The houses that we have owned have been old. 1923, 1930, 1875, 1876, and 1902.
Each house, I have this burning desire to find something cool. A picture, a letter, a diamond, millions of dollars…. you know, nothing big. (Honestly, a picture or a letter would be more exciting to me than money). But alas, we haven’t really found a lot that’s fantastic.
Except this little guy. He was in a grate in the Victorian. Clearly, he is historic.
We also found the newspapers in the attic at the Cottage, which were fantastic.
But that’s really about it.
When the Cottage flooded, we discovered some damage in the Utility Room. The damage was not caused by the water, but the water did more to it, and brought it to light. There was some really soft wood near the floor towards the back of the room, right by the scary half-root cellar.
So, we punched through it.
Doug pulled out some wood that clearly had insect damage. This made the wood soft, and when the water soaked it, it really went downhill fast.
Doug was inspecting super closely, and I heard him say the words I have always wanted to hear : “I found a shoe!”
Now, this might sound silly to you, but there is a reason this is exciting.
He followed those magical words with : “But I don’t think it’s old. It looks like a water sock.” And my heart sunk. Not only because it was old, but because it was left by someone who clearly has bad taste.
So, what’s the significance of the shoe, and why was I excited about it?
Well, in the 18th through the late 19th century, people would often leave old shoes, usually just one, in the walls, under the floorboards, or near an opening of the house to ward off evil spirits. Now, I am FULLY aware that this shoe could just be that – a shoe that somehow made its way into the floor and has no significance at all. But I prefer to believe something more romantic and full of folklore.
More common in New England (Massachusetts actually has a REGISTRY of shoes found in walls!), shoes were used to ward off evil spirits, and to bring good luck. Shoes were thrown behind married couples (and then later tied to cars), and were thought to increase fertility – didn’t you know that’s the reason The Little Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe had so many kids? Much weirder is the tradition of women wearing shoes of other women who just gave birth to increase their chances to conceive. That’s crazy. Then there is a tale of a man who cast the spirit of the devil into a boot, and this is another reason shoes are considered to ward off bad spirits.
There are other items that have been left in houses to ward off spirits, the grossest of which is mummified cats. Seriously.
This is fascinating, but if you can’t handle looking at a mummified cat, don’t open it. This is actually not the scariest “mummified cat-in-a-wall” picture I found – you’re welcome.
Wikipedia actually has a nice, concise page about concealed shoes. It includes:
Most of the concealed shoes found to date are made of leather, but wooden clogs and rubber galoshes have also been reported, among others. The overwhelming majority (almost 98 per cent) have been worn, and many show signs of repair. All ages are represented in the shoe sizes, from babies to adults, but there is little difference in the ratio of adult male to female shoes, at 21.5 per cent and 26.5 per cent respectively. Most finds are of single shoes, but some pairs have also been discovered. About half of the shoes so far discovered belonged to children.
Apart from their significance to folklore, concealed shoes give an important insight into what ordinary people have historically worn on their feet.
Also, From the Wayland Historical Society in Massachusetts : “Why would shoes be deliberately built into a home or public building? Some have speculated that the tradition stems from the prehistoric custom of killing a person and placing the body in the foundation to insure that the building holds together. Later shoes were used as a substitute for a human sacrifice. Shoes may have been chosen, because over time they take on and keep the shape of the wearer’s foot. Shoes were hidden near openings in the home–doors, windows, chimneys–the perceived weak places in the building that were thus protected from evil by the shoe owner’s spirit.”
This article is from Australia, but it’s still great. And the picture on the front page makes me want to buy a pair of shoes like that.
Of course, my favorite place to shop, Modcloth, has a pair that’s reminiscent. On the wishlist they go!
Sorry. Distraction by footwear. Anyway, I’ve known about the “shoe-in-the-wall” thing for years – I remember reading about it in “This Old House” magazine. And I thought it would be pretty cool.
Doug then said (while his head was still sticking through the wall), “Wait. I think this actually is old. It feels like rubber, though.”
I was pretty excited at this point.
It was CLEARLY old, made of some type of rubber, and the arch of the shoe was REALLY slender.
It was pretty remarkably preserved. I say that, yet we didn’t know how old it was.
We looked underneath, and there WAS a marking.
BOSTON RUBBER SHOE COMPANY, BOSTON, USA
Since I went to undergrad in the “Rubber Capital of the World,” and therefore consider myself to be an expert on the issue (right?), and with the input of my friend Raina, our initial guess was that the shoe was from the 1920’s or 30’s.
But of course, we did some research.
So, THEN, my dear friend Raina searched and found an online catalog for the Boston Rubber Shoe Company from 1896, which featured rubber shoes, including this page which seems to have our shoe, or something similar. So, the shoe might be from the build time, or just after! Make sure you check out the whole catalog. It’s fantastic.
I choose to believe that the shoe was deliberately placed there, because that’s how I want to see it.
Did you learn something? Because this feels like the most teacherly I’ve been. So I hope so. Because this was a lot of work. I feel like I just wrote a paper. Except I probably used too much Wikipedia.
Please give me an A.