Toynbee Tiles – New York, New York - Atlas Obscura

New York, New York

Toynbee Tiles

Cryptic messages embedded in the New York City sidewalk. 

There are a few simple rules for walking in New York. Don’t look down, don’t look up, don’t lock eyes with anyone and DO NOT stop walking in the middle of the sidewalk.

While you may face scorn from the New Yorkers around you, we suggest you disregard these rules completely as you walk the streets of the city. Below your feet scattered all around Manhattan are examples of the infamous Toynbee Tiles.

These “tiles,” better described as adhesive patches that stick to concrete sidewalks and asphalt streets,  appeared around the East Coast in the 1980s and soon spread across the U.S. and into South America. The tiles usually feature a message along the lines of: “TOYNBEE IDEA - IN Kubrick’s 2001 - RESURRECT DEAD - ON PLANET JUPITER.”

The meaning of the tiles has been interpreted as everything from a futurist utopian vision to a secret message from playwright David Mamet. (He denies this.) They are now believed to have originally been created by a 70-year-old Philadelphia carpenter by the name of James Morasco (aka Severino “Sevy” Verna) and copycat tiles now span the globe. The recent documentary “Resurrect Dead” tells the full story of the tiles and is the basis for the Verna claim. 

Spend a few minutes annoying New York residents and creating your own interpretation of the mysterious tiles. Many have been almost obliterated by the constant foot and vehicular traffic; others are well-preserved and easily read; some have been paved over in recent years. Although there are too many tiles scattered randomly around the city to list each one, see the Sources section below for an interactive online map of known tiles.

Know Before You Go

See the Sources section for an interactive online map of known tiles.