Hey there every peoples!
There are few tales in fiction more epic than the search for a lost city. There is a fascination with traveling off to faraway lands, braving the elements and dangerous critters to find the ruins of a civilization long gone. While this ideal is rooted in the archaeology of the 19th century, it has been romanticized in modern fiction. But sometimes the ruins aren’t so far away. Sometimes the ancient ruins come to you. And they might not be so ancient to begin with.
1923 saw the release of Cecil B DeMille’s silent epic “The Ten Commandments”. It was the grandest show audiences had ever seen and was produced on a scale unthinkable at the time. It featured one of the largest movie sets ever built at 120 feet tall and 720 feet wide. It took 1500 workers, 500,000 feet of lumber and 12.5 tons of nails to build and featured 500 tons of statuary (including 21 sphinxes). There were a staggering 3500 actors on the site as well as 5000 animals along with 125 cooks. DeMille had truly built a city, a production that perhaps has never been matched since. But where did he build such a set? And what became of it?
A picture of DeMille's "City of the Pharoahs"
Being set in Egypt, he needs a place that looked like a desert. After looking around, he found the immense, rolling dunes near Guadalupe, California to be an excellent match. But once production was completed, what was he to do with his gargantuan set piece? He couldn’t leave it standing: if he did, other film companies would move in like hermit crabs and make cheep knock offs of his masterpiece. It was too big to take away piecemeal. So he had workers secretly use dynamite to bury the set beneath the sands of the Guadalupe dunes. And nobody would know where it went for decades to come.
In the 1980’s film buffs followed a vague hint in DeMille’s autobiography in an effort to locate the legendary film set. They made their way to the Guadalupe dunes to find DeMille’s “Lost City”. And sure enough, they did. Lucky for them, though, that the dunes are never static. Wind is constantly reshaping the dunes, moving sand around, laying it down and blowing it away. This constant movement had exposed the set’s location. Considering its age and importance, the set became a registered archaeological site. Excavations uncovered loads of artifacts, including pieces of the set’s massive façade. Today it is nothing but a debris field, strewn with small chunks of concrete and the odd bit of metal. Many artifacts can be seen on display at the Dune Center in Guadalupe. They stand as a testament to the ambitions of a film maker from the glory days of Hollywood. The artifacts and the site they once occupied may have been crafted as movie props, but what they created was no less breathtaking and astonishing than the ancient ruins that inspired them.
A display of artifacts from the set on display at the Dune Center
A massive hand ecavated at the site
The site as it is today
Till next time!