Robots? In My Crosswalks?

Lord, is it mid-February already?

As predicted in my last entry, I’ve spent most of 2012 thus far watching movies. I’ve seen two from my list of 22 movies I want to see in theaters, and I’ve been watching them at home at the rate of about three a week. Today I finally watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 while Skyping with my friend. Well worth it, despite the shitty stream I had.

That movie I saw before that one, though, was a documentary called Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles. Though not as well known as some urban legends, if you’ve spent enough time in Philadelphia, you have probably noticed the strange, rectangular tiles embedded in intersections and crosswalks. They have been dubbed the Toynbee Tiles, after the message most of them carry:

Toynbee idea
In Kubrick’s 2001
Resurrect dead
On planet Jupiter

Clear as mud, eh? That’s what I thought. When I was living in Philadelphia, I started noticing these tiles around the city. I remembered reading a Cracked article that profiled them, and after I noticed them, did a little more internet research, but was dismayed to find no one had ever really figured out what they mean or who put them there. Apparently, new tiles appear to this day, mostly in Philadephia, which has around 60 individual tiles. They also appear in large, Northeastern cities in the United States, like NYC and Boston. Some even appear in South America.

(I won’t spoil the documentary for you, as the filmmakers claim to solve the mystery of who makes the tiles and what they mean, but I definitely suggest giving it a watch if you’re interested in stuff like this.)

A photo I took in Philly near Temple University.

And the Toynbee tiles aren’t the only “street art” you find living in Philly. Graffiti and tagging are abundant in certain areas of the city. Larger than life murals decorate many of the city’s walls. Strange stickers and fliers adorn telephone poles and news paper boxes, advertising the unusual. And some street artists have even figured out the Toynbee tiler’s method of transferring images to asphalt, which is how I first noticed the robots.


This blog, if you weren’t paying attention, is called “Robots in the Crosswalks.” Though it might conjure up the idea of a couple of boxy, metallic beings crossing the street, it is actually named after tiny images of robotic-looking men embedded in the crosswalks of Philadelphia. I’ve heard them referred to as aliens, stick men, robots, skeletons and simply “little men.” There were quite a few of them around my school. I really liked them.

Since moving to the Bay Area, I’ve continued to see these little men in the crosswalks. I don’t know where they came from, what they mean, or if they mean anything, but they still fascinate me. I recently came across this blog article, which calls the robots “Stikman” and attributes them to an anonymous graffiti artist who goes simply by “Bob.” Sounds like my kind of guy.

If I do anything with this blog (when I do do anything with it), it’s share information and document things I find interesting. Though it’s anyone’s guess what the makers of the Toynbee Titles or Stikmen are trying to say, I’m sure it’s something, even if it’s only “Look what I did!” This kind of mystery appeals to me, because it is absolutely surreal and yet absolutely human. The abstraction these sorts of things bring to everyday life is pretty much what I’m all about. If you’re out there, reading, commenting, or whatever, thanks for sharing that with me.



Filed under meta

9 responses to “Robots? In My Crosswalks?

  1. Maybe 5 or 6 of these style robots have appeared in crosswalks here in Memphis, TN. They are styled a lot like the one above but they are all yellow. They are all slightly different from each other too.

  2. MJ

    I have seen these robots in Toronto and Montreal as well. They are an international phenomenon!

  3. I saw these in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, in NY it’s in plain Times Square

  4. Pingback: June ABCs: G, H & I | Robots in the Crosswalks

  5. Molly Yates

    We had a charity walk today in Terre Haute IN, my kids and I love looking for and finding stikman’s robots around town. We saw 5 today!

  6. Jonathan

    Interesting. We have them all the way in Memphis Tennessee too!

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