Where: Crosswalk at corner of Park Avenue & W. Franklin Street
Spotted: Friday, May 2, 2014
Mount Vernon is the new home of “Toynbee Tile” sightings. As I walked into work at the Enoch Pratt Central Library this morning, I passed the usual “after hours” street detritus of my work area – trash, broken liquor bottles, dirty syringes, and the used condoms that litter a nearby parking lot that turns into a “Park & Ride” sexual free enterprise zone in the wee small hours of the night (as shown at left) – before seeing this street installation as I crossed the intersection of Park Avenue and W. Franklin Street, across from the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
In October 2013, a similar Toynbee Tile was spotted in Mount Vernon at the Walters Art Museum crosswalk between Centre and N. Charles Street, as shown below:
Though many of these cryptic tiles have been spotted here (and in Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and other Northeast American cities – not to mention across the world), this appears to be a fresh marking. Though the Park & W. Franklin Street tile had virtually the same instructions about laying (or leaving?) the tile alone – “LAY TILE ALONE – FEDS” as opposed to the “YOU MUST LAY TILE – ALONE –>” text on the Walters Art Museum tile – this latest example features the added all caps text (in between quotation marks) of “A REAL RESURRECTION IS EASY AND PROVED BY CAVEMAN’S FIRST [USE?] OF GENUS [GENIUS?] TOOLS.” Also, the new marking substitutes instructions to “RAISE DEAD” in place of “RESURRECT DEAD.”
Inspired by my morning sighting, I walked up to the Walters Art Museum during lunch to see if last fall’s Toynbee Tile is still there at the Centre and N. Charles Street crosswalk. It is, and is yet another added attraction for pedestrians walking through this weekend’s Flower Mart (though I’m sure its presence isn’t noticed by much of the funny hat and lemon & peppermint stick-sucking throng there).
A library colleague later mentioned that she had spotted a Toynbee Tile on the crosswalk between Eutaw and W. Franklin Street, directly across from the H&H Outdoor military surplus, camping equipment and clothing store. And, lo and behold, a subsequent visit to that corner proved her right, though heavy salting from our recent seemingly never-ending winter has worn away much of its text, as shown below.
What little text I can make out mentions something about “THE HELLION,” and “SEARCHING FOR ‘MORE THAN ONE HELL’ IDEOLOGIES TO GET ‘MORE REWARDS‘.”
May 3, 2014 Update: The very next day after posting this report, I spotted yet another new Toynbee Tile, catty-corner to the H&H Outdoors tile on Eutaw Street. (On a watch, this tile would be roughly 3 o’clock to the decaying tile’s 12 o’clock position if one was walking west on Franklin Street toward the H&H Building.) It looks similar to the salt-deteriorated tile on Eutaw Street (once again mentioning “HELLIONS”), but this one is on W. Franklin Street (as opposed to the worn-out one on Eutaw Street), directly across from the Charles Fish & Sons building (as shown below).
This latest marking includes the curious all-caps text “YOU MUST LAY TILE. AS HELLIONS – ALL COMMUNISTS JOIN UP ‘EN MASSE’ AND GIVE YOU BEATINGS.”
The above tile was not there on May 2. So, as Sherlock Holmes would say, “The game’s afoot!” Someone – perhaps the hipsters in the Floristree concert venue-cum-art colony that inhabit the upper levels of the nearby H&H Building? – is planting fresh markings. In other words, in Baltimore the Toynbee Tiles phenomenon is the equivalent of an active volcano.
So that’s four Toynbee Tile sightings in the greater Mount Vernon downtown area, all within walking distance of the central library. Someone really should start a walking tour for this.
Some of the previous Baltimore sightings included a 1999 sighting of two Toynbee Tiles at 200 West Lexington Street. The Baltimore Sun even ran an article about the tiles sometime around 2001 (how fitting, given the Kubrick Space Odyssey connection!). You can also check out the guide to Baltimore Toynbee Tiles posted on Google Maps.
For those unfamiliar with this mysterious street art phenomenon, see the links listed below. Or, if you get Netflix, watch Jon Foy’s 2011 documentary film Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles. The trailer for this intriguing film is shown below.
And be sure to check out the Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles Facebook page for the latest sightings and news. (Interesting stuff here; for example, I learned that in August 2006 Chicago’s Department of Transportation ordered the destruction of all Toynbee tiles.)
Related “Toynbee Tile” Links:
“New Toynbee Tile Sighting” (Baltimore Or Less, October 15, 2013)
“Toynbee Tiles” NPR story (2006)
New York Times story (April 25, 1999)
“What Is It?” (Internet Archives)
Toynbee Tiles (Flickr)
Baltimore Toynbee Tiles: Google Maps
In 2007, “Sidereal” posted the placemark guide Baltimore Toynbee Tiles to Google Maps. Might make an interesting walking tour to see if the tiles are still there.