“It was a small affair,” said LaCroix, now 92. “There was some ceremony. The bishop was there.”

But like the contents of the capsule, time has eroded LaCroix’s memories of the event.

“I don’t remember what was inside,” she said. “I was a little girl, for sure.”

Whatever it was, it’s gone now.

Members of the center’s board of directors watched as Guay moved the dirt. Moments later, Larry Gilbert used a spatula to shovel the dirt until the box sat empty.

“You know what happened?” Guay asked. “It dissolved.”

Two tiny antiques remained, though. A pair of button-like shapes were pulled from the box.

“They had writing on them, but we can’t read it,” Guay said.

One of the lost items was probably a cross. The bottom of the box seemed to be discolored into a cross shape. But there were no other hints.

The box was never sealed. The same water that damaged the stones in the old church seeped into the time capsule.

Now, Guay and other leaders are planning a new capsule. It will likely include photos and other memorabilia.

And, it will be sealed in plastic.

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