Crypt of Civilization

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Crypt of Civilization interior contents

The Crypt of Civilization is a sealed airtight chamber built between 1937 and 1940 at Oglethorpe University in Brookhaven, Georgia, in Metro Atlanta. The 2,000-cubic-foot (57 m3) room contains numerous artifacts and documents, and is designed for opening in the year 8113 AD.[1][2] During the 50th anniversary year of its sealing, the Guinness Book of World Records cited the crypt as the "first successful attempt to bury a record of this culture for any future inhabitants or visitors to the planet Earth."[3][4]


Thornwell Jacobs (1877–1956), referred to as "the father of the modern time capsule", claimed to be the first in modern times to conceive the idea of consciously preserving man-made objects for posterity by placing them in a sealed repository.[1][3][5][6][7] Jacobs's inspiration for the project was sparked by the Egyptian pyramid and tomb openings in the 1920s. He was struck by the scarcity of historical information available from these ancient civilizations and imagined having a "running story" of the customs of human life from the beginning to the 1930s modern culture.[1][8]

Although the claim that 4241 BC (July 19) is the "earliest fixed date" has been discredited[9] since Jacobs, he noted that 6,177 years had passed between when the Egyptian calendar was established in 4241 BC and the present year (AD 1936). This figure served as the rationale for setting the opening of the crypt for 8113, as it was 6,177 years away.

Jacobs’s Crypt of Civilization intrigued America and was duplicated by many others.[1] In the mid-1930s, George Edward Pendray, a public relations executive for the Westinghouse Electric Company, was given an assignment to come up with a promotional event for the 1939 New York World's Fair.[1][2] Pendray, also an amateur rocketeer, suggested burying a "time capsule", a sealed rocket-shaped vessel made of a metal alloy called "cupaloy". The Westinghouse time capsule is a 7-foot-long (2.1 m) rocket-shaped tube with a metal exterior that encapsulated articles in a Pyrex inner tube.[2] Pendray’s project was originally named a "time bomb", but the name was later changed to time capsule. Pendray’s time capsule is scheduled to be opened in under 61 centuries.[1][2]


The Crypt of Civilization chamber is positioned on Appalachian granite bedrock located in the foundation of Phoebe Hearst Memorial Hall, a granite Gothic-style academic building at Oglethorpe University.[1][2] The room was converted from a swimming pool from 1937 to 1940, and the walls were lined with enamel plates embedded in pitch.[1][2]

The room is 20 feet (6.1 m) long, 10 feet (3.0 m) high and 10 feet (3.0 m) wide. The chamber is under a stone roof seven feet thick and lies over a two-foot stone floor.[2] It is sealed with a stainless steel door welded in place.[1]

Thomas Kimmwood Peters (1884–1973) supervised construction and served as its archivist.[1]


The National Bureau of Standards, Washington, D.C., gave professional and technical advice for the artifacts and construction of the crypt.[2] The bureau also recommended how artifacts should be stored.[1][2] Many artifacts are stored in stainless steel receptacles lined with glass and filled with an inert gas to prevent aging, a concept later carried over to the Westinghouse Time Capsules. The chamber resembles a cell of an Egyptian pyramid with artifacts positioned on shelves and the floor.[1] The walls are lined with plaques containing illustrations by George L. Carlson in the form of pictographs that "tell the history of communications and explain how to access the treasures buried in the tomb."[10]

Many of the artifacts for the Crypt of Civilization were donated, including contributions from King Gustav V of Sweden and Eastman Kodak.[2] Suggestions for items to include in the crypt included items varying from "a pair of garters" to "a can opener" to "a dry martini complete with olive".[11]

Included in the crypt are airtight receptacles containing microfilm on cellulose acetate film containing more than 800 classic works of literature, including the Bible, the Quran, Homer's Iliad, and Dante's Inferno.[2] There are approximately 640,000 pages included.[8] A backup metal film system resides in the crypt as well.[1][2] An original copy of the script for Gone With the Wind was donated by movie producer David O. Selznick to be included as well.[1]

The crypt also contains voice recordings of historical figures such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, and Franklin Roosevelt. Unusual sound clips were also included, such as the cartoon character Popeye the Sailor and a champion hog caller.[1]

Jacobs addressed those who will open the crypt in AD 8113 in a note hoping for future efforts for preservation, saying, "The world is engaged in burying our civilization forever, and here in this crypt we leave it to you."[1][2]

Peters placed electric microfilm readers and projectors in the vault to enable viewing and listening to these recordings. He provided a generator operated by a windmill to drive the apparatus, as well as a seven-power magnifier to read the microfilm records by hand in the event that the current form of electricity is not in use in AD 8113.[1] Peters even included some current-day scientific instruments.[7]

Unusual artifacts included are seed samples, dental floss, the contents of a woman's purse, some Artie Shaw records, an electric toaster, a pacifier, a specially sealed bottle of Budweiser beer, a typewriter, a radio, a cash register, an adding machine, a set of Lincoln Logs, and plastic toys of Donald Duck, the Lone Ranger, and a Black doll.[1][2][7]

Some of the last items placed in the Crypt of Civilization were steel plates of the Atlanta Journal newspaper reporting on World War II.[1]


Jacobs spoke on nationwide radio on NBC in New York City in 1937 to promote the crypt. A dedication ceremony on the Oglethorpe University campus, led by David Sarnoff of the Radio Corporation of America occurred in May, 1938. Peters included segments of Paramount newsreel films of this occasion in the crypt as well as film he had created about the crypt entitled The Stream of Knowledge (1938).[1]

On May 25, 1940, Jacobs and Peters sealed the crypt in a solemn ceremony that was broadcast by Atlanta's WSB radio.[2][3] Notable figures present at the ceremony included Dr. Amos Ettinger, Dr. M. D. Collins, Mayor William B. Hartsfield, Ivan Allen, Jr., Clark Howell, Governor Eurith D. Rivers, and Postmaster General James A. Farley.[2] The door was welded shut, and a plaque was fused to it with a Message to the Generations of 8113 from Jacobs.

