Monday, May 14, 2007

What is up with the shoes?

So we were driving and saw this (shoes hanging from a telephone wire)....Of course, my curiosity got the better of me and I took a photo with the phone. Then we saw the movie Freedom Writers and saw this same image again. I wanted to know why and found very little other than this for an answer.

Legend: Old running shoes hanging from trees and power lines are 'gang signs.'

Across the United States, you'll encounter discarded shoes hanging from wires, poles, and trees. Theories as to what these shoes signify abound, but, contrary to what one hears, there's no one right answer.
Who put the shoes there and why? The list of explanations goes on.

Suggestions include:

  • It's the work of gangs marking the boundaries of their territory.

  • Bullies take them off defenseless kids, then sling them up out of reach as the ultimate taunt.

  • Gang members create an informal memorial at the spot where a friend lost his life.

  • Crack dealers festoon wires to advertise their presence in the neighborhood.
    The shoes increase wire visibility for low-flying aircraft.

  • Overly puffed-up boys who have just lost their virginity or otherwise passed a sexual milestone look to signal the event to others.

  • Graduating seniors mark this transition in their lives by leaving something of themselves behind; namely, their shoes.

  • Kids do it just because it's fun. And besides, what else are you going to do with a worn-out pair of sneakers other than tie the laces together and toss them high?

  • In the Southwest exists a similar practice, that of placing old, worn boots upside down on fence posts by the side of a road. Driving along, one passes upturned boot after upturned boot. Some people tell us these boots are a way for a homeowner to indicate if he's gone to town for the day; on his way out, he stops where his driveway meets the road and adjusts the boot so its toe points outwards. When the toe is pointing towards the house, he's telling the world he's home. Others say it's just a boot-on-a-fencepost thing with no more rhyme or reason to it than there is to those sneakers hanging over telephone wires.

  • Members of the military have pointed to the practice of pitching an old pair of army boots over the wires when leaving a post as a possible origin for sneaker slinging. According to some, army boot pitching is a ritual performed upon completing basic training, according to others, the boots are tossed when a soldier leaves one post for another, and a final school of thought holds that boot pitching is properly done only when the service itself is being left. The boots are often painted yellow or orange prior to being festooned over a wire.

There's no one definitive answer as to why those shoes hang from telephone wires. Perhaps the answer lies within each of us, shoe-slinger and non-shoe-slinger alike. We are a determinedly decorative society. At Christmas and Halloween, on Easter and the 4th of July, many of us feel compelled to doll up houses, windows, and lawns with all manner of objects and lights. Some call this folk art. Others will tell you it has to do with the human need for self-expression.
Slinging shoes over a power line could be no more than us letting that side of ourselves run riot. Then again, the whole thing could be merely an invented tradition, with people doing it because they see others doing it.

So what do you know or have you heard about this?


lisa leichner said...

I think the answer is very simple: kids do it because they're bored and they've seen it done before and always wanted to try it. The next time they have a worn-out pair of sneaks that their Mama's not going to kill them for destroying, they find the first available telephone wires to decorate.

I've always wanted to try that -- but what kind of female would I be?

Monalea said...

I have often wonder about the shoes hanging from the wires as well.

I too wanted to throw a pair up there, now I'm too tired and would have to use a ladder and then someone would catch me and make fun of me because I'm an old lady hanging shoes on a wire. And then a new rumor would be going around about the baby boomer generation putting their shoes up there as their last sign of rebellion before the next stop....the nursing home.


I've always heard that the govenment is the one that does it. It shows the aliens and other outerspace creatures that we're friendly.

Actually I just made that up. ha

I've thrown a couple of pairs of shoes up there in my time. I did it just to see if I could get them to stick.

Stachia said...

Working for and electrical companies all I have heard I can't repeat due to the mature content of what the lineman say.

Monalea said...

I wanted to tell about the Aliens, but I was sworn to secrecies. I'm jealous; I'm going out right now to put my Daryl's shoes on the line.


Neva said...

I usually see really cool shoes up there and wonder what size they are and where they bought them?

Maybe they sat them on the top of their Explorer while they buckled in the kids then drove off and forgot about them and when they slammed on the brakes, they went flying up in the air, ricocheted off a bird's wing and landed on a wire? That would be cool, huh?

The Preacher's Household: said...

I have always wondered about this too. I think it is funny that we all experience something as a society that rarely people talk about or know the cause of. Great imaginative post - it brought us all together in a common curiosity bond.

Hee hee Monalea!!

Trey, were they Converse?

Neva, could it have been the bird that haunted you for days really just wanted your shoe to hang on the line?

NB said...

I've always heard that shoes over the power line signified the death of someone.

But when I see it, I usually think... someone's momma is gonna be angry when she sees those nice shoes, that she worked so hard for, hanging up on that line!


Okay ... I asked my two teenage sons today what they meant. They said that it makes them magic, so that when you put them on you play basketball like Michael Jordon.

I think they've see the movie "Like Mike" too many times.

Mommysmart said...

Well, thanks everyone for all of your info. Either we are all right or all wrong. I think it will still remain a mystery. Maybe someday I will have more info and will again let you all know! Thanks for the comments!