Why is there a shoe in the wall of my new home?

By mark-slade August 30, 2013

Today’s closing was out of the ordinary. First, it was a $1,000,000+ home in Maplewood. However, what made it STAND out was one of the gifts the seller left behind–a well worn shoe from the late 1800’s. She found the shoe when she renovated the home and kept it in a special place since. Why? Well legend has it that shoes were often put in areas of the home to ward off evil (see below for article specifically addressing this issue).

Of course, I couldn’t help but start humming and then singing:

This old man, he played one,
He played knick-knack on my thumb;
Knick-knack paddywhack,
Give a dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played two,
He played knick-knack on my shoe;
Knick-knack paddywhack,
Give a dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home.

My research turned up the following:

When owners of old houses begin renovations, they should be aware that they might turn up some unexpected treasures in the walls of their homes. Two Wayland families have discovered a trove of old shoes hidden in the house walls, a reflection of an ancient superstition that hiding shoes in a house as it was being built, would ward off evil.

Jennifer Swope, assistant curator of the Society for Preservation of New England Antiquities, points out that although hundreds of these concealed shoes have been found in buildings in both Europe and Eastern United States no one has ever photographed these finds in the exact site where they have been found.

When tearing out the wall in an old chaise house about eighteen years ago, James and Mary Reed found a baby’s white, ankle-high shoe, some small wooden toys and some ears of corn. Their Old Sudbury Road home has been the site of so many additions since the earliest part was built about 1750 that they were not sure whether the shoes were hidden at the time the chaise house was built or in a later renovation.

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.

About half the shoes registered in the concealment index are children’s shoes. Women’s shoes are more common than men’s. Shoes are almost invariably well worn, perhaps because the donor didn’t want to waste an expensive new shoe on the project, or perhaps because a well-worn shoe is more likely to retain the shape of the wearer’s foot and hence his spirit. Though shoes are the common denominator, more than two hundred different personal possessions–coins, spoons, pots, goblets, food, knives, toys, gloves, pipes, even chicken and cat bones–have been found hidden with them.

Considering how widespread and long lasting this folk belief has been, it is curious that nowhere was it described in writing until references began to appear in mid-twentieth century archaeology literature in scholarly journals. Some speculate the tradition of hiding shoes was a male superstition, kept secret almost out of fear that telling about it would reduce its effectiveness. Others feel contemporary writers did not describe it since superstition ran counter to prevailing religious beliefs and the Puritans punishment of witchcraft and magic was well-known.

When removing walls especially around windows and doors, under roof rafters and behind old chimneys, homeowners should be aware of the possibility of turning up concealment shoes. While most are found in eighteenth and nineteenth century homes, a find hidden as late as 1935 has been reported. If shoes are found, they should left exactly as they were discovered and photographed. Items found with the shoes are as important as the shoes themselves and should also be saved.

Sources include: Displayed Shoes and Concealed Ones, Early American Homes, April 1999; Hidden Shoes and Concealed Beliefs, Archaeological Leather Group Newsletter ; Shoes Concealed in Buildings, NorthamptonMuseums Journal 6, December 1969 ; Ralph Merrifield, The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic , B.T. Batsford Ltd., London, 1987

For the full article above: http://wayhistsoc.home.comcast.net/~wayhistsoc/whs/Shoes_in_the_Wall/shoes_in_the_wall.htm

and if you want to join me:

This old man, he played two,
He played knick-knack on my shoe;
Knick-knack paddywhack,
Give a dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home.

This Old Man…Played Knick Knack on my Shoe

Mark Slade
Keller Williams
917.797.5059
Good Homes

 

Selling a Maplewood/South Orange/Millburn/Short Hills area home involves many steps and having an experienced Maplewood New Jersey Real Estate Agent and Realtor®, specializing in the Bedroom Communities of New York City in Essex/Union County— Millburn, Short Hills, Montclair, West Orange, South Orange, Livingston, Maplewood, Springfield, Summit, Madison, Chatham, Scotch Plains, Fanwood, Cranford and Westfield–by your side will make the transaction run a lot smoother. I would love to be your Maplewood/South Orange New Jersey Area Real Estate Professional! I assist both buyers and sellers in the Bedroom Communities of New York City, mostly served by NJ Transit’s Mid-Town Direct Train Lines, offering commutes of 45minute or less to NY Penn Station, with either the purchase and or sale of residential real estate.

As an Accredited Buyer’s Agent (ABR), I have received special training to guide and educate you through the entire home buying process. From start to finish, I listen to your needs and desires in what you would like and take the information you give me to find you home. My GO-TO team can provide you the best in Real Estate advice with regard to attorney choices, Home Inspectors and Mortgage Loan Officers

As your Maplewood/South Orange/Millburn/Short Hills/Essex/Union County New Jersey listing agent I am well versed on as your local expert in all things in the Maplewood and South Orange area Real Estate Market. You can expect personalized service that includes a detailed consultation on how to best position your Mid-Town Direct home to be competitive in today’s market with training to provide my clients with an in-depth Advanced Comparative Market analysis, and advice on staging. As my office’s technology officer as well as both a Zillow Platinum Premier and Trulia Premier agent, I use the latest and most up-to-date marketing methods to get your home in front of as many buyers as possible. Being your New Jersey Real Estate Agent and Realtor ® not only involves just finding the home or selling the home, but being your guide, negotiator, advisor and advocate and making sure that your needs and goals are met. Being your New Jersey Essex/Union County area Realtor® (with a little bit of Morris County thrown in for good measure) is one of my truest passions, and “Helping You Find Your Dream Home” is my number one priority.

Mark Slade

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