Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What are the Toynbee tiles?
A: They are graffiti, guerrilla propaganda, outsider art, and an unsolved mystery wrapped into a single cryptic phenomenon. They are four-lined messages, sometimes described as “plaques”, found in the asphalt of numerous major US (and, in four cases, South American) city roads.
Q: What do they say?
A: Their message reads, "TOYNBEE IDEA / IN MOViE `2001 / RESURRECT DEAD / ON PLANET JUPiTER" with occasional variations and frequent additional texts. The most common variations change ‘MOVIE’ to ‘Kubrick’s’, ‘RESURRECT’ to ‘RAiSE’, and/or omit ‘ON’.
Q: When did the tiles first appear?
A: The Toynbee Idea message seems to have first appeared around 1980 in various media, but the first tiles were probably laid circa 1985.
Q: How many tiles are out there?
A: We know of around 150 old-style tiles (from c. 1985–2001) that have appeared in 25 cities in the US and South America. We would guess that over 300 new-style tiles (2001–present) have appeared in or near Philadelphia, as well as a small number outside of Philadelphia. House of Hades, the most prolific copycat movement, has probably laid around 100 as of 2012, and there are several other smaller copycat movements.
Q: Are they still being laid?
A: Yes. Tiles are generally laid during the summer months. No major tile run has appeared more than about a two hours' drive outside of Philadelphia since 2002: one isolated sighting off I-95 in Connecticut in 2006 is the sole known exception. Copycat tiles continue to appear en masse.
Q: Where can I see one? Do you have a list of the surviving tiles?
A: Unfortunately, we do not have a current list of extant tiles. We kept lists for years, but it simply became too difficult to monitor the survivors. As of 2012, Philadelphia still has nearly 100 that survive in some form, none older than about 11 years old. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Margate, NJ, all have surviving old-style tiles, while barely visible fragments also remain in New York and Chicago. Trenton and numerous Philadelphia suburbs have surviving new-style tiles. Copycats have been sighted as far west as Portland, and are spread throughout the United States, with a few appearing as far away as South America and Iraq (!).
Q: How are they laid?
A: First, a message is carved on a piece of flexible, not brittle, linoleum. Two pieces of tar paper are used to cover the linoleum like bread covering the filling of a sandwich. The linoleum is also smothered with Elmer's glue and asphalt crack filler. The whole concoction is then laid down in the asphalt of an intersection while concealed by the tar paper. The tile is "baked" into the ground by the sun's heat, which liquefies the asphalt ever so slightly. Pressure from car and foot traffic further impress the tile into the ground. By the time the top layer of tar paper is removed, the tile will have become deeply embedded and will be impossible to remove without fully repaving the street. A final point: a floorboard-less car will assist in the process of laying tiles, but it is not necessary, nor do we think that all tiles were laid via a floorboard-less car.
Q: What's the difference between 'old-style' and 'new-style' tiles?
A: Briefly, the latter involved an evolving style that eventually flowered into colorful and large mosaics, concluding circa 2001. Thereafter, tiles became smaller, less artistic, more hastily written and completely lacking non-text flourishes (e.g., pictures.) This era begins the "new style." By 2007, old-style elements began reappearing, and the distinction has since become more ambiguous. Generally, the old-style tiles tended to be deeper into a crosswalk, i.e. in the area through which cars drive, while new-style tiles tend to be closer to the sidewalk and oriented to the eyes of a pedestrian. The major exceptions to this are the highway tiles, which are considered to be of the new style (mainly because of handwriting and date) despite being geared towards drivers.
Q: How does one destroy a tile? What happens to make them no longer there?
A: While it's setting in, traffic often destroys part of a tile. The only way to destroy a tile once it's been laid is to repave the street it is on, or to dump tar on it to conceal it.
Q: Has anyone systematically tried to rid a city of its tiles?
A: The city of Chicago has declared tiles "vandalism" and stated their intention to remove them all, although a few fragments can still be found there. The rapid disappearance of the numerous Manhattan tiles lead some tile fans to speculate that the city of New York tried to destroy all the tiles in the city, but missed one on 36th St and Park Ave, which has eroded down to almost nothing as of 2010.
