Oglethorpe University's 'Crypt of Civilization'

Oglethorpe University Archives
Oglethorpe University Archives / Oglethorpe University Archives

Time capsules tap into our fundamental desire not to be forgotten. The earliest example of an American time capsule is the one buried in Boston by Paul Revere and Sam Adams in 1795. The cigar-box-sized capsule was rediscovered and opened in January 2015, revealing coins, newspapers, and a plaque thought to have been engraved by Revere himself. Other famous examples include the Westinghouse time capsules buried at the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs in New York. Each bullet-shaped tube is about 90 inches long, 6.5 inches in diameter, and filled with small artifacts such as money, cigarettes, toys, and seeds.

And then there’s the Oglethorpe University time capsule in Atlanta, Georgia. Not content to simply bury a box or a tube, Oglethorpe and its then-president, Dr. Thornwell Jacobs, buried an entire room. Known as the Crypt of Civilization, the “capsule” was once a swimming pool and measures 20 feet long, 10 feet high, and 10 feet wide. Though its foundation was already waterproof, Jacobs had additional protective measures added, including a thick stainless steel door that was welded into place when the room was sealed on May 28, 1940.

Behind that door is a collection of items intended to “fulfill our archaeological duty,” in the words of Dr. Jacobs. Among the objects: 640,000+ pages of written material on microfilm, Lincoln Logs, Budweiser beer, dentures, male and female mannequins, aluminum foil, board games, dishes, Vaseline, a grapefruit corer, sewing materials, and a calculator. (You can find the complete inventory here.)

Oglethorpe University Archives

Judging from the list and the picture above, the Crypt's collection is reminiscent of a mediocre garage sale. But what we think is a bit mundane now will no doubt be fascinating to whoever unearths the room in 6177 years. Yes—Dr. Jacobs decreed that the room should remain closed for more than six thousand years. But why 6177 years exactly? Because the first known date in recorded history is 4241 BCE, 6177 years prior to when the Oglethorpe time capsule was conceived. Dr. Jacobs suggested giving his Crypt another 6177 years, which means it will be opened on May 28, 8113—assuming anyone’s around to find it.