For the uninitiated, a faded spread of tiles in the middle of a busy intersection wouldn't be cause for confusion, excitement, and trepidation. But for those who know of the Toynbee Tiles, each sighting adds a new level to a mystery that spans more than three decades, two continents, and has driven even the most placid of minds to madness.

Recently, another chapter in the Toynbee Tile saga was written, when a tile showed up on Greenwich Street and North Moore in SoHo. This isn't just the first Toynbee Tile to recently appear in New York City, continuing something of a remarkable renaissance. But let's just start at the beginning....

So what the hell are Toynbee Tiles? Glad you asked. The Toynbee Tiles are pieces of linoleum that appear in the asphalt of random intersections in major North American cities, mostly in the northeast, although some have even been spotted as far as South America. They (for the most part) bear a variation on the following message:


So who is Toynbee? What does Stanley Kubrick have to do with this? Students of the tiles believe that Toynbee could be referring to one of two things. Either its based off of the teachings of British Historian Arnold Toynbee or Ray Bradbury's short story "The Toynbee Convector." Tile enthusiasts have found a specific passage of Toynbee's that has to do with resurrection of the dead, where he elucidates the idea of actual physical resurrection being scientifically and religiously plausible. It's pretty trippy.

As for Kubrick, Jupiter is the destination for the doomed astronauts in his 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. At the conclusion of 2001, astronaut Dave Bowman is taken through a portal just outside of Jupiter and experiences death, and then, remarkably, rebirth.

So this is just some person who reads a lot of philosophy and sci-fi and digs the idea of resurrection? Could be.

So who makes these? We don't know.

Really? No idea. But not for lack of effort! Since their appearance in the 1980s, journalists and amateur investigators have been trying to figure out who is making the tiles and why. Their first media appearance happened in The Baltimore Sun in 1994. The article mentions that by then, they had already also been spotted in Washington, D.C. and New York City. Since then, the mystery has only deepened. The tiles have appeared in dozens of American cities, with no rhyme or reason, and even in Santiago De Chile. Some tiles have the usual inscription above, others offer instructions on how to make more.

Do we have any suspects? For a long time, Toynbee Tile obsessives believed the tiles to be the work of James Morasco, a Philadelphia carpenter. They based this assumption off of a 1983 call to The Philadelphia Inquirer where Morasco, a Philadelphia social worker, pitched an idea to resurrect humans on the planet Jupiter. Seems like too much of a coincidence, right? But Morasco, who died in 2003, would have been in his seventies when the bulk of the tiles were deployed, making their far-reaching appearances almost too much of a feat. Plus, Morasco's death didn't stop the tiles. They kept appearing.

If the tiles sometimes come with instructions on how to make new ones, how do we know this is the work of one person? We don't. It's entirely possible that there's copycats out there or artists looking for a way to fill their afternoon. But wouldn't someone have been caught in the act by now? One person becoming very good at placing the tiles is a lot more plausible than many people being only average, if you think about it. To place a tile on the ground of a busy intersection without being seen or caught on film is a pretty incredible act.

Any other weird stuff you're leaving out? A ton. The tiles might involve an obscure David Mamet play, Larry King Live, or a mafia conspiracy. This thing goes all the way to the top!

I'm fascinated. Where can I learn more? The 2011 documentary Resurrect Dead is a really exceptional look at the history of the Toynbee Tiles. The filmmakers proffer some pretty good guesses as to who is behind them, but it's also a terrific portrait of obsession, fear, and the great city of Philadelphia.

Know anything about the Toynbee Tiles or have some spectacular theories you want to throw at us? Be sure to shoot us an email. Keep watching the asphalt, friends!