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