Baltimore Toynbee Tiles

Let me preface this post by saying that this topic is weird. I fully get that, but it’s a Baltimore thing and I’m all about it.

Have you ever heard of a Toynbee Tile? I bet you’ve seen one and didn’t even know it. They are the tiles embedded in the pavement of Baltimore roads.

Photo via HERE

I noticed them before, but never knew what they were or their name until my friend Bolling and I walked past one on our way to lunch a few years ago. He told me the story of their history. You can dig and dig on websites to learn about them but the brief version is as follows (taken from Wikipedia):

The Toynbee tiles (also called Toynbee plaques) are messages of unknown origin found embedded in asphalt of streets in about two dozen major cities in the United States and four South American cities.Since the 1980s, several hundred tiles have been discovered. They are generally about the size of an American license plate (roughly 30 cm by 15 cm), but sometimes considerably larger. They contain some variation of the following inscription:


IN MOViE `2001

Some of the more elaborate tiles also feature cryptic political statements or exhort readers to create and install similar tiles of their own. Articles about the tiles began appearing in the mid-1990s, though references may have started to appear in the mid-1980s.

In a documentary film about the tiles, Justin Duerr assumes that “Toynbee” refers to the 20th century British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, and that “Kubrick’s 2001” is a reference to the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film co-written and directed by filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, about a manned mission to Jupiter.

The majority of tiles contain text similar to that above, although a second set is often found nearby. Several of these allude to a mass conspiracy between the press (including newspaper magnate John S. Knight of Knight-Ridder), the U.S. government and the USSR.

I told you…weird. Now comes the fun part, they are all over Baltimore and people are using social media to tag their locations. A virtual scavenger hunt if you will. I have located two in the past two years, but am on the hunt for the others. I know there are a few scattered in Little Italy and the majority are in the Inner Harbor and Mt.Vernon.

I have so many questions about these tiles but the biggest two being how and when? How did someone embed these tiles into the pavement and when did they do this so that no one noticed? These tiles can be found in cities across the country and not ONE person has seen the individual in the act? That’s so crazy to me!

I’m off to find more Toynbee Tiles! Baltimore is weird, but I love it! If you want an updated list of the tile locations you can find it HERE.

Have you ever heard of Toynbee Tiles? Have you seen any?



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  • Lauren

    How have I NEVER noticed these before? I’m sure that now I’ll see them all the time!

  • Macy Volpe

    This is the coolest thing and I have never noticed them!! I am going to keep my eyes open now.

  • Annie

    This is awesome! I had no idea! Now, I am totally going to be on the lookout for them! Pinning to my Baltimore board and adding to my Baltimore Bucket List!