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DailyTidings.com
  • St. Louis down to last of the 'Toynbee Tiles'

    Linoleum mysteries unsolved for decades
  • ST. LOUIS — For decades, a bizarre linoleum mosaic embedded in the asphalt at Sixth and Olive streets in downtown St. Louis had people wondering: "What is it?"
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  • ST. LOUIS — For decades, a bizarre linoleum mosaic embedded in the asphalt at Sixth and Olive streets in downtown St. Louis had people wondering: "What is it?"
    The question now: Where is it?
    This summer, someone used a putty knife to pry up and make off with one of the city's two remaining "Toynbee Tiles."
    The tiles, with their cryptic message "Toynbee Idea In Kubrick's 2001 Resurrect Dead On Planet Jupiter," were placed here about 25 years ago.
    They first appeared in Philadelphia in the early 1980s.
    They became an international phenomenon and are now found on the streets of more than two dozen cities in North and South America.
    The tiles, about the size of a license plate, have proven to have a powerful allure, generating websites devoted to theories about their origin and meaning.
    Last year, the documentary "Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles" won the directing award at the Sundance Film Festival.
    The movie helped popularize the artwork but may have had the unintended consequence of making them the target of scavengers, if not art thieves, as Kelley Huonker, of south St. Louis, learned to her dismay this summer.
    Huonker, 30, became fascinated with the tiles after seeing the film.
    "It was exciting to learn that St. Louis had some of these incredible objects," she said.
    In August, Huonker and a couple of friends came downtown to see the tile at Sixth and Olive.
    But where the artwork had been, they found only a blank, black square.
    A security guard working nearby broke the news: A man had taken the tile just a few days earlier.
    "(The guard) said he asked the guy what he was doing, and the guy said that a documentary had been made about these things and they're going to be worth a lot of money someday," Huonker said.
    "I almost cried. It's terrible that someone would take it away for monetary value and rob the city of something so unique and intriguing."
    Other cities where the linoleum-and-tar creations were placed include New York, Boston, Washington, Baltimore, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Kansas City. They are also found in Brazil, Argentina and Chile.
    They appear to be made of asphalt crack filler, glue and linoleum and covered with tar paper. Heat and pressure from vehicle tires melds the tiles into the asphalt. The message appears as the paper cover disintegrates.
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