In 1992, pedestrians and motorists in Philadelphia began noticing strange tiles embedded in roadways around the city. They were around the size of a license place and displayed crudely created cryptic messages which contained some variation of the message:
IN MOViE `2001
ON PLANET JUPITER
Many of the tiles had strange notes added next to the message, such as “Murder every journalist, I beg you,” and “Submit. Obey.”
Pictures and discussions regarding the tiles soon began to show up on the web and in media, and it was discovered that the tiles weren’t exclusive to Philadelphia; there were reports of similar tiles in cities including Washington DC, Pittsburgh, New York City, Baltimore, and Boston. To date, around 130 tiles have been discovered in over two dozen American cities and even four South American cities. And no one knows how they got there.
While it seems almost impossible, based on the consistency with the tiles materials and appearance, one person is responsible for all of them. And that person has somehow managed to place these tiles on public roadways without ever being seen.
The tiles all mention “Toynbee,” which is most likely a reference to Arnold J. Toynbee, who was a religious historian born in England in 1889. Kubrick is often referenced as well, who likely refers to Stanley Kubrick, the filmmaker responsible for 2001: A Space Odyssey. The movie made implications that a man was reborn on a mission to Jupiter, which is also often seen on the tiles. Invested enthusiasts did track down a connection between Toynbee and Kubrick, but it’s circumstantial at best: Toynbee’s writings referenced a man named Zoroaster. This name also shows up in the title of the famous 2001: A Space Odyssey theme song; it’s entitled “Thus Spoke Zoroaster.”
Many believed that the person responsible for the tiles was a man named James Morasco. A 1983 newspaper interview with the social worker from Philadelphia was found where he claimed that Jupiter could be colonized by bringing Earth’s dead people there to have them resurrected. However, Morasco passed away in 2003 and his wife denied that her husband had anything to do with it.
It seems unlikely to be Morasco since many fresh tiles have been placed since he passed away, and many of the originals were placed when he would have been in his 70’s.
Some of the newer tiles do show slight variations in handwriting and colors, so there is some credence to the idea that the newer tiles are either a copycat or the original creator passed the torch to someone new.
One Toynbee enthusiast claimed to have once stumbled upon a fresh tile:
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.
However, after 3 decades the tiles remain as mysterious as ever. What do the messages mean? Who is placing them? And how do they do it without being seen? Investigations and research continue and new tiles continue to appear, so perhaps one day we will have an answer. Until then, keep your eyes open for a Toynbee Tile when walking around your town.