News Stories

The Toynbee Tiles

Mysterious tiles have been turning up all over the U.S. They are size of license plates, embedded in the street and all say the same thing: "Toynbee idea in Kubrick's 2001, Resurrect dead on planet Jupiter."

Doug Worgul writes in the Kansas City Star that he first spotted one in his home town in 1996 (and it's still there today). He did some internet research and found that there have been more than 130 of these "Toynbee tiles" seen in at least 20 cities around the United States (and two in South America). In New York, around 50 tiles have been found, and in Philadelphia, nearly 30. Twenty have been spotted in Baltimore, 16 in Washington, D.C.

They all look the same and say the same thing, except some are made with colored letters and others with black letters. They first started turning up in the late 80s. No one has ever seen one of them being embedded in the street, and no one has claimed responsibility for them.

In some cities, there's another tile nearby that says, "Murder all journalists, I beg you!" In Philadelphia, next to one of the regular tiles, there was one blaming "hellion Jews" for a long list of the tile maker's personal problems. While the original tiles are mysteriously charming, these other tiles are creepy, as if some dangerous tile-making fanatic is on the loose.

The "Kubrick" referred to on the tiles must be Stanley Kubrick, the filmmaker who made "2001," which is also mentioned. In the film, Jupiter is the destination of the ill-fated spaceship. "Toynbee" must be 20th century British historian Arnold Toynbee, who lived from 1889 to 1975. He was best known for his theory that the way we understand history shapes our future. In the 1983 short story "The Toynbee Convector" by Ray Bradbury, a character named Stiles travels 80 years into the future and returns with stories of mankind's marvelous achievements. Stiles' reports of a future free of war and disease inspires people to join forces to work together to attain this future and in 80 years they succeed, at which point Stiles reveals that his story was a lie.

Jeff Martin, supervisor of street maintenance and repair for Kansas City, says, "When you look at it closely you can see that it's some kind of epoxy or super hard plastic that's actually inlaid in the asphalt itself. To do this would require a lot of prep. You'd have to heat the road surface. You'd have to have special equipment. An operation like this would take some time and if you wanted to avoid being seen while you were installing something like this it would require some planning. Whoever did this has fairly sophisticated know-how."

When Kansas City detective Todd Butler compares the Kansas City tile with photos of other tiles, he says, "The lettering isn't identical in each tile, but clearly it was created by the same hand. So you can conclude that the tiles were not mass-produced by a machine. It looks like they were handmade, one at a time by a single individual. Obviously this person has the resources to travel to all these cities, even to South America, to put these things in the streets. It's probably a man, because the tiles are obviously installed at night, since nobody seems to have witnessed them being put in. It's unlikely a woman would risk being alone at night in a downtown environment. Plus there may be heavy equipment involved. And he probably drives from wherever he lives to the cities where he puts these markers, because flying with whatever equipment he uses would likely be a problem."

In 1992, Bill O'Neill started noticing the tiles, and started a website about them. It contains a database listing more than 130 places where tiles have been sighted and includes photographs of some of them. "It's been interesting," he says. "People will find these things and become curious about them and when they search the Web they find our site and then they start reporting their findings to us. We've become the clearinghouse for tile info?We've had reports of some of the tiles being paved over, but then some of them reappear."

The identity of the maker of the Toynbee tiles may have been uncovered in 1983, when Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Clark DeLeon wrote a story about a Philadelphia social worker named James Morasco, who was trying to get newspapers to publish his theories about colonizing Jupiter with dead people from Earth. DeLeon's story mentions Morasco's belief that Arnold Toynbee and Stanley Kubrick figured out how to bring dead people back to life there. When Worgul called the only James Morasco listed in the Philadelphia telephone book, a woman answered the phone and said her 88-year-old husband had recently died. If tiles keep turning up, we'll know it wasn't him.

There are some strange secrets in this world?and now they're on sale!

To see photos of the tiles, click here.

NOTE: This news story, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.


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