Monday, September 08, 2003

Toynbee tiles
This is a new one for me.
The Sunday Kansas City Star has a nice long piece with lots of pictures by Doug Worgul on Toynbee tiles, mysterious plaques that have been appearing in pavements here and there for a decade and possibly longer. The plaques appear to be some kind of hard plastic with carved letters inlaid. Most are in New York, Baltimore, and Washington DC, though sittings have occurred as far away as South America. They all say essentially the same thing:

IN KubricK's `2001

Occasionally the plaques are accompanied by other messages, blaming all the writer’s problems on journalists and "hellion Jews" (whatever those are).

Worgul gives some great background on Arnold Toynbee and Stanley Kubrick and points out that they have no known connections and neither one ever mentioned the possibility of resurrecting the dead on Jupiter.

In his research, Worgul located a 1983 Philadelphia Inquirer article about a social worker named James Morasco. Morasco was trying to get local newspapers to publish his theories about colonizing Jupiter with dead people from Earth, a theory that he explicitly credited to Toynbee and Kubrick. Morasco claimed to have founded an advocacy organization called the Minority Association, consisting of himself and a few of his friends. Morasco died earlier this year at the age of 88. His widow denies that he had anything to do with the tiles.

We have a couple of obvious possibilities here. First, is that Morasco was the tiler and poor Mrs. Morasco is just covering up for what must have been an embarrassing (to her) obsession of her husband’s. It’s not uncommon for people with unconventional beliefs to declare themselves to be the leader of a group. Some are alone in their societies; some pick up a follower or two who don’t stick around for long. It’s possible that Morasco was not the tiler, but that he inspired the tiler. It’s possible that he was the original tiler and that someone else took over his task. Of course, it’s also possible that he had nothing to do with the tiles.

Whether or not Morasco had anything to do with the tiles, it is likely that his death will not be the end of the tiles. This is just the sort of mysterious and whimsical thing—like crop circles or gnome liberation—that will inspire imitators. It’s whimsical, at least, if you ignore the creepy "hellion Jews" part. And as far as attracting imitators goes, a hint of anti-Semitism is not necessarily a disadvantage. If they stick to the core tile message, they can establish plausible deniability on that count. The only thing missing is a Masonic angle—that is, unless you take into account the fact that one of the officers of a Masonic lodge is called the Tiler. Hmmm.

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