Fremont County, Iowa

"Old Customs ~ Shoes In The Wall"
by Sherry Penny

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of February 7, 2012

A recent discovery of an old shoe hidden in the wall of a house near Percival, Iowa, has people asking why? A shoe is not something, that is normally hidden, or found, when one is remodeling or renovating a house, especially in the Midwest. Then again, how many objects are placed into homes when built that are never discovered? We don't even place many time capsules or corner stones into buildings anymore. Could that be because we don't expect the buildings to last very long?

Placing shoes (called "concealment shoes") into walls has been done since the late 18th century. It was done even as late as the early 1910's. The most common reason, for doing this, was to bring luck to the house and its occupants or to keep evil spirits from entering the house. Most of the shoes found are near chimneys, doors or windows, as it was believed the weakest spots of the house let evil enter. The shoes were most often that of a child as it was believed their spirits were stronger and better able to ward off evil. Adult shoes are usually that of a woman, but men's shoes have been found also. These shoes are well-worn, and some have been patched with cloth or leather.

The shoes are an important part of the history of the area showing what the common person, such as farmers, house wives, laborers. and children, wore. Most were hand-sewn and many were pegged with wood. It is uncommon to find a fancy shoe such as one used for a wedding. The people at the time were frugal with little money, so they only placed well-worn shoes in walls. In many instances in those days it took a week's pay to buy a pair of shoes.

There are records, documenting more than 100 concealment shoes, found in Massachusetts alone. The Europeans would have brought this practice to America, so naturally there are probably more found on the East Coast, but the find in Fremont County shows that the practice of hiding shoes in walls came west with the pioneers. It is recommended by believers that when found, the shoe should remain in the walls unless the house is being razed. Rather than throw the shoe away, give it to a museum where it can be preserved.

Shoes have long had a history of superstition. The people of Hawaii, believe wearing shoes in the house will bring in the devil. Some believe that when a person leaves on a journey, you should throw a shoe after them to bring good luck to them. In some parts of the world, people hold a shoe by the toe and throw it over the roof of a house. The direction it lands shows the way to travel. If it lands with the sole up, bad luck will come their way. Shoes have been considered to bring fertility, to the wearer, and magic is tied to Cinderella's slippers and to Dorothy's red shoes "Wizard of Oz". Even today, when a couple is married, it is common practice to tie old shoes onto their honeymoon car for good luck.

So if you remodel anytime soon, be sure to place your "concealment shoe" In the walls. Who knows what story it will someday tell?

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Page updated on November 1, 2020 by Karyn Techau