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Wed Oct 24, 2018, 10:31 AM

The Oglethorpe Atlanta Crypt of Civilization Time Capsule

More than half a century ago, detailed plans were executed at Oglethorpe University, then on the outskirts of Atlanta, to build an extraordinary time capsule designed to store records for more than six thousand years. Done on an epic scale never before conceived, the result was the Oglethorpe Atlanta Crypt of Civilization, “the first successful attempt to bury a record for any future inhabitants.” 1 The visionary of this improbable quest was Dr. Thornwell Jacobs (1877-1956), who has been called “the father of the modern time capsule.” 2

Jacobs was a remarkable Georgia educator, clergyman, and author. In 1915 in north Atlanta he single-handedly refounded Oglethorpe University. Formerly located near Milledgeville, the antebellum college had perished during the Civil War. Jacobs was to be president of the revived institution for thirty years. 3 While engaged in teaching and research at Oglethorpe, Jacobs was struck by the dearth of information on the ancient civilizations. In November 1936, in Scientific American magazine, he explained at length an idea for preserving contemporary records for posterity. Jacobs wrote of a unique plan to present a “running story” of life and customs, to show the manner of life in 1936, as well as the accumulated knowledge of mankind up until that time. His plan was to preserve consciously for the first time in history a thorough record of civilization, in what he called a “crypt.”

The distant date of 8113 A.D. dramatically proposed for the opening of the crypt was calculated by the first fixed date in history: 4241 B.C., when, most historians agreed, the Egyptian calendar was established. Exactly 6177 years had passed between 4241 B.C. and 1936 A.D., and Jacobs projected the same period of time forward from 1936, thus arriving at the date 8113 A.D. for the crypt’s opening. 4

Thornwell Jacobs’s idea for the Crypt of Civilization immediately inspired public awe and controversy. The Literary Digest, for example, reported in October 1936 that amateur suggesters flooded Oglethorpe with ideas for items to be included, such as “a pair of garters, a can opener [and] a dry martini complete with olive.” 5 Soon afterward the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, which was planning a promotional event for the 1939 New York World’s Fair, began a project called the “Time Capsule” and the language gained a new term almost overnight. 6 The Westinghouse Time Capsule, which was to be opened after five thousand years, was made of alloyed metal, torpedo shaped, and about seven feet long. 7

Read more: https://crypt.oglethorpe.edu/history/detailed-history/

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