In areas throughout the world, there are trees adorned with hanging shoes. Some of these trees hold only one pair of shoes, while others hold hundreds of pairs of shoes, such as the Great Beaver Shoe Tree of Beaver, Arkansas, before it fell over in 2000. While there are no official “hanging shoe” organizations or resources that substantiate the reasons behind or purposes of hanging shoes in trees, there are many speculations as to why it happens.
For a family on a camping trip, low-hanging tree branches can serve as natural drying racks for footwear, such as tennis shoes or boots, that get wet following hikes through muddy and moist terrain. Alternatively, people at home may decide to hang wet, muddy shoes in trees to allow them to dry off before bringing them inside. For other people, especially children, throwing an old pair of shoes up into a tree may seem like a practical or, perhaps more accurately, fun method of getting rid of unwanted footwear.
Throwing a pair of shoes up into a tree can also be celebratory act. For graduating seniors, throwing shoes into a tree near the high school can be a way of putting a personalized stamp on the school or to leave a piece of themselves behind. In comparison to other articles of clothing, shoes offer several benefits for throwing and hanging in trees. Shoes are heavy and typically feature laces, which allow you to connect the shoes. The connected laces can loop easily around branches. In addition, while the removal of pants or shirts could potentially leave celebrators walking around in their underwear, shoe removal does not pose the same type of risk.
In some instances, the purposes for hanging shoes in trees can be negative. Stealing the shoes of younger, weaker or overweight children and throwing them up into an inaccessible location, such as over a high branch or telephone wire, can be an unfortunate bullying tactic.
According to Snopes.com, criminal gangs have used and potentially still use hanging shoes to indicate one of three messages. First, the shoes can serve as turf-markers, indicating that an area is under the control of a particular gang. Second, gangs may use hanging shoes to indicate pick-up spots, or locations where people can come to purchase illegal substances. Third, hanging shoes can serve as memorials for fallen gang members.
Some artists establish their own shoe trees, starting with bare trees and adding pair after pair of shoes. The goal of such actions is usually to create a living, evolving art project which other people can openly contribute to by hanging their own shoes. As Environmental Graffiti notes, this type of art is known as shoefiti.