Oglethorpe University prides itself on offering its students an education oriented to the future. There is a chance, though, that the most forward-looking project ever conceived at Oglethorpe was created almost 80 years ago.
Located in the basement at Phoebe Hearst Hall, the Crypt of Civilization is the first ever attempt to preserve records of human society and our history. Created by late Oglethorpe president Thornwell Jacobs, it serves as a snapshot of life on earth up until 1936. The vault is now preserved in old newsreels of the time.
Behind the steel doors of the crypt lies “anything that was really important in the lives of anyone in 1936” said Director of the Philip Weltner Library, Eli Arnold. “There’s dolls that show the fashion of the day, a pack of cigarettes, a beer; there’s sound recordings of big people in the world at that time: Winston Churchill, FDR, Mussolini, and Hitler.”
Dr. Jacobs’ design for the Crypt worked both as an admirable demonstration of archaeological duty and as an effective marketing strategy. When the vault was sealed, it garnered attention from national media organizations that went beyond just the project but also gave attention to Oglethorpe itself.
The notoriety of Dr. Jacobs’ publicity stunt seems to have outlived its creator. According to Oglethorpe’s Vice President for Communications, Todd Bennett, the crypt is the number one organic search term leading to the university’s website.
“The Crypt has brought us attention from the likes of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Scientific American, the list goes on and on,” said Bennet.
Unfortunately, the crypt’s entrance is currently inaccessible due to the Piedmont School of Atlanta’s use of Hearst’s basement. Nevertheless, the Crypt still seems to be a relevant topic on campus, popular in casual conversations or trivia questions. “It comes up on student conversations every so often. It is an important part of Oglethorpe’s history, so it is occasionally mentioned in that light,” said SGA President Anna Gandy.
In a way, the crypt represents Oglethorpe’s mission to work towards the future with a clear vision of where we were in the past in order to keep a firm outlook on where we want to be.
“It is really important that we value our history and traditions because they shape who we are as an institution,” said Gandy.
Want to take a look inside the crypt? You’ll just have to wait until the year 8113. Time flies, so how long can 6095 years really be?