Toynbee Tiles in Indianapolis
5/22/04, updated 2/1/06
Last year while walking downtown on my lunch hour, I noticed an odd sign embedded in the cross-walk
at the intersection of Meridian and Maryland streets:
It seemed to be flush with the surface of the pavement. A few days later, I noticed a very similar one (which was subsequently destroyed during the fall of 2005 by work performed on the sewers) at Meridian and Georgia. It was in better condition, and had even more text:
I wondered what these tiles meant, but I figured that they must be some kind of urban art project. I didn't really think that much more about them. On May 15th, 2004 I was performing a Google search on a completely unrelated topic, and somehow ended up on a website entitled What Is It? I had struck memetic gold. These tiles (also frequently referred to as "plaques" or as "signs" in online discussions) have been an urban crop circle phenomenon since their initial discovery sometime in the 1980's. Over 130 tiles have been documented, spread throughout the eastern United States, as well as 3 in South America. Some of them have been paved over or removed, and only the documentation of their existence remains. In late 2003, the tiles experienced a resurgence in popularity due to coverage in the Kansas City Star. This led to a discussion on Slashdot and numerous blogs.
Although I am a latecomer to the tile phenomenon, I have rapidly brought myself up to speed. An exhaustive search of internet resources on the topic has yielded numerous photos, locations, and other investigators of the nature and origin of these tiles, but few actual facts about them. No one has yet been able to conclusively determine who is responsible for the creation of these tiles. One theory is that the creator was a Philadelphia social worker named James Morasco. He was known for promoting the theory that Jupiter could be populated by the dead. In 1983, Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Clark DeLeon wrote a story about Morasco and his ideas. Morasco died in 2003. His widow was contacted by Kansas City Star reporter Doug Worgul about the tiles, but she disavowed any knowledge of them. Another lead was found in a tile found in Chile. It was an address in Philadelphia. When approached by a reporter, the resident at that address, who apparently moved into the house in 1998, had not heard of the tiles. Although many enthusiasts are of the opinion that one person was responsible for the creation of the tiles, others believe that the widespread distribution of the tiles precludes the possibility of a single creator. In my research, I've even found one instance of a member of the SubGenius Church attributing the quote to J.R. "Bob" Dobbs in his signature file.
My best theory is that the initial tiles in Philadelphia and New York City were created by a single individual, and that the tiling meme was picked up by some type of culture jamming-prone network such as the SubGenii or the Cacophony Society who have simply followed the directive included in some of the tiles themselves:
"You must make + glue tile!! You!!
The tiles have been found in the following cities, and possibly others:
William O'Neill, the creator of the above referenced toynbee.net, has been collecting information about the tiles since 1992. His site is the most comprehensive that I was able to find. It features a listing of locations where the tiles have been found, broken down by state and city. The Geocaching community has also taken an interest in the tiles. Cachers can submit photos of their GPS units in-frame with a tile to geocaching.com as proof that they have located a tile.
One of the more interesting things I was able to find online is the transcription of the manifesto that accompanied one of the tiles in Philadelphia. Apparently this has since been paved over, but here is what it said:
John Knight Ridder is the Philadelphia thug (?) hellion Jew XXXXX Hated this movements guts- for years- takes money from the Mafia to make the Mafia look good in his newspapers so he has the Mafia in his back pocket. John Knight sent the Mafia to murder me in May 1991 XXXXXXXXXX journalists XX then gloated to my face about death and Knight Ridder great power to destroy. In fact John Knight went into hellion since of joy over Knight-Ridder as great power to destroy.
Other Toynbee Tile Resources:
If you have information regarding the origin of these tiles, or know of other tiles in Indianapolis besides the two documented above, please contact me at email@example.com.