Toynbee Tile Mystery Comes To Tulsa

Tulsa has joined the list of international cities known for the presence of mysterious plaques placed on their streets.

Monday, July 7th 2014, 12:49 pm

By: Richard Clark

Tulsa has joined the list of international cities known for the presence of mysterious plaques placed on their streets.

The plaques are called Toynbee tiles. They're believed to be named for either Arnold J. Toynbee, a British historian and author, or a story by science fiction author Ray Bradbury called "The Toynbee Convector."

Others believe the tiles are an homage to the play "4 A.M." written by David Mamet in 1983. In that play, a radio host listens to a caller who believes the film "2001: A Space Odyssey" by Stanley Kubrick and the writings of Toynbee are actually a plan to resurrect people on Jupiter.

Toynbee tiles first showed up in the late 1980s in Philadelphia and everything about them is a mystery. The first tiles all contained the same message:

IN MOVIE '2001

The message appears to be a reference to Kubrick's "2001", which involved an astronaut being reborn while investigating the presence of a higher being on a mission to Jupiter.

Other tiles started appearing in Boston, Washington, D.C., and Saint Louis. Over the last two decades, tiles have been found in many other major American cities including San Francisco, New York and Detroit and even Buenos Aires and Santiago, Chile in South America.

Many of the tiles appeared in Chicago, only to be removed because the city considers them a form of vandalism. A tile discovered in Topeka last year was removed for the same reason. Many of the tiles have disappeared in other cities because of heavy traffic.

The first mention of the tiles appearing in Tulsa can be traced on social media to January of 2013.

News On 6 found two tiles, one in the southbound lane of Boston Avenue to the north of 5th Street and one in the northbound lane of Boston Avenue just south of 6th Street.

The 6th and Boston tile in downtown Tulsa contains a message very similar to the original one, with extra text in smaller letters:


The 5th and Boston tile has a different message. It reads:


Mark Kellogg was a newspaper reporter who was killed at the Battle of Little Bighorn. He's considered the first Associated Press correspondent to die in the line of duty.

So who was responsible for placing the original tiles? The people behind a 2011 documentary called "Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles" believe it was James Morasco, a Philadelphia carpenter who died in 2003.

The documentary references an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer on March 13, 1983, in which Morasco is quoted about his concept of colonizing Jupiter with people who've died on Earth.

New tiles have appeared in Philadelphia since Morasco's death, leading some to believe someone else was responsible and whoever it was is still active.

The tiles appear to be made from linoleum and asphalt patching compound. They're placed on a road with a tar paper covering which wears down under traffic, revealing the message underneath.

Some have lasted for decades, some for only a short time.

Tulsa is already home to the Center of the Universe, which is also located on Boston Avenue, so it seems fitting for the city to have some Toynbee tiles, too. user Corey Baker shared a photo of one at 3rd and Detroit. Baker said it's located in the cross walk on the west side of the intersection. He then found two more, one on the east side of the intersection of 3rd and Cincinnati and another on the north side of the intersection of 2nd and Detroit.

If you find more Toynbee tiles in Tulsa, send photos to Please be sure to include the specific location. 


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