Over the last 30 years, cryptic messages have been found embedded into the tarmac of roads across America. No one knows who made them or what the messages mean.
In the late 1980s, a cryptic message from an unknown creator began to appear in the streets of Philadelphia. ‘TOYNBEE IDEA IN MOViE `2001 RESURRECT DEAD ON PLANET JUPITER’ was embedded into roads, pavements and even the middle of busy highways. The Toynbee Tiles, or TTT as they soon became known, were linoleum floor panels, into which words had been carved with a knife and filled with different colours. Each tile was secured into the ground using layers of tar paper which, once driven over by a passing car, would effectively glue them in place. Over time, the layer of paper at the top would be worn away by traffic and weather to reveal a Toynbee Tile. It was an ingenious way of getting a message across – whatever that baffling message actually was. Was it a joke, haiku, cryptic code or just meaningless nonsense?
2001 A Space Odyssey, based on a book by Arthur C.Clarke, is an extraordinary and ambitious film, the meaning of which has drawn endless speculation. Monkeys? Obelisks? Why does Mr Rigsby from Rising Damp turn up? And what about the ending in which astronaut Bowman – part of a team on a trip to Jupiter – appears to enter another dimension where he encounters himself as a giant baby? For TTT fanatics, this scene could easily be interpreted as ‘resurrect dead on planet Jupiter’.
As for the name Toynbee, many believe it to be a reference to the English historian, Albert Toynbee. Others connect it with a short story by American author Ray Bradbury, The Toynbee Convector, about the future survival of humanity. To add to the confusion, Arnold Toynbee is also the name of a spaceship in another Arthur C. Clarke story, Jupiter V.
Over the next three decades, Toynbee Tiles continued to appear in roads all over the US from New York, Boston, Baltimore, Kansas and Chicago to Washington. To date, over 600 Toynbee Tiles have been spotted and photographed, many more lost or destroyed. Few remain in their locations for long before the authorities see fit to remove them. Whether the tiles were the work of one person or a legion, here was an extraordinary act of monomania made all the more amazing by the fact that after 30 years, not a single person had ever reported seeing their creator at work.
Words: David Bramwell