Finding the Shoe : A Historic History Lesson

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.




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.

The Boston Rubber Shoe Company was founded by Elisha Slade Converse (yes, THAT Converse) in 1853. Which of course, made me see the similarities in the logos.


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.

catalogue189618900bost_0023 Shoe5 Shoe7 Shoe6

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.


  1. WOW! How cool is that! Maybe that mason jar full of old money is the next find? Thanks again for sharing!

    1. I found a kids shoe victorian in the walk of my house similar to the one in this story except my shoe has loops on it for buttons . I have it preserved

  2. Well, I am a history teacher, so despite the heavy usage of Wikipedia I still would award you an A on this essay. Thoroughly researched, if at times rambling (in a good way), informative, factual, interesting, and relevant to the content of the blog. Well done, Mrs. Heavilin. Well done. A.

  3. Well, unlike you, I have never heard of this story about shoes. How absolutely interesting! I always loved that show titled something like, If This House Could Talk. People would share things they had found while remodeling the property. I love a good story! Thanks for sharing with all of us!


    >>> vivacious victorian 5/18/2014 6:50 PM >>>

    amyheavilin posted: “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 “

  4. How incredible! We’re a few weeks from closing on a 114-year-old farmhouse that needs some work and I would love to find something like this. I would even be thrilled with a newspaper! I’ll have to go through your archives for tips and ideas. We’re so excited to revive an old house, but we’ll have so much to learn along the way, I’m sure!
    P.S. We are also in Indiana 🙂

    1. How exciting!!! Good luck with your house – I’d love to see pictures! Restoring old houses is terrifying and scary and hard and perfect and wonderful and worth it! I hope you find something great – you’ll be amazed at how many people will stop just to tell stories of what they know, so if nothing else, document those for sure! Good luck, and keep me posted!

    2. Also, I just looked at your blog, and if I don’t go to bed now, I’ll be up until I read all of it. It looks right up my alley – I can’t wait to read more!

  5. Very cool! I once found an old leather boot in the soffit of a house I was helping re-roof. I had no idea it was tied to an old superstition (I figured a worker simply discarded it while on the job).

    We found some newspaper in our house, but it was from the mid 90’s, and had been used to fill cracks in badly-fitted drywall before it was mudded. This was consistent with the general workmanship of the remodel.

    I’ve left a few momentos for future owners, including notes and some beer bottles. At the vary least, they’ll learn what kind of craft beer I enjoyed!

  6. Thank you for this post!
    We just found pieces of an old leather shoe (No markings) in the wall of an 1837 farmhouse we are fixing up to someday live in. Google gave me your article. This is very interesting!
    Some other items we have found:
    Stone Indian axe head tucked up in the beams of the floor, brass leaf looking thing, 1885 penny, civil war infantry button and stone & glass marbles.

  7. I’m in love with this tradition and hope to put a pair in the walls of my own home one day when we build one. Thanks so much for sharing!!

  8. I found a kids victorian shoe in the wall of my house had buttons up the side small heal. Very old. I have it preserved in a shadow box. Leather material.

  9. We just found a woman and man’s shoe under a historic building we are restoring in the old west. I’m wondering it I should put them in a shakedown box or put them back now that I have a photo of them. Such a neat article! Thanks for sharing.

  10. A few years ago, we replaced the flooring in our 1840’s farm house in Iowa. We found 20+ pairs of worn leather soles men’s shoes! A ever wear a pair of the beautiful leather soles wingtips on occasion. Such fascinating background on the practice behind this. Thank you!

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