Crypt Of Civilization: America's Time Capsule That's Closed Til 8113
In Oglethorpe University, a small school near Atlanta, Georgia, there is a time capsule. Rather than a simple collection of mementos, this time capsule is intended to serve as a sort of ark for humanity -- a collection of knowledge to be used in the distant future. It is called the Crypt of Civilization, and it is intended to be closed until the year 8113.
The story of the Crypt of Civilization is the story of Thornwell Jacobs, the longtime president of Oglethorpe University. Jacobs was interested in the future, and he wanted to create something that could keep the best of human knowledge preserved for those thousands of years from now. He was particularly inspired by the pyramids of Egypt.
This is where the 8113 year came from. The first date recorded in the Egyptian calendar was 4241 BC, which was 6,177 years from when Jacobs started the project in 1936. Fast forward 6,177 years, and you get to AD 8113.
Preserving all of human knowledge and culture may sound like a daunting task, and that is because it most certainly is. The Crypt was to be 20 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 10 feet tall, and Jacobs was going to make the most of this space. He enlisted the help of the U.S. Bureau of Standards, who recommended measures such as storing microfilm in stainless steel with a glass lining.
The process of microfilming information took years, and in the end, the Crypt of Civilization had 640,000 pages of information from 800 works of nonfiction. It also contained 200 fictional works. The Crypt was also intended to showcase average life in the 1930s, so it included things like a plastic toy of Donald Duck and voice samples of leaders of the time.
Yes, this meant Hitler and Stalin.
The Crypt also contained microfilm readers and other media players for the preserved artifacts. Seeing as the Crypt of Civilization was based around the English language, it likely would be incomprehensible to someone from 8113 if they managed to find and open it. Because of this, a tool called the Language Integrator was included, which was intended to teach someone English.
The stainless steel door to the Crypt of Civilization was closed on May 28, 1940. It was a popular topic at the time, and the Guinness Book of World Records called it the first attempt to preserve civilization like this. The hype surrounding the Crypt died quickly, though. WWII initially made it more appealing, as the idea of preserving knowledge in the event of catastrophe seemed more relevant than ever. However, once the atomic bomb was created, the consensus was that even if the Crypt somehow survived, no human would be around to open it.
Oh, and then there’s another big issue. If you want to be happy while conducting historical research, a good rule is to stop whenever you think that everything seems to be going okay. When you keep going, you might, for example, discover that the inventor of the Crypt of Civilization was a Confederate-sympathizer antisemite.
Yes, reading Thornwell Jacobs’ memoirs gives a look into the mind of a man who was vocally opposed to Abraham Lincoln and the emancipation of slaves in the United States. He also believed in antisemitic conspiracies that Jews were secretly controlling the government. So while the Crypt of Civilization may have been a completely innocent attempt at preserving the world, it might also be best if that stainless steel door remains shut forever.
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