to bring back to youthful strength, appearance, etc., to make more vigorous, dynamic, and effective.
See a penny, pick it up and all day long you’ll have good luck. Leave it there and you’ll despair.
When the Sherman family constructed their Federal home in Newport, Rhode Island in 1811, they most likely needed more than a day’s worth of good fortune. Building a home and raising a family in the devastation that followed the American Revolution and British Occupation certainly required faith, courage, and a smidgen of luck.
In those desolate and uncertain times, perhaps horseshoes nailed above doors and crickets placed in hearths did not pack enough positive vibes to ward off evil spirits. New Englanders needed powerful, time tested symbols that were a shoe in for good luck…..so to speak. Brave souls relied on an English superstition dating back to the 1500s that called for placing well-worn family shoes in eaves, chimneys, walls and floors during construction or renovation.
According to the article “Shoes in the Wall” posted on the Wayland, Massachusetts Historical Society’s website, “Shoes may have been chosen, because over time they take on and keep the shape of the wearer’s foot. Shoes were hidden in 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.” (http://wayhistsoc.home.comcast.net/~wayhistsoc/whs/Shoes_in_the_Wall/shoes_in_the_wall.htm)
Thousands of concealed shoes have been discovered in old English homes and early American homes along the East Coast. Many of the concealed shoes belonged to women and children. The Northhampton Museum and Art Gallery in England maintains a concealed shoe index with information about nearly 2,000 shoes discovered in Europe and North America. According to the museum’s blog, “Today people renovating old buildings sometimes come across concealed shoes. The finds are very important because they show us what ordinary people were wearing on their feet hundreds of years ago. To register your concealed shoes in the index visit: http://northamptonmuseums.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/concealed-shoes/
During the demolition phase of our rejuvenation project at the Sherman House, we discovered three concealed shoes. A man’s shoe and a woman’s shoe were tucked in the eaves and a child’s shoe presided in the rafters above the cooking hearth on the main floor. We do not know when the shoes were concealed in the home, but our hearts tell us that the Shermans strategically set them in place during construction in 1811 or when they added an addition prior to 1840. Holding over 200 years of history in the palm of our hands was the type of astonishment that triggers goose bumps!
Regardless of who concealed the shoes or the exact day they were hidden, we are so delighted that the child’s shoe proved to the luckiest of all. Adjacent to the tiny worn leather artifact were charred and burnt timbers that had been exposed to the hearth’s open flames when the chimney mortar gave way and sent bricks tumbling into the fireplace. It was nothing short of miraculous that the entire house was not consumed by fire.
Good luck prevailed in the Sherman House for over two centuries. The house also survived other maleficent forces that wreak havoc on New England homes: hurricanes, blizzards, fires, floods, and those dastardly economic downturns.
Don’t Break the Good Luck Chain
The most important thing to know about discovering concealed shoes in an old home is that the treasures should remain in place. Never, never remove them. Simply photograph the hidden treasures and promptly return them to their nooks where they can resume their noble duty as brave soles, bringing good luck and staving off disaster.
To read more about concealment shoes visit: http://thedailybasics.com/2014/11/brave-soles-unexpected-discoveries-in-restoring-a-colonial-house-in-newport-ri/
Coming next: Meet The Architect, John K. Grosvenor, AIA