Imagine one day you are going about your business in a city crossing a street you’ve crossed many times before but here in the middle of the crosswalk that’s so familiar you pay no attention to it something catches your eye. It’s a tile, a tile that’s had letters cut from it and those letters replaced with ones cut from another color tile. You stop to read the message.
In Movie 2001
On Planet Jupiter
You walk on puzzling over just what that means. Now that message becomes part of your daily routine. You find a few more over the following years as you move about your city. Then you take a trip to a few other cities and are surprised to find similar tiles there. Then when on vacation in Chile dang if you don’t see one there. What is this? This is the phenomena known as Toynbee Tiles.
There’s layers to this mystery like most I present on Freaky Fridays. First let’s talk about what are Toynbee tiles. The majority are what I described. That’s one in the picture above. The main message is as stated “Toynbee Idea, In Movie 2001, Resurrect Dead, On Planet Jupiter.” Then there are margin notes that vary. Some beg people to do tiles of their own to spread the strange message. Others beg for people to kill journalists. There is plaintive cry of only being ‘one man.’ Also about the maker being sick and his enemies using or causing that to suppress the message. Also tirades about a media conspiracy to suppress the important main message.
Then there was a large block of 4 tiles in Philadelphia that didn’t carry the main message but carried a long message that didn’t contain the target message. Instead it was a paranoid rambling about how large news organizations, FBI, Interpol, NBC security, and federal distract attorneys were teaming up to target the tile maker. It has an anti-Semitic tone and often refers to the odd group as ‘the cult of the hellion.’ It was the largest Toynbee and gave the most direct look into the mind of the maker.
What is this message the supposedly required the maker to put blast doors on his house and has the cult of hellions sending men to follow him all the time? Let’s first break down the parts and then see if we can put together the whole. I warn you it takes a few turns and having to run down some connecting tunnels to get it all to somewhat make sense. For this to work you are going to need to sympathetically look out the eyes of the paranoid maker.
Toynbee Idea Who is Toynbee? It’s probably referring to Arnold J. Toynbee (1889 – 1975) a British philosopher and historian. Now it took some gleaning from various researchers to find a passage in one of his philosophy articles where he muses that atomic particles don’t go away therefore if you could assemble them back to the exact molecules they were in someone then put those molecules back exactly as they were to make the person then that person would exist again wouldn’t they? It was a mental structure musing about the soul and is it dependent on the exact physical structure to exist.
In Movie 2001 – Yes this is a reference to Stanley Kubrick’s master piece. First off let me say I’m not a fan but I’ve seen it. Now think of the ending the astronaut dying an old man in his bed but then he becomes an embryo in space. That’s going to tie in to Toynbee’s idea of putting atoms, molecules, and people back together.
Resurrect the Dead – Okay this is the key line that set the tone for trying to look for the common thread. It seems that somehow the maker wants the dead to live again but not in a zombie fashion.
On Planet Jupiter – Well this one is about as obvious as the pervious. Whatever is happening with the dead involving Toynbee’s idea and 2001 is happening on the gaseous giant planet Jupiter.
Now to link these all together you have to go back in time and do some digging around Philadelphia area looking for links to these concepts. The documentary Resurrect The Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles documents this well but it involves a small article in 1983 in a Philadelphia paper where a report recounts an odd call he got about someone talking about bringing the dead back to life on Jupiter using ideas from 2001, shortwave radio intrusions to tv news with the idea, a play by Joseph Marmot entitled 4 am, and fliers from an odd small society. Want to see how all that fits together to get this please watch the film. It was a Sundance winner in documentary. I’ll post the trailer at the bottom and it is available on the internet for streaming, in legal ways.
Apparently the idea is that if the atoms of a dead person are reassembled properly in Jupiter’s environment the people will live again. The fliers from the association touted this as the scientific fulfillment of God’s promise of everlasting life.
Which again raises all kinds of questions about the maker. Why does the maker need a scientific explanation of how a religious miracle is done? What is the maker’s issue with death? How did he or she tie an obscure philosopher’s idea with a blockbuster movie to gain answers to their religious quandary of resurrection?
Now we come to who is the tile maker? That’s getting harder to answer. As the tiles become more well-known as they pleaded people are making their own and putting them out there. Some carry the Toynbee classic message. Others carry their maker’s message. So all we have are the ones we are know are original and the clues they hold.
First off the person is paranoid and feels persecuted by media for the rejection of their idea. They claim to be one man. The tile in Chile refers to an address in Philadelphia. The tiles seem to have first appeared there and have the greatest concentration there. So the best guess is the individual lives there. The documentary goes down that path and convincingly puts clues together to name a maker. I won’t spoil it but it is a very introverted scared man who is a hermit in his row house there.
Could it be a group? Well it is now. There are Toynbee tile fans that follow and photograph the tiles. As I said there are people making their own. If it started out that way, seems unsure given the clues in the margins of the original tiles. If there was a group, it was a very small but well-traveled group.
I have to say I go with it being one individual who became obsessed with what they felt was the answer to death, the method of never losing someone you love, of living forever. I’d guess the person has emotional and mental issues related to a death that when they attempted to get their idea out there morphed into a classic paranoia. But that’s arm-chair analysis by a non-professional. They show what I see as a social awkwardness in how they approached the media. They blurted out the strange idea and didn’t ease people into it. Then they were hurt when others didn’t understand the message and mocked it. It is as if Albert once hitting upon his great theory ran about telling people E=mc2 but didn’t bother to explain. The Albert got his feelings hurt because no one got this new idea. Just someone who doesn’t understand people or society or how new ideas are introduced. I don’t know if the guy named in the documentary is the person but they make a good argument.
How were the tiles done? It’s a linoleum mosaic on roofing paper heavily embedded with tar or asphalt glue. When placed on the road the cars driving over it sets it into the pavement and the friction wears away the paper revealing the message.
How were they put there without people noticing? Obviously they were done late at night when fewer people were around. It is speculated that the floorboard was out of part of the car, the tiles made up into packets that just had to be dropped correct side down when driving at a slow speed. Or maybe the person just slipped out at night on foot and put them there.
How did one get in South America? That’s not known. It was before copycats were making them so either one of the small group, the maker, or a friend thereof went there and placed it. Why is also an unknown.
Finally, there is a debate over the tiles themselves are they art or graffiti? Are they important or not? Should they be saved or destroyed? Chicago rules them graffiti and destroys them as soon as they are discovered. Philly has taken a different tactic. If they can be retrieved and preserved quickly the workers will do so but if not when routine paving or repairs are done, they will be destroyed.
It should be noted that original maker tiles have decreased greatly in last few years. It is as if the maker is aging or leaving it to those who answered the call to make and distribute their own tiles.
In the end the story is about a person trying to get their message out there any way they can. Eventually they hit on a unique eye catching manner to get a cryptic message out there that had people asking more about it. The answers are as fulfilling as the pondering the possibilities. That’s the appeal to me. The unique way a person finally found a way to connect to other people.