Concealment Shoes?

Posted by admin on November 24, 2012

While working on the Sullivan House in Madison, Indiana, a treasure trove of ladies' shoes (and 1 boot) was found by John Marsh of John Marsh Building and Remodeling as he was tearing off a box gutter. These non-matching shoes were found buried underneath blown-in insulation in attic space where the roof meets the outside brick wall on the front of the house. concl1.jpg

As you can see, they are in extremely fragile condition, possibly dating back to the 1840s. One must wonder why or how this collection wound up inside the attic space where they were found. Maybe the shoes' owner(s) hid them away for someone to find. Maybe these are concealment shoes.


The practice of concealing shoes or other items to ward off evil spirits is a ritual dating from the early 15th century to the 1910s, with shoes in the United States dating from the end of the 18th C to as late as 1916. The majority date to 1830-1840. The shoes found in the built-in gutter framework of the Jeremiah Sullivan House date to 1840-1850

According to June Swann of the Northampton Museum of England, the three most popular places in which concealed shoes have been found are:


1. chimney, fireplace or hearth, downstairs or up

2. under the floor or above the ceiling

3. walls, ‘walled in’ being a frequent description. This could include areas adjacent to chimney, doors and windows...from behind paneling, skirting or cornice... from the junction of stone footings and the cob wall built on them...from under the wall plate... from between two buildings in a row... from near eaves or gable.


Almost as many, come from the roof. They may be from the rafters, or in the roof space above the top ceiling. Sometimes they are at the junction of an internal wall.


Are the shoes found concealment shoes or some that were lost in attic storage?


We cannot say for sure. Most often concealment finds are of only one of a pair of shoes, each belonging to a member of the family (generally children's shoes) living in the house at that time. Location, such as where these were found, more often determines that shoes have been concealed rather than misplaced, but we will let you decide for yourself.

potholder_slipper_left_side.jpgA little about the shoes found:


What we will call the "potholder style" slipper  presumably was made by a non-shoemaker. This house slipper dates to approximately 1840s-1850s. The upper is made of a fabric tape woven with various colored yarns. The slipper was manufactured in an odd fashioned; the stitches are actually on the outside of the sole/walking surface. During the 1850s, there was a small book published (1855) titled EVERY LADY HER OWN SHOE MAKER. There were probably multiple publications like this, instruction manuals for individuals to make their own at home. These slippers are probably a product of someone having read a similar manual.

shoe_A.jpg.SHOE A (left) Women's dress shoe, Fabric upper with leather foxing. Foxing is the placement with leather on cloth shoes in the toe and heel areas.shoe_B.jpg

 SHOE B (right) Ladies dress shoe, a welted shoe,  is missing the actual outer sole. Welted shoes are made by sewing a piece of leather, the welt, to the upper and inner sole.The outer sole is then sewn to the welt thereby making the sole so it can be replaced easily without changing the dimensions of the the inside of the shoe.


 SHOE C, (right) Ladies dress shoe manufactured as a turn shoe . shoe_C.jpgTurn shoes are made by sewing the sole directly to the upper when the shoe is inside out. When the shoe is sewn up it is then turned right-side-out thereby having all the stitches on the inside of the shoe rather than on the walking surfaces. Shoe C is the shoe we are reproducing for comparison of the shoe as found and how it would look new.

wellington_boot.jpgThe boot found in the Jeremiah Sullivan House is what one would call Wellington-style. 

The "Wellington" was born in 1817 as a result of men's fashion moving towards trousers from knee breaches. The Hessian was the popular boot that was worn with knee breaches, however it was unsuitable for the increasingly popular trouser due to its curvy turned-down top and heavy metallic braid. The first Duke of Wellington, instructed his shoemaker modify the Hessian boot to suit trousers. The shoemaker created a boot with a soft calfskin leather with the trim removed and was designed so that it fit closer around the leg. The heels were low cut, stacked around an inch, and stopped at mid-calf. It was hard wearing for battle yet comfortable for the evening.  ( boot_bottom.jpg

In the photo (right) notice the unique nail pattern used in attaching the top left of the heel.


Shoes D (below left) and E (on the right) are also ladies' shoes found in the Sullivan House. If you look closely you can see some of the white attic insulation is still inside the back of the shoe. shoe_E.jpgshoe_D.jpg


Sorry that the photo below is not more detailed.

These vulcanized rubber shoes are somewhat fused and so fragile that manipulating them would cause the coating, or outer material to flake off.   The inventor of the vulcanization of rubber was Charles Goodyear, who patented vulcanization around 1840. Since these shoes were found in the upper attic/roof area it's understandable that a certain amount of fusing or melting would occur. These are basically blobs, but still worth mentioning.