Q: If you chart the locations of the tiles on an inner-city or nation-wide map, will it form a picture or a treasure map or something?
Q: Do you think aliens are involved?
ABOUT THE MEANING OF THE TILES
Q: What do the tiles mean?
A: Prior to our research, no one had advanced a definitive theory. Briefly, we believe that the tiles are meant to be taken literally, and are apparently an attempt to make public a radical idea regarding human resurrection.
Q: Who/what is 'Toynbee'?
A: Arnold J. Toynbee (1889–1975) was a 20th century British historian and philosopher. He wrote extensively on numerous subjects, but was most interested in the philosophies of culture and history, and particularly questions surrounding the success and failure of individual human civilizations. As a Christian thinker, he conceived of history in teleological terms, causing him to fall out of favor among academic circuits following historicism's shift away from teleological discourse towards the end of the 20th century. His 12-volume A Study of History is the largest single work in the English language ever published.
Q: Who/what are "Kubrick" and "MOViE `2001"?
A: Stanley Kubrick (1928–1999) was an American film director, noted for his subversive commentary on philosophical and political issues, and introduction of avant-garde elements into a Hollywood framework. In 1968, he directed 2001: A Space Odyssey, arguably his most experimental film. Based on a short story by sci-fi guru Arthur C. Clarke (1917–2008) called "The Sentinel", Kubrick and Clarke crafted a dense, ambiguous and metaphor-laden screenplay that gave rise to a host of interpretations. That the first and last half-hours of the film are practically devoid of dialog confused audiences and critics at first, but the film has remained a cult favorite. While few may agree on what exactly happens in the film, its spiritual and philosophical intensity is undeniable. The film is also notable for its groundbreaking special effects and breathtaking visuals accompanied by classical music, especially Richard Strauss's "Thus Spake Zarathustra" and Johann Strauss's "The Blue Danube."
Q: How do 2001 and Toynbee relate to one another?
A: It is not immediately obvious, and there are no concrete parallels; one can only interpret the similarities for one's self. Toynbee's writing on cultural rebirth may be comparable to the spiritual rebirth at the end of 2001. Toynbee writes of individual societies' need to evolve intellectually, culturally and technologically in order to stay healthy and avoid stagnation. One could interpret several parts of 2001 (primitive man's development of tools, man's conquering machine, the ending, etc.) as literal steps of evolution. Also, Toynbee and Clarke were contemporaries.
Q: Where does planet Jupiter fit in?
A: Again, it's tough to say. Jupiter figures prominently in 2010, 2001's sequel. There are no direct references to Jupiter in any of Toynbee's writing that we have found. Some have interpreted the planet seen in the final moments of 2001 as Jupiter, although others argue against that interpretation.
Q: Do you think the artist responsible for the tiles really believes in all this resurrection stuff, or is he just messing with our minds?
A: It is difficult to think that someone would put so much time and energy into a guerrilla art campaign only to "mess with our minds," is it not? I mean, we are talking about two decades of extensive traveling, not to mention all the time it must take to make and glue a tile. The sheer dedication of the tiler seems to point to his sincerity. By our interpretation, the Toynbee tile lexicon seems also to be sincere, rather than a calculated artistic message that is intentionally opaque: the "Manifesto" tile is a good example of this.
Q: Don’t you think that [insert name of science fiction author or paranormal theorist] is probably involved in this? I mean, have you read [insert name of his or her series or article]? It seems to be talking about the same thing.
A: The Toynbee tiles are weird, and as such, they tend to remind one of other weird things one has encountered. Certainly, there are other fringe thinkers who have advanced similar theories, and we are often struck by the eerie consonance that rings out of other work that is floating around out there. But with that said, we don’t have any evidence that any thinkers or artists outside of Toynbee, Kubrick and Clarke influenced the tiler in formulating the Toynbee Idea or subsequently crafting the tiles, and in fact have pretty firm evidence that the influences start and end there, at least as far as the nuts and bolts of the theory is concerned.
ABOUT THE MOVIE
Q: How can I see it?
A: The film is available on DVD from Focus World: see http://www.focusfeatures.com/ . It can also be rented or watched via instant view on Netflix.
