I recently came across this little mystery and found out it had a Connecticut connection, which I haven’t had a chance to check out in person. Yet.
It’s called The Toynbee Tiles — from Wikipedia (where I usually start if I want a general overview on something.)
The Toynbee tiles (also called Toynbee plaques) are messages of mysterious origin found embedded in asphalt in about two dozen major cities in the United States and three South American capitals. Since the 1980s, several hundred tiles have been discovered. They are generally about the size of an American license plate, but sometimes considerably larger. They contain some variation on the following inscription:
IN KUBRICK’S 2001
ON PLANET JUPITER.
Some of the more elaborate tiles also feature cryptic political statements or exhort readers to create and install similar tiles of their own. The material used for making the tiles was long a mystery, but evidence has emerged that they may be primarily made of layers of linoleum and asphalt crack-filling compound.
As with any good mystery, there’s been all sorts of speculation about the tiles and their meaning. Arnold J. Toynbee was a renowned British historian, and some of his ideas were incorporated into science-fiction stories by Ray Bradbury (“The Toynbee Convector“) and Arthur C. Clarke (“Jupiter V”), which some believe connect to Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey and relates to the message behind the tiles. Others speculate that the tiles have to do with 4 A.M., a play written by David Mamet, and that they are an homage to that.
The Wikipedia article lists a few of the possible origins, including that the tiles may have been the work of a Philadelphia carpenter named James Morasco, which this article written a few years ago on damninteresting.com also considers. The only problems with this theory is that Morasco would’ve been in his 70s when the first tiles were laid down, and he passed away well before the most recent ones turned up. According to a couple of stories, Morasco’s widow claims he had nothing to do with the tiles.
NPR also did a story about the tiles in 2006, talking to artist Justin Duerr who was claimed to be working on a Toynbee tile documentary. Unfortunately, the site dedicated to the documentary seems to be “under construction,” although there is a discussion board that has been updated semi-recently.
Okay, now the Connecticut connection. Apparently, in 2006, a Toynbee tile was found in the pavement of a rest stop near Exit 55 of I-95 in Branford. I couldn’t find any pictures or in-depth discussion about it, but it has been listed in a few of the quasi-official Toynbee sites, so I’m going to guess it really did happen. From what I could find, it seems as though it may have been a new-style tile, so it’s not one of the originals from back in the 1970s. Pretty interesting, though.
This site has a seemingly comprehensive list of all the tiles — although it lists “BRANSON” as the town in Connecticut instead of Branford. I also found a Toynbee tile photo group on Flickr.
Sadly, a lot of the original tiles — and some of the newer ones — have been lost due to regular road maintenance and paving. I have no idea if the Branford one is still out there at the moment, but with the way the Connecticut Department of Transportation plows, I’d be shocked if it’s still intact.
If you know anything about the tile or have seen it — or if you’re the one who actually laid them out — let us know! Meantime, the next time we’re out that way, we’ll take a look for it ourselves.