“Hey Jupiter, nothing’s been the same…” (Toynbee Tiles)

In 1992, Bill O’Neill starting noticing strange tiles randomly embedded in local roads in Philadelphia.  They measured about 6 x 12 inches, and contained some variation of the message below.

IN Kubrick’s 2001

Many tiles included footnotes consisting of cryptic political messages, such as “Murder every journalist, I beg you” and “Submit.  Obey.”

Bill decided to do some research on the tiles, and he came to discover that this wasn’t just a local incident.  Over time he found that similar tiles had appeared in many US cities, including Washington DC, Pittsburgh, New York City, Baltimore, and Boston, to name a few.  Some had even shown up in South America.

Although these tiles were planted into busy public roads, no one seemed to know who was responsible or what was used to make the them.

“Toynbee” most certainly refers to British historian Arnold J. Toynbee.  According to letters written by the tiler, allegedly uncovered by Toynbee tile researchers in Philadelphia in 2006, “Toynbee’s idea” stems from a passage in Arnold Toynbee’s book Experiences:

Human nature presents human minds with a puzzle which they have not yet solved and may never succeed in solving, for all that we can tell. The dichotomy of a human being into ‘soul’ and ‘body’ is not a datum of experience. No one has ever been, or ever met, a living human soul without a body… Someone who accepts – as I myself do, taking it on trust – the present-day scientific account of the Universe may find it impossible to believe that a living creature, once dead, can come to life again; but, if he did entertain this belief, he would be thinking more ‘scientifically’ if he thought in the Christian terms of a psychosomatic resurrection than if he thought in the shamanistic terms of a disembodied spirit.

The other reference in the tiles is to Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was a movie that made implications that a man was reborn on a mission to Jupiter, not exactly resurrected.

There is only one known connection between the works of Toynbee and Kubrick: Toynbee’s writings spoke of a man named Zoroaster who conceived the idea of monotheism (the belief that only one God exists), and this name also occurs in the title of the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme song entitled “Thus Spoke Zoroaster.”

A clue to the source of these tiles came from a 1983 newspaper interview with a social worker from Philadelphia named James Morasco.  Morasco claimed that Jupiter could be colonized by bringing Earth’s dead people there to have them resurrected.

When writing an article on the tiles in 2001, a reporter stumbled upon the original 1983 article and tried to call the only James Morasco listed in Philly. A woman who answered said Mr. Morasco couldn’t come to the phone because a mysterious ailment had required that he have his voicebox removed.  A different reporter writing another story in 2003 tried to call the same man, only to be told that he died the previous March at age 88.

“My husband doesn’t know anything about that,” his widow told the reporter. “Besides he died in March. But he didn’t know anything about it.”

In any case, there are two problems when assuming that James Morasco is the responsible party: (1) He would have been in his 70s when most of the tiles were placed, and (2) Some new tiles have been installed since his death in 2003.

It was eventually determined that these tiles were composed of layers of linoleum and asphalt crack-filling compound.  A Toynbee-tile enthusiast website reported a tile found in Pittsburgh that included deployment instructions, which the reader transcribed as:

…linoleum, asphalt glue (?) in several layers, then placing tar paper over it so that car wheels won’t mess it up, and apparently the heat of the sun on the tar paper will bake it into the street.

There is no public or private agency dedicated to conserving Toynbee tiles. Many tiles now exist only as photographs taken before their destruction.

Toynbee tile at Franklin Square, 2002 (above)

2 Responses to ““Hey Jupiter, nothing’s been the same…” (Toynbee Tiles)”

  1. Digging, Struggling, Sinking (Relax & Float) | Keep My Words Says:

    [...] When Everette didn’t come home that Wednesday night, his mother called the police.  She told them she knew something was tragically wrong.  Officers believed that the boys ran away, so Everette’s parents began their own search. [...]

  2. Darin Says:

    Hear me out, I’ve inspected the tiles and the “handwritting” of sorts and it’s message and I swear I know who the guy is. There is this “crazy” guy who hangs out on the corner of 18th and Market St. in Philadelphia with signs so similar in message and style. Considering there are 60 of these in Philadelphia, I would bet everything it is this guy. He’s an older gentlemen and he’s very easy to spot considering how much signage he wears on himself. Trust me, mystery solved.

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