In 1992, a chap in Philadelphia by the name of Bill O'Neill starting noticing strange tiles randomly embedded in local roads. They were generally about the size of a license plate, and each had some variation of the same strange message: "TOYNBEE IDEA IN KUbricK's 2001 RESURRECT DEAD ON PLANET JUPiTER." They varied a bit in color and arrangement, but they were all made of an unidentifiable hard substance, and many had footnotes as strange as the message itself, such as "Murder every journalist, I beg you," and "Submit. Obey." Some were accompanied by lengthy, paranoid diatribes about the newsmedia, jews, and the mafia.

So Bill started asking around about these tiles, but nobody knew anything about their origin or meaning. So, he created a website devoted to the mysterious tiles, and in doing so learned that it is not just a local phenomenon. Similar tiles have appeared in many US cities, including Washington DC, Pittsburgh, New York City, Baltimore, Boston, and many more. Some have even shown up in South America; in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. To date, about 130 tiles have been discovered. Somehow, someone is managing to embed these tiles into public roads-- some of which are busy 24/7-- without being spotted.

The tiles all mention "Toynbee," most likely Arnold J. Toynbee, a religious historian born in England in 1889. Some of the tiles mention Kubrick, the filmmaker responsible for 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was a movie that made implications that a man was reborn on a mission to Jupiter, not exactly resurrected. There is only one known intersection between the works of Toynbee and Kubrick, and it's pretty circumstantial: Toynbee's writings spoke of a man named Zoroaster who conceived the idea of monotheism, and this name also occurs in the title of the famous 2001: A Space Odyssey theme song; it's entitled "Thus Spoke Zoroaster."

Due to strong similarity in craftsmanship and writing style, these tiles are most likely the work of a single individual (in the interest of conserving slashes and pronouns, we'll assume this individual is a male). Either this man is disturbed, or he has a bizarre sense of humor. He is certainly creative, as the messages' delivery system indicates, and he must be a patient and methodical man to have invested the time in making these 130 or so tiles by hand. And given the diverse locales where the tiles can be found, he has the means and money to travel. Some people also suppose that he is European, given that Kubrick and Toynbee are both English, and because one of the paranoid-ranting plaques indicates that he is/was hiding in Dover, England.

One Toynbee Tile enthusiast has claimed that a freshly laid tile was once found and examined:

The highlight of my search for answers to this mystery occurred one Sunday night of this previous winter. I had gone to my local convenience store for a snack around 4:00 A.M., noticing nothing unusual. On my way home I noticed something unusual in the street. Upon closer inspection, I discovered it to be a "Toynbee Idea" tile - freshly placed and only minutes old. Of course I was beside myself with excitement and I could now see exactly how, and of what materials these tiles are made. (This tile, by the way, is located on 13th. & Arch St. in Philadelphia.) The tiles are just that - tiles....although not the standard vinyl floor tile, as I had suspected. The letters are cut out of a material with, I assume, a higher rubber content than a standard floor tile. The inlay letters seemed to made from a less maleable substance, and in this case were red and yellow. The tile is secured to the street by intricately folded and layered tar paper, glued together. A layer of raw tar seemed to lie beneath the whole tile, anchoring it. The weight of cars, as they run over the tile, forces the layers of tar paper to impregnate the spaces in the cracks of the letters.

The most tantalizing clue as to the source of these tiles was a 1983 newspaper interview with a social worker from Philadelphia, a man named James Morasco, who claimed that Jupiter could be colonized by bringing Earth's dead people there to have them resurrected. When writing an article on the tiles in 2001, one reporter stumbled upon the original 1983 article, found the link intriguing, and tried to call the only James Morasco listed in Philly. A woman who answered said Mr. Morasco couldn't come to the phone because a mysterious ailment had required that he have his voicebox removed. Another reporter writing another story in 2003 tried to call the same man, only to be told that he had died the previous March at age 88, but that he had known nothing about the tiles:

"My husband doesn't know anything about that," she said. "Besides he died in March. But he didn't know anything about it."

Thou dost protest too much? Given the strong ties and strange circumstances, some believe that Mr. Morasco was the responsible party... but there are some problems with the Morasco theory: A) He would have been in his 70s when most of the tiles were placed, and B) some new ones have been installed since his death in 2003.

Another ambiguous Toynbee-2001 link appears in a 1985 play by Pulitzer-prize winning playwright David Mamet. In his "Goldberg Street" collection, he wrote an exchange between a radio talk show host and a caller obsessing over Arnold Toynbee, the movie 2001 and dead people. This play was written seven years before the first Toynbee tile was discovered, but two years after the Morasco article.

Despite finding a few links and some background information, the purpose and message of these tiles remains inexplicable. Did 70-year-old James Morasco install the tiles, then pass the legacy on to another to continue after his death? Was it some disturbed individual who latched onto the theory described in the 1983 article, and acted on his/her own? Or could it be someone who made the bizarre Kubrick-Toynbee link independently? Particularly fitting is the last line of the original 1983 article on James Morasco:

"You may be hearing more from Morasco. And then again, you may not."

Update: Since this article was published one Jon Foy has created a documentary which identifies a possible/probable Toynbee tiles perpetrator.

Written by Alan Bellows, posted on 25 September 2005. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.
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