The Mystery of The Toynbee Tiles: An Interview with Steve Weinik of the Documentary "Resurrect Dead"

Warning: SPOILER ALERT

(for those that have not yet seen, Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of The Toynbee Tiles)

For a good fifteen years now, Steve Weinik has been studying a mystery – a modern-day riddle that, as of yet, remains largely unsolved. A perfect topic for West of The Rockies to delve into and explore further…

The Toynbee Tiles first started appearing on the streets back in the early 80’s, initially just in Philadelphia, and then spreading up to New York as well as further out East, even making appearances in South America, specifically in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. Of course, the questions started building. What were these strange tiles? A student art project gone pandemic? An arcane prophecy? NWO/Illuminati secret messages? What they are, or rather why, remains to be fully explained.

Tile located at 15th & Chestnut St. Philadelphia, PA Photo: ©Steve Weinik Photography

Tile located at 15th & Chestnut St. Philadelphia, PA
Photo: ©Steve Weinik Photography

The message, in its simplest form:

TOYNBEE IDEA
IN MOViE `2001
RESURRECT DEAD
ON PLANET JUPiTER

(Common variations include changing ‘MOVIE’ to ‘Kubrick’s’, ‘RESURRECT’ to ‘RAiSE’, and/or omitting ‘ON’.)
For a long period of time, it remained uncertain as to exactly what the tiles were made of, and how they came to be so solidly embedded in the streets of Philadelphia and other cities. More importantly, how they appeared so discreetly, without anyone ever publically witnessing the tiler himself (we can safely assume, at this point, that it was a he). However, by now we can at least be certain of this much: they are held together by Elmer’s glue and asphalt crack-filling compound, while the cut-out shapes are made of flexible linoleum.

Colin Smith uncovering a tile at 12th & Market Streets, Philadelphia, PA.  Photo: ©Steve Weinik Photography

Colin Smith uncovering a tile at 12th & Market Streets, Philadelphia, PA.  Photo: ©Steve Weinik Photography

The tiles are finally sandwiched between two layers of tar paper, the bottom sheet acting as a gluing agent to the road, whilst the top layer fills the open cracks and gaps of the tile over time (through the pressure of vehicles rolling over it), with the top tar sheet eventually peeling off, leaving the perfectly embedded tile on display.

The lettering and framing (as well as the occasional figures, some of which include robot/android-like creatures; naked, provocatively-posed females silhouettes; and, on some occasions, even extraordinarily crafted grim-reaper-like characters) are roughly cut, with an almost child-like quality, the colourful appearance often adding to their playfulness, making them absolutely captivating pieces of art.

Edison New Jersey tile in 2007. This tile has since been paved over.  Photo: ©Steve Weinik Photography

Edison New Jersey tile in 2007. This tile has since been paved over.  Photo: ©Steve Weinik Photography

In fact, as of October 2015, the Streets Department of Philadelphia officially decided to recognise the Toynbee Tiles as street art, agreeing to, “save one or two of the Toynbee Tiles only if there is a fast and affordable method for removing them.” Admittedly, where possible, they could just work around the tiles or simply leave them put where they need not be removed, as they have already done in some places.

Steve grew up in Philadelphia, first noticing the tiles back in 1993, though only actively starting to investigate them around 2001 – already being a hobby photographer at that time, he naturally started taking photos of them and began documenting their whereabouts.

Tile at 30th St. & 6th Ave. New York, NY. Photo: ©Steve Weinik Photography

Tile at 30th St. & 6th Ave. New York, NY.
Photo: ©Steve Weinik Photography

Alongside a group of three other Toynbee Tile enthusiasts, a documentary came under way in 2005, initially commenced by Jon Foy, with Steve and the others (namely Justin Duerr and Colin Smith) joining the project a little while later.

So, what was The Toynbee Tiler (TTT) trying to achieve? What message was he trying to get out there? Was he part of a cult? Was he crazy? Did he know something important that needed to be told to the public? All of these are questions are addressed during our interview, and certainly in the documentary.

Iconic image of the Molly Pitcher rest area tile near Cranbury, NJ. Photo: ©Steve Weinik Photography

Iconic image of the Molly Pitcher rest area tile near Cranbury, NJ. Photo: ©Steve Weinik Photography

We are all fairly certain at this point as to who the TTT is, though the details remain to be explored. Personally, I still feel that the occurrence of Julius “Railroad Joe” in this story remains somewhat of a mystery – might he still have been involved or related in some way? Perhaps simultaneously working alongside Sevy, or perhaps at a different time (either prior or after Sevy’s involvement) - whether they were working in conjunction or not would also remain to be solved, as it’s perfectly possible that one was a copycat of the other, or one was somehow continuing the “legacy” of the other. Simply put, his story seems to fit just too well to merely be a coincidence. What do you think?

The development of the tiles, that is, the aesthetic and geographical changes over time, lead us down a path of understanding as well as further confusion, the increasingly crazy ramblings of later days indicative of a breakdown in the tiler’s mental state and growing paranoia. Join us in this interview, and see what you make of it….

For further details regarding the movie, the film crew, and their intentions, head over to the FAQ section of the movie website and be sure to visit Steve Weinik's photography page to check out his amazing work as well as Steve's page dedicated to the Toynbee Tile mystery.

Want to find out more about this mystery? Tune in to our show!

Over and Out. Peace

Posted on January 21, 2017 and filed under SUM3.