The Crypt of Civilization is arguably the largest time capsule in the world. Housed in a basement at a university north of Atlanta, this underground chamber with a massive stainless-steel door was packed with artifacts, then welded shut on May 25, 1940.
The crypt was designed to preserve a picture of life in the 1930s for humans thousands of years in the future. Inside are stacks of records and film reels alongside 640,000 pages of books shot onto microfilmed pages. There are appliances, clothing, preserved food, an original copy of the script of Gone With the Wind donated by its director, a bottle of Vaseline, and a “Negro doll.” There’s even a phonograph designed to teach English words if future civilizations have forgotten the language. No electricity? No problem. A tiny windmill can run a generator to produce current.
The crypt was made to be opened in 8113 C.E., a date based on the difference between when the project began—1936—and what at the time was thought to be the first year of the Egyptian calendar. The crypt’s return would be as far removed from the present as the present was from the pharaonic past.
Thornwell Jacobs, a historian and an educator, was the prime mover of the crypt. Jacobs felt an acute lack of understanding of everyday lives in his own historical investigations. “Had it not been for such a natural catastrophe as the eruption of Vesuvius, the glories of Pompeii and Herculaneum would never have been revealed to our sight,” he wrote in his memoirs, which he included in the chamber. He also expressed a subtler desire to preserve the culture of the American South, which he argued was slipping away day by day. Thus he sealed his vision of the present into a room at Oglethorpe University, where he served as president from its refounding in 1913 through 1941.