When May 28, 8113, rolls around, an unspecified number of our descendants will gather at what today is Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. There, they’ll open a stainless steel door to a 20x10x10-foot room and lay eyes on an odd array of objects: a flashlight, Lincoln Logs, a potato masher, a “lady’s breast form” and hundreds more.
Dubbed the Crypt of Civilization, this retrofitted swimming pool is the first modern time capsule. In the November 1936 Scientific American magazine, then-university president Thornwell Jacobs announced his desire to create a record of what life was like for future inhabitants of Earth.
Four years later, he realized his dream. Besides household items, the airtight crypt also contains 800 microfilmed works of literature including the Bible, the Koran and Homer’s Iliad; and recordings of figures such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Popeye and a champion hog caller. Jacobs thought ahead, too—there’s even a device designed to teach the English language to the Crypt’s finders.
In a note to them, Jacobs wrote “The world is engaged in burying our civilization forever, and here in this crypt we leave it to you.” Because the first known date in recorded history, 4241 BC, was 6,177 years previous, he suggested the Crypt remain sealed for 6,177 years.
The International Time Capsule Society (ITCS), established in 1990 at Oglethorpe by a student who stumbled upon the forgotten crypt in the basement of Phoebe Hearst Hall, estimates that 10,000 to 15,000 time capsules are sprinkled around the world (and that most of them are lost). Here are four we’d like to crack open:
Westinghouse Time Capsule: Though Jacobs popularized the idea, someone else coined the term “time capsule.” Westinghouse Co. employee George Edward Pendray first used it for the firm’s bullet-shaped capsule buried beneath New York’s Flushing Meadows Park to promote its pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair. Along with a similar capsule created for the 1964 World’s Fair, it isn’t to be opened until 6939.
KEO: This time capsule, whose original 2003 launch has been delayed several times and is now set for 2013 or 2014, will sail through space for 50,000 years. It will then announce its return to Earth with an aurora borealis-like glow, delivering its bounty: a diamond engraved with the human genome and containing samples of air, ocean water, soil and human blood; portraits of people from around the world; a contemporary “Library of Alexandria” summarizing human knowledge; and messages from mankind. There’s still time to include your own message online.
Bicentennial Wagon Train time capsule: Scrolls bearing the signatures of 22 million Americans, collected by seven wagon trains crossing the country, were to be sealed in a time capsule at Valley Forge, Pa., July 4, 1976. But sometime after President Gerald Ford ceremoniously signed his name, the scrolls—which would’ve comprised more than 200 feet of paper—went missing. Valley Forge National Park thought they were sent to the state archives, which has no record of them. Some say they were stolen from the wagon train.
Yahoo! time capsule: In 2006, the internet company set up a digital time capsule of users’ text, audio, images and videos. The submissions—170,857 by the closing of the capsule—were originally to be laser-beamed into space from the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan, Mexico. But, failing to get permission to use the ancient site in this way, Yahoo! instead projected giant images of submissions onto a red rock cliff of Jemez Pueblo, NM (watch it here). The digital collection now resides with Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in Washington, DC, where it will remain until Yahoo!’s 25th birthday in 2020.
From the May/June 2013 Family Tree Magazine