Did Atari, facing a total collapse of the home video game industry, really bury millions of unsold cartridges, most notably tons of copies of its E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial game, in a New Mexico landfill? It’s one of video game history’s most famous urban legends, and we might finally be on the brink of real video evidence.
According to a report by KRQE News in Albuquerque, a Canada-based media company called Fuel Industries has reached an agreement with the town of Alamogordo, N.M., to excavate the alleged dump site and film a documentary about the legend. The contract gives Fuel—a marketing firm that primarily creates ads and ad-games aimed toward children—six months of access to the Alamogordo landfill where the excess Atari cartridges and consoles were supposedly buried. As the KRQE report points out, that six-month period includes the 30-year anniversary of the legendary burial.
Fuel Industries and its diggers have their work cut out for them, as the landfill in question takes up 100 acres. But they will have a guide. Joe Lewandowski, who ran a garbage company at the time of the dumping, claims to have witnessed the burial and knows where to find the hidden games. We called Fuel’s communications director to see why a youth marketing firm might want to dig up 30-year-old game cartridges, but we haven’t heard back yet.
I was able to find the New York Times story from September 1983 that detailed the burial. The story claims that Atari did indeed dump “14 truckloads of discarded game cartridges and other computer equipment” in an Alamogordo landfill and that most of the buried merchandise came from an Atari manufacturing plant in El Paso, Texas. It also says reporters and onlookers were held back from the area by guards as workers poured concrete over the merchandise, so it’s not necessarily a true eyewitness account. This whole “excavation of a legendary treasure trove as publicity stunt” thing sounds pretty familiar. Are we about to witness the Al Capone’s vault of video games?