As a featured Roadside America stop, the Albany shoe tree is an unusual Indiana attraction. Does it pay homage to all shoes lost on highways? Is it a weird tribute to Imelda Marcos’s closet? The Albany’s kinda-sorta-famous shoe tree is in its second incarnation, but nobody’s exactly sure why or how this shoe-strung tree got its start. Located off Edgewater Street on Albany’s southwest side, the shoe tree is a unique place to hang your hat…or Nikes, Crocs, maybe even your Uggs.
According to IndyStar , “even locals can’t agree on the legend of the Albany shoe tree.” Most believe the tradition of hanging pairs of shoes strung together on an old tree began with a few of the town’s teenagers. A few pairs of shoes grew into hundreds–some paired, many not paired. As the practice grew into tradition, many people began to leave special messages or hidden wishes tucked inside of the shoes. Someone even mentioned that hanging Adidas on the tree would bring the former wearer good luck.
Sadly, the original shoe tree was struck down by the local power company (send complaints to Indiana-Michigan Power….just kidding, or, at least, don’t tell them we mentioned it). However, another tree was designated to carry on the shoe-hanging custom. Although this tradition appears to have begun with teens, it has been embraced by the community and visitors to Albany as well.
Although you might think the shoe-clad tree of Albany is a singular American attraction, you’d be wrong. In fact, it’s not even the only shoe tree in Indiana. There’s also a shoe tree in Milltown, that, according to legend, began when a murder victim’s shoes were hung on a tree. And, of course, there’s the Shoe Corner in Saint John, Indiana.
Apparently, shoe trees aren’t even ‘an Indiana thing.’ There are shoe trees in California, Michigan, Nevada, Minneasota, Maine, and Arkansas. You can plan a cross-country road trip simply hunting down celebrated shoe tree sites (please contact us if you do this; we’d love to hear your story). And if your state isn’t represented by a footwear-wearing tree, perhaps you could begin a local tradition yourself.
But we must add a word of caution in reference and with reverence to the Great Beaver Shoe Tree of Arkansas that met its sad demise in 2000. The great tree, located outside of Beaver, Arkansas, toppled over in a storm. Footwear experts determined the unnatural burden of hundreds of water-soaked shoes may have burdened the tree with too much weight. When the rains and winds fell on Beaver, the mighty tree never displayed a single tennis shoe ever again.
There is something serious in these traditions, America isn’t the only country to create shoe trees. There is evidence of shoes trees in Russia, China, Germany, Australia, and other countries around the globe. The Toronto Sun reported that UK shoe trees appear to have a connection to fertility rituals .
When visiting these trees at home or abroad, you may opt to toss a pair of your old Reeboks onto a branch simply as a way of saying, “I was here.” But take care, if you knock someone else’s shoes off the tree, on purpose or inadvertently, you’re doomed to have bad luck for life–and there’s no shoe polish can rub off that stain!