Desperately Seeking Toynbee Tiles

I love modern day mysteries!

Toynbee Tile at at 8th and 45th in New York City

Toynbee Tile at at 8th and 45th in New York City (7/14/2014)

Toynbee Tiles are a modern day mystery, and I was determined to see at least one of them.

The Toynbee Tile website has a map, has a Toynbee Tile category, has a Toynbee Tile cache page, and I used all of them. I researched Toynbee Tiles for years.

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!

Toynbee Tile at 8th and 45th in New York City

Benjamin and the Toynbee Tile that he spotted at 8th and 45th in New York City (7/14/2014)


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!

Toynbee Tile at 51st and 5th avenue in New York City

Toynbee Tile at 51st and 5th avenue in New York City (7/14/2014)


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.

Toynbee Tile at 51st and 5th avenue in New York City

Toynbee Tile at 51st and 5th avenue in New York City (7/14/2014)

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.

And Suddenly We’re Back

RoadTrip 2014 just flew by! Bittersweet as usual.

Fourth of July in St. Louis

Fourth of July in St. Louis

We left out on the Fourth of July and headed to St. Louis, Missouri. From there to the Field Museum in Chicago, to the Eternal Flame Falls, the Great Lakes, and on up to Maine and the easternmost point in the United States.

On the loop back, there were museums, dinosaur tracks, New York City, and Washington D.C.

Attempting to Use the Furkot Road Trip Planner

I would like a road trip planner that does what I need and is flexible. It also, of course, has to be free. Furkot seemed to be a popular one, so I figured I would give it a try. I didn’t have much faith as I haven’t had much luck with anything. I’m still pretty upset with Google Maps… 25 stops… What kind of road trip is that?

My Furkot Map

My Furkot Map

I had fixed the 2013 in Furkot (in the pic above), changed it to 2014, but one of the problems with Furkot is that it doesn’t always save stuff. I’ve had all kinds of weird little issues with it. It’s very flaky. Some of the markers are blue, and some of them are red, and some have a museum icon for museums and some don’t. Maybe the colors have meaning, but there’s nothing about it in the help file. Sometimes the miles and hours just don’t show up.

While I’ve always had it set to be a round trip, it refused to finish the trip off. Not at first, at first it seemed to return, but quit after a while. Then it worked again. Add a new place, change something like the dates or driving times, and issues often fix themselves. Better than if they didn’t, I guess.

Usually if you click on a place and then add a new place, it puts it right after, but sometimes it just throws it in there randomly. Tool tips pop up, cover up parts of the plan, and won’t ever go away.

It also plans in your overnight lodging, picks a hotel or motel for you even. I really don’t care for that. You can change the motel, but you can’t easily get what you want. I am going to try setting the drive time to 24 hours a day and putting in my own motels.

I am going to keep using Furkot for a bit and see how it works out, see if it gets any better. Maybe some of the flakiness is the browser? I’m using Chrome, but might try it in Firefox.

And Onto the Maps!

Google MyMaps map of RoadTrip 2014 so far

Google My Places map of RoadTrip 2014 so far

God, I love maps. I always have. When I was little, I would make maps of our property, the back pastures and the ponds and the woods. I wanted to be a cartographer when I grew up.

I like Pinterest’s new map feature, but I can’t believe you still can’t reorder the pins on a board. How are you supposed to use it as a trip planner when you can’t put the locations in the order you are going to them? And they’re going to have to add some sort of distance measurement.

New York City -- 2010

New York City -- 2010

So, when Terry says he wants to go to Maine, Benjamin and I immediately think New York City because it is on the way to Maine. So, we can go ahead and mark some places on the maps like The Build-A-Bear Workshop (because it has one of the few Build-A-Dinos in it) and the 9-11 Memorial (Benjamin is really wanting to see it) and the Central Park Zoo. We also think of Washington DC, and we get several of the Smithsonians and some of the war memorials marked.

How am I “marking” them on the map? Two ways, on a Google My Places map and on a Pinterest board map. I also use Evernote’s Web Clipper to make note cards for each place. Evernote is also good for Web pages that have lists of places, like the page with all the waterfalls of the Finger Lakes. I have a travel notebook in there, and I tag each one with the Roadtrip 2014 tag, the state, and the type of place. The Evernote notebook can be easily accessed on a smart phone while on vacation.

Google Maps has proven itself to be the best way for me to plan a road trip; I can’t find anything that will let me place dozens of places on the map just to try them out, and nothing can find as many places as Google can. Although, I have been having some problems with Google Maps finding parks in towns where they have farmer’s markets.

