Toynbee Tiles – New York, New York - Atlas Obscura
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New York, New York

Toynbee Tiles

Interpret cryptic messages in the NY 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 disregard these rules completely as you cross the street at 24th street and 6th ave. Below your feet in the heart of Manhattan is an example of the infamous Toynbee Tiles.

These tiles appeared around the East Coast in the 1980s and soon spread across the US 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 to be 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 Philadelphian 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 Severino “Sevy” Verna claim. 

Spend a few minutes annoying New York residents and creating your own interpretation of the mysterious tiles.

Update 2017: The Toynbee Tile that was located at 24th Street and 6th Avenue is no longer there. They’ve repaved the road and it’s gone.

Update April 2017: The Toynbee Tile at the 42nd and 8th Ave crosswalk outside Carlo’s Bakery is clearly visible.

Update July 2017: The Toynbee Tile at the 42nd and 5th Ave crosswalk is somewhat damaged, but still visible.

Know Before You Go

Look down in the crosswalk (crossing 8th Ave.) outside Carlo's Bakery.
Look down in the crosswalk on the right side of the New York Public Library's Schwarzman Building (intersection of 42nd street and 5th avenue).