"Place, with a trace of humanity" Photography/Photo of the Day/Pittsburgh

The Toynbee Tiles in Pittsburgh

My friend Steve told me about a documentary he watched last Saturday night about the Toynbee Tiles.  Toynbee Tiles?  I’d never heard of them. The documentary is called Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles . It’s a film by Jon Foy and was chosen as one of the best documentaries of 2011 by Roger Ebert.

Turns out there was also an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette about the tiles downtown but I missed it when it came out.

So last Sunday afternoon, Steve and went to look for them.  We found three of the Toynbee Tiles. The first photographs of them were in the 1980’s so I am a latecomer to these mysterious plaques.  And I am intrigued by their placement in so many locations.

Find the pop top and the screw in this close-up.

A couple of them are paved over.  Chicago doesn’t allow them, they rip them up.  But in Pittsburgh they are there for pedestrians to walk over and cars to drive right on top of them.  It is a mystery who places the tiles but there are a lot of them in the world.  Right by the church where James and Laura were married in Columbus, OH at Third and Broad there’s another one and Laura’s seen it!  They are considered guerrilla art.  And a mystery!



You can see it in the crosswalk below.




An you can see the above tile in the crosswalk below.



Not sure why but I didn’t shoot the location of the third tile we just happened to find when we went back to the car.  

9 responses

  1. Very interesting. I am glad you found some. Thanks for sharing the wonderful information. There are so many interesting things to be learned about the city of Pittsburgh. The next time I am downtown I will search for them.



    August 16, 2012 at 12:46 am

  2. Cool. I’ve never heard of them and, well, if my town keeps paving over ’em, I’ll have to come to Pittsburgh to see one. Is my room ready?


    August 16, 2012 at 1:30 am

    • Your room is ready and waiting but what shall I cook? yikes Almost as if Julia Child were coming for dinner!!


      August 17, 2012 at 4:00 am

  3. Sue Reinfeld

    I never heard of them either. But I will definitely look. Guess I’ll be walking with my head down. You are a true educator Ruth E


    August 16, 2012 at 7:29 am

  4. Strange. Guerrilla art is interesting. A few weeks ago I saw “Exit Through The Gift Shop”; I definitely recommend it. It was a very interesting documentary, and one I think you might enjoy.


    August 16, 2012 at 9:07 am

  5. I have never heard about the Toynbee Tiles? Looks cool and really interesting. I guess I need to check out that documentary, Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles. Thanks for sharing this, I will be looking out for those Toynbee Tiles.


    August 16, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    • If you find one, photograph it and I will post it along with the others! That would be cool


      August 16, 2012 at 9:47 pm

  6. Sally

    Nope – I’ve never seen one or even heard of them before. It seems strange that someone would put that much effort in a work of art only to have it paved over. I wonder why whoever is doing this is so hush-hush about it?


    August 16, 2012 at 5:07 pm

  7. Thanks for sharing the pics of these very mysterious tiles, Ruth. 🙂


    August 24, 2012 at 7:56 am

Always good to hear from you.....

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