Tied together by their laces, the shoes are flung at wires or branches until they catch and hang. Very few people have seen these shoes actually thrown and of the twenty-eight witnesses who have been surveyed, their reports vary as to the average number of attempts before the shoes find their mark, ranging from three to fifteen. This practice is more frequent in urban areas, although this may simply be a function of population density rather than any fundamental difference between the psyche of the city and the country. The style of shoes and their arrangement, however, are worth noting. Lone sneakers are common in the city, but when shoes appear in rural areas the formations are much more elaborate. In the Mojave desert, work boots are clustered in dead Joshua trees. In Oklahoma, black army boots hang from irrigation pipes over neglected crops.
Some say that a pair of tennis shoes draped over a telephone line indicates a place to buy drugs. Often referred to as ‘crack tennies’, they serve as a storefront shingle for the local crackhouse. They may also mark a shooting gallery where heroin is used, a reminder that once you get hooked you can never walk away. These theories, however, do not explain the shoes that hang on remote county roads or beneath the highway overpasses where even drug dealers won’t go.
Many of these shoes once belonged to children. Seeing a toddler’s shoes dangling over a bottle-strewn alley or swinging from a lonely tree bothers the soul, calling to mind Hemingway’s famous six word short story: For sale: Baby shoes, never worn. Some say these abandoned shoes memorialize a site where a child was murdered or possibly a gangland killing. Others believe they mark the sighting of a ghost. More levelheaded folks chalk them to up to run-of-the-mill bullying in which a kid steals another kid’s shoes and tosses them beyond his reach.
If any of these theories are true, there are an awful lot of victims, ghosts, and bullies in the USA.