If you're unfamiliar, take a look at the 2011 documentary, Resurrect Dead. The Toynbee Tiles, which became a global mystery spanning continents and decades, are allegedly the work of a lone South Philadelphian obsessed with death and a harsh disdain for the media. If you live in Philadelphia, you've seen them before, linoleum plaques embedded in the streets and crosswalks usually mentioning some variation of a Toynbee idea, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and resurrecting the dead on planet Jupiter.
They could easily be mistaken for the work of a street artist or a hipster trolling pedestrians with weird words senselessly tethered together. But Resurrect Dead digs into the phenomenon few others bothered to question, and found that truth is much stranger than fiction...especially in Philadelphia.
A lot of the lore behind these tiles - pigeons preserved in concrete, padlocked doors, and a South Philadelphia street littered in linoleum letters - could easily be chalked up to tinfoil hats and conspiracy theories were it not for the research documented in Resurrect Dead conducted by Justin Duerr, Steve Weinik, and Colin Smith.
Unraveling the history behind the tiles revealed a peculiar resident who longed for immortality, was convinced he discovered a Fountain of Youth in the works of Arnold J. Toynbee and Stanley Kubrick, and turned his sights towards the media when his ideas were scoffed at by the press.
Without a thorough analysis of something so quirky - and no X-Files department in the Philadelphia Police Department - we'll never know if the tiles laid down last month were the work of the same South Philadelphia curiosity. However, the new tiles don't bare the markings of the copycats that followed throughout the '90s and early 2000s, rather they share the style and simple message of the originals, as if they were carved out of a large stack under the many tiles fading beneath our feet.
That's not to say the original tiles didn't vary. While most were small and easily missed, a few notable examples deviated from his stock of cryptic messages. Those exceptions were often more lengthy, literal, and grim. While Resurrect Dead's diligence reveals the origin of the tiles, few have tried to tackle the motivations of someone so seemingly troubled. There is little to gather from the vast majority of the tiler's messages, but one pair of tiles stands out and offers the greatest insight into the mind of a potential madman, a pair buffed from 16th and Chestnut a few years ago.
JOHN KNIGHT, OWNER OF "THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER" - HELLION JEW - WHOSE 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 BACK IN HIS POCKET.
JOHN KNIGHT SENT THE MAFIA TO MURDER ME IN MAY 1991. (unreadable) JOURNALIST ALL OF THEM GLOATED TO MY FACE ABOUT MY DEATH AND KNIGHT-RIDER GREAT POWER TO DESTROY. IN FACT JOHN KNIGHT WENT INTO HELLION BINGE OF JOY OVER KNIGHT-RIDDERS GREAT POWER TO DESTROY. I SECURED HOUSE WITH BLAST DOORS AND FLED THE COUNTRY IN JUNE 1991. N.B.C. ATTORNEYS, JOURNALISTS AND SECURITY OFFICIALS AT ROCKERFELLER CENTER FRADULAENTLY (unreadable) UNDER THE "FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT" ALL ORDERS OF N.B.C. EXECUTIVES GOT THE U.S. FEDERAL DISTRICT ATTORNEYS OFFICE AND GOT THE F.B.I. TO GET INTERPOL TO ESTABLISH TASK FORCE THAT LOCATED ME IN DOVER ENGLAND.
WHEN BACK HOME INQUIRER GOT UNION GOONS FROM THEIR OWN EMPLOYEES UNION TO SEND DOWN A "SPORTS JOURNALIST" - WHO - WITH BASEBALL BAT BASHED IN LIGHTS AND WINDOWS OF NEIGHBORHOOD CARS - AS WELL AS MEN OUTSIDE MY HOUSE. THEY ARE STATIONED THERE STILL. WAITING FOR ME. N.B.C., C.B.S., GROUP "W" WESTINGHOUSE. TIME. TIME-WARNER. FOX. UNIVERSAL - ALL OF THE "CULT OF THE HELLION" EACH WERE MUCH WORSE THAN KNIGHT RIDDER EVER WAS. (MOSTLY HELLION JEWS). WHEN K.Y.W. AND N.B.C. EXECUTIVES TOLD JOHN KNIGHT THE WHOLE COVEN GLOATED ON HOW THEIR SOVIET PALS HAD FOUND A WAY TO TURN IT INTO A.....
Cozy bedtime reading, right? The tiles don't elicit the same funky, homegrown nostalgia when paired with the paranoid rantings of an anti-Semite convinced he's under surveillance by the FBI. Couple that with another tile begging the public to "Murder every journalist," and it's very possible that the tiler is in fact on a few government watch-lists.
If he is back, his relentless hatred for the media could explain exactly why. In less than a month, the DNC will be in Philadelphia, with thousands of journalists in tow. And since his first run-in with the press, the mainstream media has ballooned into a caricature of the fact-finders he once loathed. An aging man obsessed with mortality, probably well into his 80s, is now faced with the reality that he never found death's cure, and that all of those who walk on top of his tiles have been looking at them through the winking eye of irony. A very serious message to one disturbed man - the secret to eternal life on planet Jupiter - has turned into a pop-culture fad, available for sale on t-shirts and lapel pins.
He's probably pissed off.
He's probably pissed off.
If the tiler is still alive, someone so paranoid is undoubtedly scouring the web. He knows we're reading and writing about him, and he knows we haven't heeded his message. In less than a month, the world's eyes will be on Philadelphia to kick off the most divisive presidential election in modern history, all brought to us by thousands upon thousands of those the tiler hates most.
July could prove to be a very interesting month. Stay tuned.