While searching and marking all the natural history museums and science centers from here to Maine, Benjamin discovers the Cryptozoology Museum. He just has to go there. It’s probably full of bigfoots or bigfeet or whatever you call plural bigfooted monsters. While on the subject of cryptids, I remembered Champ. I find Lake Champlain on the map, there at the top of Vermont and mark it. We have to go look for Champ. He’s America’s Loch Ness monster.

I especially mark all the dinosaur museums that I think ought to be good ones, like the Field Museum in Chicago, the Carnegie Museum, the ones at Harvard and Yale, and the one at Amherst. Museums at colleges usually aren’t so touristy, so they’re often better.

Then I’m watching the Today show, and think, we should go to Rockefeller Center, maybe get to watch the show through the window. I find there’s other stuff there, too, like a Lego Store.

While zoomed down on the satellite map, just scrolling around New York City, I find Bowling Green. There’s a subway station out there looking like some sort of portal. I want to take the subway there. So, I mark Bowling Green.

I find a dinosaur trackway in Connecticut and look into some others. I mark the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Colonial Williamsburg, and Coney Island.

Then, and here’s where I was dumb, I thought Maine was the most northern state in the continental United States. Well, it’s not. It’s Minnesota. When I realized that, I was disappointed. I wanted to go to the most northern point, and we really don’t have time to go to Minnesota just for that. But, while I’m looking into that, I find out that the easternmost town in the United States IS in Maine! That’s just as good! There’s a tiny little town called Lubec on a peninsula, and it all looks very interesting. And, of course, there’s a lighthouse, the easternmost one, on a little peninsula just south of Lubec’s peninsula.

Then I discovered the Finger Lakes….

The Time to Plan Is Now

New York City

New York City from the Empire State Building in 2010

I have to interrupt last year’s epic tale because it’s winter now, and this is the time for planning a summer vacation!

This is how it starts: where should we go next year? This time, Terry immediately says, Maine. Why Maine? Who knows. Something about lobsters. Last year, I chose Florida since we hadn’t been there in over two decades and had only been there once, and Benjamin had never been. Florida was our first road trip, in fact, back in 1991.

So, I start with Maine. What’s in Maine? Not much. I start in the usual way, searching for museums, zoos, and other attractions in Maine. I don’t find much. I also check the Motel 6 site, for one reason just to see how far civilization reaches into a state. In Maine, that would be Bangor. Then I start remembering places that I have been wanting to go to in the northeast, so I go ahead and look those up. There’s Eternal Flame Falls in New York, the natural gas flame behind a waterfall. There’s also the Liberty Bell which we still haven’t seen even though we’ve been to Philadelphia twice looking for it. We want to go back to the National Museum of Natural History because you can’t see it all in two trips, and we would like to get to some of the other Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo.

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

At the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in 2010

Then I think of Rockefeller Plaza where I could watch them film the Today show through the windows. When I look it up, I find that there’s a Lego Store there, too, so Rockefeller Plaza went over well with Benjamin. He then announces that he must return to the Build-A- Dino that’s inside the Build-A-Bear Workshop in New York City. I remember that we’ve never made it to Coney Island. I throw in Colonial Williamsburg, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and the White House for good measure. While in D.C., I added the World War II and the Korean War memorials. Dad was in those two wars.

Since I still haven’t found a (free) trip planner that lets me do what I want, I’m using Google Maps Engine, Evernote, and Pinterest with its new map feature. I added all of the places that I had thought of, all those places we’ve been wanting to go already, to a new Google Map in My Places and to a new Pinterest board. We won’t get to go to all the places, of course, but I put them all on there. Then we can choose from those. A route will emerge on the map. I start to see where we will be going. Also, seeing them on the map helps because you can see if something is really out of the way and not worth driving to. Evernote is great for just having a record of every location, whether it’s a specific place or a listing of of some kind of attraction in an area. I use the Web Clipper in my browser. The problem, however, is that ever since it upgraded in Chrome, it doesn’t work anymore. I have to use it from Firefox where it never upgraded and still works. Pinterest’s new maps feature is nice, and I’ve found that this is the best way to show Terry and Benjamin the things I’ve put on the map. With Pinterest, they get the pins, too, with the pictures from Foursquare and descriptions that I’ve added. I do wonder about using strangers’ pictures from Foursquare. Do they know that the pictures they put on there are going to be used on Pinterest boards?

Next, poring over the map, the way I’ve always done, even before the Internet came along. It’s so much better now.