A Mysterious Tile, in the Wrong Place

Image from Wikipedia


The phase turned up on mysterious tiles placed in American cities in the 80s and 90s. Nobody is entirely certain where they came from. I’m sure I remember seeing some in New York, when I was living near Manhattan in 1999. That’s not impossible as some Toynbee tiles were placed in New York, but I didn’t have a digital camera back then to record the odd things I saw.

The Toynbee tiles are discussed in books like The Mysterium and were featured in Atlas Obscura. Both of these sources dig into the origin of the message, with its references to 2001 and, possibly, Ray Bradbury’s story The Toynbee Convector (some of the later tiles also contained anti-semitic paranoia). The 2011 documentary Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles came up with an explanation of how they were placed, using a car with a hole in the passenger-side floor.

The Atlas Obscura story is a great summary of what is known, as well as more recent appearances of these tiles, in the middle of the last decade. It’s a fascinating story, and you can imagine how surprised to see one of these tiles in Sussex, on my last walk before lockdown 1. This was on the road from Firle Beacon down toward the village:

I wondered what this was doing so far from home. It seems to read “D_ B____ says fish will fall from sky”, which I guess means it was a promotion for the Mysterium book. Good to see that it is still around, ready to confuse passing hikers.

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