The Continuing Legacy of the Toynbee Tiles
(Click on pictures for captions)
First appearing in the mid-to-late 1980s, the Toynbee Tiles are one of the world’s greatest unsolved mysteries. Since they were first noticed in the mid-1990s, they’ve been the subject of scrutiny and conspiracy, and have given rise to copycat artists and other inspired works.
The most common Toynbee Tiles read some variation of the message “TOYNBEE IDEA MOVIE 2001 RESURRECT DEAD PLANET JUPITER.” Some larger tiles show longer messages explaining the same idea, and many also contain side messages that attack journalists, the larger media, and the “feds.” “Toynbee” refers to the ideas of British historian Arnold Toynbee, who believed the dead could be resurrected by reviving their molecules. “Movie 2001″ refers to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which supposedly deals with themes of spiritual rebirth and evolution, and takes place on a spaceship on a mission to Jupiter.
The tiles began in Philadelphia, but many have appeared in other East Coast cities and suburbs, as well as some South American cities. The tiles form a pattern, and experts have theorized the original creator is/was a Philadelphia native, with tiles outside this area reflecting his travel. Tiles are placed in intersections, in the middle of roadways, and more recently closer to crosswalks. They are made of linoleum and layered between two tar paper sheets. The bottom layer attaches the tile to asphalt, and the top layer gets worn down by cars and foot traffic until the tile is revealed. Many older tiles have been ruined, destroyed, or paved over after years of wear. Some cities and organizations aim to protect and preserve the tiles, while others consider them vandalism and have them immediately removed.
Several theories surround the origin of the Toynbee Tiles. The first is social worker James Morasco, who allegedly spoke to the Philadelphia Inquirer about the idea of resurrecting the dead on planet Jupiter in 1983. He died in 2003, however, and many tiles have appeared since then. His widow also said that she didn’t know anything about these theories or the Toynbee Tiles. The second and most popular theory comes from musician and documentary maker Justin Duerr, who claims the tiler to be Philadelphia native Severino “Sevy” Verna. Neighbors confirmed that Verna spoke often about the Toynbee theory and had a hole in the bottom of his car, which could explain how the tiler dropped the tiles onto busy streets in the middle of traffic. Verna’s travel patterns also match those of the tiler, including tiles in other states and South America. There is also limited evidence that points to Verna using James Morasco as an alias in the 1980s.
New tiles are appearing all the time all across America, however, and Verna seems to have passed. But the style of the tiles and method of placement isn’t difficult to copy, and several of the newer tiles look different and use different language than the originals. A third theory points to copy cats. There was an original tiler, perhaps Morasco or Verna, and some of the newer tiles can be attributed to them. But countless other people across the world became inspired by the Toynbee Tiles and began to place their own. This theory is supported above by the artist or art collective House of Hades, who have placed their own tiles as that were inspired by the Toynbee Tiles. Duerr has met and spoken to the House of Hades creator, who wishes to remain anonymous.
This is by no means the full story of the Toynbee Tiles nor a complete list of theories. There is countless information available online and in books, and there is still so much we don’t know. I recommend watching the documentary “Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles,” and doing your own research and forming your own theories. There’s too much left to be discovered