I love modern day mysteries!
Toynbee Tiles are a modern day mystery, and I was determined to see at least one of them.
In July of 2014, we set out on a Northeast Road Trip. Along with all the other landmarks and oddities that I wanted to see, I was planning to find a Toynbee Tile if I could. I was going to try in Philadelphia because most of them are located there. But there were also several in New York City (and in some other large United States cities and a few in South America). We were going to New York first on this trip, so I picked one from the lists (I don’t even remember which one) that was newish and was probably still there. (They’re often destroyed by street maintenance.)
We got to New York City with a plan of walking around all day, wandering the famous streets. I planned our wandering to go by the tile I had picked to find. We looked for it with no luck.
We continued our wanderings and when we’re crossing the street at 8th and 45th, Benjamin says, hey, is that one of those things you’re looking for? I stop and look, and there’s my first Toynbee Tile in real life!
This text on this tile is, “TOYNBEE IDEA MOVIE 2001 RAISE DEAD PLANET JUPITER LAY TILE ALONE -> FEDS OR IT DIES COMUNISTS + MEDIA HELLION JEWS ARE AGAINST IT”
I can’t believe it! My first Toynbee Tile! I took several pictures.
Then we continue our wanderings, get to 51st and 5th avenue, and Terry spots another one!
The Toynbee Tile at 51st and 5th says, “TOYNBEE IDEA MOVIE 2001 RESURRECT DEAD PLANET JUPITER YOU MUST LAY TILE ALONE -> FEDS AS COMMUNISTS MEDIA AND HELLION JEWS ARE DESTROYING IT. LAY TILE – ALONE -> FEDS”
They all have similar text, and no one knows what any of it means — but there are several theories, involving among other things the historian, Arnold Toynbee, and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
People started noticing the tiles in the late 1980s. A ceramic tile, usually about a foot by six inches, sometimes bigger, is placed in a busy, city street and covered with tar paper. By the time the tar paper is worn off by traffic, the tile is embedded in the asphalt. This works best in the summer because the asphalt softens from the heat.
No one knows who creates the Toynbee Tiles and puts them in the streets, and no one knows what they mean. They’ve been showing up for many decades, and there are several hundred of them, so they don’t think it’s just one person.
I’m glad it worked out the way it did. It was better to just find one on accident while wandering than to seek one out from a list.
There’s a photo gallery of Toynbee Tiles at the Resurrect Dead site where there is also information about the movie that was made about them. And here’s a list of Toynbee Tile from 2011 and another map.