If old walls could talk, imagine the knowledge we would learn from our past. Folk practices from long ago have been uncovered for years and sometimes it’s clear why they were done and other times it’s a bit obscure.
Throughout the 18th century and until the 1930’s, there was a routine practice throughout both the United States and Canada of hiding things in the walls of buildings during construction. Most often there was a pattern of items discovered hidden within the structure on the northeast corner of a home and near openings or the weakest area of the building such as near a door, window or chimney.
It is thought that people believed the open areas of a home could allow access of evil spirits, fire, demons and harmful forces. Because of strong religious beliefs, this superstition was not condoned and for this reason there have been no writings documented that mention this folk practice. It is thought people would place a good luck charm for protection in or near these open areas. In Europe, this tradition dates back to the 1500’s. There were so many old shoes found in the walls, roofs and foundations of homes in the United Kingdom, that in the 1950’s they started a museum and currently have over 3,000 shoes cataloged. www.northamptonmuseums.com/info/3/collections/61/shoes-2/3.
It is written in history that the Puritan who arrived in Massachusetts in 1630 were both of superstitious and religious backgrounds. Many of the inhabitants of that area eventually migrated to New Hampshire and Maine. Several years ago, in Westport, MA, a renovation of an old home uncovered a collection of 20 individual and well-worn children’s shoes hidden in the open cavity behind a large fireplace. In 2019 on Mount Desert Island, Maine, a woman’s shoe was found behind a plaster wall and next to a window in a circa 1879 cape.
Objects found hidden inside structures have included clothing items, spoons, pipes, toys, coins, trinkets and tools but most often, well-worn shoes. Folklore reveals to us that perhaps the reason may be that shoes were the only garment that took the shape of the foot of an individual and then perhaps also their soul. Their shoes gave protection to the persons feet and also to their spirit. The shoes found have most often been well worn left-sided, female and a single shoe (never in pairs). Some believe they chose the left shoe because that is the heart side of the body. There is also the mythology that a female shoe would bring fertility to the home. This makes one think of the old nursery rhyme, “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do!”
There are not many documented finds in New Hampshire, but perhaps it’s because the finder is not aware of the significance of what they are uncovering. A 2015 article “Sole for a Soul” in the Maine Republican Journal tells the story of several finds in the walls of old homes. A remodel of the kitchen of an 1870’s home in Union, Maine uncovered various items in the walls including small glass bottles, children’s toys and near the chimney a woman’s lace-up left ankle-high boot. A builder in Rockport, Maine found three small leather female shoes inside the walls of circa 1800’s homes in Camden during renovations and a couple in Camden found two identical adult woman’s left shoes when they tore out a set of stairs.
We may never uncover the true reason for the deliberate and mysterious encapsulation of these objects. But for whatever the reason, they certainly invoke thoughts, speculation and exhilaration when one or more are found!
Information from the Maine newspaper found at: A sole for a soul — hidden shoes thought to bring good luck - Waldo County VillageSoup