This Crypt contains memorials of the civilization which existed in the United States and the world at large during the first half of the twentieth century. In receptacles of stainless steel, in which the air has been replaced by inert gases, are encyclopedias, histories, scientific works, special editions of newspapers, travelogues, travel talks, cinema reels, models, phonograph records, and similar materials from which an idea of the state and nature of the civilization which existed from 1900 to 1950 can be ascertained. No jewels or precious metals are included.

We depend upon the laws of the county of DeKalb, the State of Georgia, and the government of the United States and their heirs, assigns, and successors, and upon the sense of sportsmanship of posterity for the continued preservation of this vault until the year 8113, at which time we direct that it shall be opened by authorities representing the above governmental agencies and the administration of Oglethorpe University. Until that time we beg of all persons that this door and the contents of the crypt within may remain inviolate.[12]

Peters included a machine called a "Language Integrator" in front of the sealed chamber to teach the openers how to speak English, which was another concept carried on to the Westinghouse Time Capsules.[1][8]

An entry from Jacobs's diary in April, 1937, reads, "We have been in 'Time' . . . 'Reader's Digest', Walter Winchell's radio column ... and in newspapers from London to Australia.[13]

After sealing[edit]

There have been numerous retrospectives on the Crypt of Civilization by the Associated Press, ABC, NBC, CNN, NPR, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The New York Times and others since the seal date.

After the sealing of the crypt in 1940, media organizations continued to re-visit the crypt in news stories every decade.

The International Time Capsule Society was formed at Oglethorpe University in 1990 on the fiftieth anniversary of the sealing of the Crypt of Civilization.[2] This organization studies the variety of time capsules created worldwide.[1]

The Crypt of Civilization regained prominence in millennium observances from 1999 to 2001. It was featured on television and covered by numerous newspapers.[1][2][3]

The crypt was featured in an episode of Life After People: The Series on the History Channel.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w "The New Georgia Encyclopedia — Crypt of Civilization". Retrieved 2008-06-29.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "History of the Crypt of Civilization". Retrieved 2015-10-22.
  3. ^ a b c d "The Crypt of Civilization at Oglethorpe University". Archived from the original on 2008-06-20. Retrieved 2008-06-29.
  4. ^ Guinness Book of World Records (1990)
  5. ^ Oglethorpe University president Thornwell Jacobs in an article of November 1936 Scientific American magazine.
  6. ^ Jarvis, p. 350
  7. ^ a b c "Time Capsules in America Crypt of Civilization". Retrieved 2008-06-29.
  8. ^ a b c Seibert, Patricia (December 2001). We Were Here: A Short History of Time Capsules By Patricia Seibert, p. 16-24. ISBN 9780761304234. Retrieved 2008-06-29.
  9. ^ Grimal, Nicolas. A History of Ancient Egypt. p.52. Librairie Arthéme Fayard, 1988
  10. ^ Paul Tumey, "Figuring Out George Carlson". The Comics Journal, October 9, 2013. (Part 2 here.
  11. ^ Literary Digest, October 31, 1936, pp. 19–20
  12. ^ "Damn Interesting article on "The Crypt of Civilization"". Retrieved 2008-06-29.
  13. ^ Jacobs autobiography 1945, p. 512


  • Fleishman, Glenn (October 24, 2018). "A Racist Message Buried for Thousands of Years in the Future". The Atlantic. External link in |title= (help)
  • Jacobs, Thornwell (1945). Step Down Dr. Jacobs: The Autobiography of an Autocrat. Atlanta.
  • Jacobs, Thornwell (November 1936). "Today—Tomorrow: Archeology in AD 8113". Scientific American.
  • Jarvis, William (1988). "Time Capsules". Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. New York.
  • Peters, Thomas (1978). "item # 1712". Who's Who in America With World Notables. Chicago.
  • Peters, Thomas (February 1940). "The Preservation of History in the Crypt of Civilization". Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers: 209–10.
  • Hudson, Paul (Spring 1991). "The 'Archaeological Duty' of Thornwell Jacobs: The Oglethorpe-Atlanta Crypt of Civilization Time Capsule". Georgia Historical Quarterly. 75.
  • Thomas, David (1983). "Jacobs, Thornwell". Dictionary of Georgia Biography. Athens. pp. 517–19.
  • "The Crypt of Civilization" brochure, Oglethorpe University, Atlanta, Georgia, 30319 (available upon request).
  • The Book of Record of the Time Capsule of Cupaloy. New York. 1938.
  • Guinness Book of World Records. New York. 1990.
  • Scientific American: 260–266. November 1936. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  • Literary Digest: 19–20. October 31, 1936. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  • Atlanta Journal. May 28, 1938, and May 26, 1940. Check date values in: |date= (help); Missing or empty |title= (help)

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 33°52′29″N 84°19′53″W / 33.87465°N 84.33136°W / 33.87465; -84.33136