Q: Can I include your film in an upcoming film festival or series?
A: You are free to contact us with offers if you insist, but please know that we are unable to accept as the film is no longer a part of festival or theatrical circuits.
Q: Who wrote the soundtrack? Can I get a copy?
A: The soundtrack was written by director Jon Foy, who is also a composer and musician. Unfortunately, it is not independently available currently.
ABOUT THE TILER (Warning: spoilers from this point on.)
Q: Who makes the tiles?
A: Prior to our documentary, no one had come forward to claim responsibility for the tiles, nor had anyone solved the mystery of the tiler’s identity. If you’ve watched the movie, you know what we think about the subject.
Q: Is Justin Duerr or a member of your crew the tiler?
A: No. We get this a LOT, and it simply could not be reasonably argued. Tile photographs of which we are aware date back to 1987, when the filmmakers were between the ages of 6 and 11. Those who doubt the veracity of those pictures are referred to articles from major media outlets, which began appearing as early as 1992. You will not have any luck with a claim that we are responsible ourselves and the documentary was somehow faked.
Q: Is Justin Duerr or a member of your crew the new-style tiler or House of Hades artist?
A: No. Justin has experimented with making and gluing his own tiles, and has laid a few in Philadelphia, in the Southwest US and on the West Coast, but he is not the main tiler, we promise. The House of Hades artist has remained anonymous as well, although we have a suspect in mind who is himself a prolific artist.
Q: Who was James Morasco? Railroad Joe? Sevy the Birdman?
A: James Morasco was named in 1983 Philadelphia Inquirer article by journalist Clark DeLeon about a man fronting an organization called the Minority Association who sought to use science to resurrect the dead on Jupiter. The only person by this name that lived in Philadelphia during this time with that name was a resident of the Chestnut Hill neighborhood, who swore that he had no connection to the Minority Association. Morasco passed away in 2003. Julius "Railroad Joe" Piroli was a railroad worker who lived in at South Philadelphia address during the 1970s and 1980s that was tied to the tiles via an address found on a South American tile. He died in 1987. Sevy "the Birdman" Verna is the current residence of this house, nicknamed for his love of birds, who denies any connection to the tiles.
Q: How did Justin know he was seeing the tiler on the bus? Wasn’t it dissatisfying to leave in silence and not speak?
A: Justin had received a physical description of the tiler from others who had seen him, including members of the film crew. And no, Justin was not dissatisfied by the experience – rather, it provided the utmost satisfaction.
Q: Isn’t it hypocritical to claim to treat the main suspect with sympathy and supposedly respectful distance, and yet still release a movie where he is named directly?
A: It was a difficult decision to make, but we ultimately decided that the story must be told. We trusted ourselves to do so delicately, honestly, and thoroughly, with the knowledge that it could be told less sympathetically by someone else in the future. You can accuse us of hypocrisy if you like, but rest assured that we spent years deliberating over the best way of handling the story and completely stand by our decisions.
Q: Why didn’t you stage a stakeout and catch him in the act of leaving his house late at night?
A: First of all, that’s creepy. We deeply respect the tiler as an artist, thinker and sensitive individual. We felt guilty enough for showing up at his house at a reasonable hour multiple times when he clearly did not want to speak with us. A “stakeout” would go against the fraternal spirit of our whole project. Second of all, it would not have told us anything that we didn’t already know. We already know that he goes out late at night.
Q: Does your main suspect know about the movie? What does he think of it? Have you contacted his family, and what do they think?
A: We sent him a DVD, yes. It was the only time we broke our promise to leave him alone, which is depicted in the movie. We have not received a response. We’ve contacted a few members of his family, all of whom are dismissive and convinced that he is not involved.
Q: Your movie encourages us to join the discussion on the message board, but the message board is disabled. Why?
A: Unfortunately, we had to disable the message board when users began speaking with deep disrespect towards the people described in the movie. In trying to maintain good relations with those in the movie, we simply couldn’t justify supporting a venue for trash talking. Please feel free to post tile photos or ask questions via our Facebook page, but if you do the latter, please be respectful towards the parties involved! Remember, our movie depicts a quest to find an innovative and highly accomplished artist.