Friday, December 28, 2012
Toynbee Tiles in Pittsburgh
A few weeks ago at Piratefest, a fellow baseball blogger told me about something called Toynbee Tiles. Apparently these tiles are a great urban mystery across the United States, but primarily in the East Coast, and have been around for at least 30 years.
The "classic" Toynbee Tile is a piece of linoleum-like substance that is affixed to asphalt in a major downtown city street. It has tiny pieces of the author's philosophy, albeit one that brings to mind that the creator may brush his hair once a week, have an array of facial tics, and complain about the birds flying overhead acting as spies.
Since DB~ and I are off this week, we went downtown to try and find one located at Sixth Avenue and Smithfield Street. I was expecting it to be large and adjacent to the sidewalk, but DB~ spotted the tiny 12" x 6" (approximate) tile a few feet into the lane adjacent to the sidewalk on the Mellon Park side of the intersection.
The legend of the Toynbee Tiles is that no one truly knows who is creating and installing them. They just sort of appear. And considering the high traffic areas and amount of work that need to be done to affix them, it's safe to say it is done in the dead of night. A Philadelphia recluse named Severino Verna, using the alias of James Morasco, is the most likely candidate according to those in the know about these items.
Some cities treat these tiles as graffiti, such as Chicago which actively removes them. They are more likely the garbled ramblings of a crazy person, but they are unique pieces of urban art all throughout major cities that should be seen at least once in person. There is also a documentary called Resurrect Dead (a popular phrase on the tiles) that I will try and track down through Netflix, as well.