Monday, April 09, 2012

Shoe finds and Jack in the Box

Renovators to an old house in Walworth Township (a township in Becker County, Minnesota ) recently found a baby shoe with what appeared to be human remains concealed in a wall in the 100 year old house. The matter was reported to the authorities but as there was no evidence of a crime there was not much of a case to investigate. Finding concealed shoes in buildings is fairly common and many believe this was an old custom done to ward off evil spirits. A well held belief was well-worn shoes retained the shape of the wearer's foot and their spirit. Hundreds of concealed shoes have been found in buildings in Europe, Eastern United States (mostly in New England, but there have also been reports of buried shoes as far south as Virginia and far west as Missouri), China and Australia. Since the 1950s an international index of concealment shoes has been kept at the Northampton (Shoe) Museum. More than a thousand concealment shoes, some dating back to the fourteenth century, have been reported in Western Europe. About half the shoes registered in the concealment index are children's shoes with women's shoes more common found and usually all footwear are well worn. Finds in chimneys and under floor boards or above ceilings are well documented. Shoes hidden in wall cavities or ‘walled in’ is also common as is footwear left in roof area. Some finds have been under stairs or in the foundations of the building. Concealed shoes have been found in cottages, farms, manor houses as well as public buildings large and small. Churches, hospitals, schools and orphanages, workhouses, barracks, railway stations, Charlie Chaplin’s film studios, museums; and Oxford colleges have all had shoe finds. According to Swann, most finds are by workmen or DIY occupants. Unfortunately many do not record the actual site nor have photographic evidence to present. Many finds are discarded, dismissed as aberrations.


In the fourteenth century a common belief was Sir John Schorne, rector of North Marston, Buckinghamshire, trapped the devil in a boot. His shrine was a place of pilgrimage until the Reformation, and several pubs in the area commemorate him. Unfortunately when Sir John died, he lost grip of the boot and allowed the devil to escape. Sir John Shorne is better known to us today as, "Jack in the box.”

References Swann, J.M., ‘Shoes Concealed in Buildings’, Northampton Museum Journal 6 (December 1969) pp.8-21. Ditto, Supplement (1988).

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