Resurrecting Dead on Planet Jupiter
The strange saga of the Toynbee Tiles
They began appearing on the streets of Philadelphia in the early 1990s, cryptic tiles placed randomly on the city’s asphalt arteries, crude, almost child-like scribbles, omens, or prophecies. Like crop circles they have taken on a life of their own, traveling their way down the Atlantic seaboard, as far as Brazil, Chile, and back into various American Midwest cities before finally returning, Phoenix-like, to their apparent birthplace, Philadelphia.
No one has ever been seen placing the tiles. It’s done in the dead of night and they are usually about the size of an average license plate (a very few are larger and hold more, if weirder, information). The most common message is a variation of this: “Toynbee Idea In Kubrick’s 2001 Resurrect Dead on Planet Jupiter.”
Internal references in the tiles appear to refer to two main sources, the philosopher Arnold Toynbee’s whimsical idea of recombining dead molecules to reconstitute life forms, and Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which hinted at Jupiter as a herald of humanity’s rebirth.
The tiles, even as widely dispersed as they are, all appear to be the work of one man. The 2011, award-winning documentary film, “Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles” convincingly suggests the Tiler was (is) a reclusive resident of Philadelphia, “Sevy” Verna, who purportedly placed the tiles through a hole in his car floor while simultaneously broadcasting messages by way of short wave radio regarding his strange Jovian theories. Many residents of Philly in the 1980s complained to the FCC about their TV reception being interfered with via short wave radio broadcasts promoting incoherent messages about “Resurrecting the Dead on Planet Jupiter.” An unknown caller from Philly to the Larry King radio show in 1980 ranted on the air for minutes on the same eerie subject.
Whoever the original Tiler was, or is, the Toynbee Tiles themselves have taken on a life of their own. Hundreds more have been reported every year all around the globe, far too many to be the work of one person. Websites and groups have formed to ponder meanings, locations, interpretations, and speculations. The tiles themselves have grown more elaborate, more costly to produce, more like a piece of artwork, more varied in message and content. Still, in Philadelphia at least, the form and message remain consistent, crude tiles glued onto the city streets with a similar haunting refrain, “Toynbee Idea from Kubrick’s 2001 Resurrect Dead on Planet Jupiter.”
As I mentioned earlier, there’s an excellent documentary film out exploring (and to me at least, solving) the mystery, 2011’s “Resurrecting Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles.” It’s on Netflix now or keep your eyes peeled for PBS.
‘til next time, keep spreading the word: Soylent Green is People! All Homage to Xena!
Addendum: “The Mothership, oh it’s the Mothership!: For those of us awake about 1 am on July 18, an incredible series of glowing, acrobatic, sometimes geometric displays took place in the southwestern skies over the Monarchs that was truly awe-inspiring. I’m rather pleased that despite its novelty and high strangeness, noone in our little group (including a 13-year-old) really freaked out a la’ War of the Worlds or UFOs, instead rationally figuring it must be A) Ion bursts from the Sun forming incredibly peculiar northern lights or B) Area 51 Star Wars testing or C) A Laser Light Show at Silverwood. It turned out, of course, to be C.