Shoe tossing , the act of using shoes as improvised projectiles or weapons, is a constituent of a number of folk sports and practices. Today, it is commonly the act of throwing a pair of shoes onto telephone wires, powerlines, or other raised wires. A related practice is shoe tossing onto trees or fences. Shoe tossing has been observed in areas of the Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Bolivia, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, India, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, United States and Venezuela.
Shoe flinging or "shoefiti" is the American and worldwide practice of throwing shoes whose shoelaces have been tied together so that they hang from overhead wires such as power lines or telephone cables. The shoes are tied together by their laces, and the pair is then thrown at the wires as a sort of bolas. This practice plays a widespread, though mysterious, role in adolescent folklore in the United States. Shoe flinging has also been reported in many other countries, as mentioned above.
Shoe flinging occurs throughout the United States, in rural as well as in urban areas. Usually, the shoes flung at the wires are sneakers; elsewhere, especially in rural areas, many different varieties of shoes, including leather shoes and boots, also are thrown.
A number of sinister explanations have been proposed as to why this is done. Some say that shoes hanging from the wires advertise a local crack house where crack cocaine is used and sold (in which case the shoes are sometimes referred to as "Crack Tennies"). It can also relate to a place where Heroin is sold to symbolize the fact that once you take Heroin you can never 'leave': a reference to the addictive nature of the drug. Others claim that the shoes so thrown commemorate a gang-related murder, or the death of a gang member, or as a way of marking gang turf. A newsletter from the mayor of Los Angeles, California cites fears of many Los Angeles residents that "these shoes indicate sites at which drugs are sold or worse yet, gang turf," and that city and utility employees had launched a program to remove the shoes. However, the practice also occurs along relatively remote stretches of rural highways that are unlikely scenes for gang murders, and have no structures at all to be crack houses.
Other, less sinister, explanations have been ventured for the practice. Some claim that shoes are flung to commemorate the end of a school year, or a forthcoming marriage as part of a rite of passage. In Scotland, it has been said that when a young man has lost his virginity he tosses his shoes over telephone wires to announce this to his peers. It has been suggested that the custom may have originated with members of the military, who are said to have thrown military boots, often painted orange or some other conspicuous color, at overhead wires as a part of a rite of passage upon completing basic training or on leaving the service. In the 1997 film Wag the Dog (dir. Barry Levinson, New Line Cinema), shoe tossing features as an allegedly spontaneous mass cultural manifestation of tribute to Sgt. William Schumann, played by Woody Harrelson, who has purportedly been “shot down behind enemy lines” in Albania, although the development has been orchestrated by the public relations team of the U.S. President in its effort to divert attention from an incipient scandal concerning his sexual impropriety.
Others claim that the shoes are stolen from other people and tossed over the wires as a sort of bullying tactic, or as a practical joke played on drunkards. Others simply say that shoe flinging is a way to get rid of shoes that are no longer wanted, are uncomfortable, or do not fit. It may also be another manifestation of the human instinct to leave their mark on, and decorate, their surroundings. It has been reported that workmen often throw shoes if they are not paid for waxing floors.
Shoe flinging may cause utility outages, as the weight of the dangling shoes can disrupt the power line. In addition, people have been killed by electrocution while trying to remove shoes from power lines. Utilities have asked the public to call them instead of trying to remove the shoes themselves.
In some neighborhoods, shoes tied together and hanging from power lines or tree branches signify that someone has died. The shoes belong to the dead person. The reason they are hanging, legend has it, is that when the dead person's spirit returns, it will walk that high above the ground, that much closer to heaven. Another superstition holds that the tossing of shoes over the power lines outside of a house is a way to keep the property safe from ghosts. Yet another legend involves that shoes hanging from telephone wires signals someone leaving the neighborhood onto bigger and better things. Of course, only each individual shoe-thrower knows why his/her pair of shoes now hangs from a wire.
A shoe tree, not to be confused with the shoe-preservation device of the same name, is a tree (or, occasionally, a powerline pole or other wooden object) that has been festooned with old shoes. Shoe trees are generally located alongside a major local thoroughfare, and may have a theme (such as high-heeled shoes). There are currently at least seventy-six such shoe trees in the United States, and an undetermined number elsewhere.
Shoe Trees are found all over the State of Michigan including, St. Helen, Kalkaska, Coopersville and Walled Lake. The St. Helen Shoe Tree is located on F-97 between St. Helen and Kirtland Community College. One of the instructors at Kirtland Community College Clay Horton pointed out that people have been throwing shoes on the tree for seven years. Richfield Police Officers discovered the tree blocking the road on March 3, 2010 right before 10:00pm and called Roscommon County Central Dispatch. It was suspected that vandals cut the tree down with a chainsaw. The Road Commissioner Manager Tim O'Rouke was then notified and workers used a front end loader to push the tree to the side of the road. According to Richfield Township Public Safety Director Brad Bannon no suspects have been identified. Why was a police report not started when Vandalism was suspected? If a crime was suspected why the tree and the surrounding area’s being aren’t treated as a crime scene? Which begs the questions why is the DNR not involved with a tree being cut down out of season? Will an investigation be done to capture the vandals at large?
Boot throwing has been a competitive sport in New Zealand for many years, although not one that is taken very seriously. Gumboots or Wellington boots are the heavy rubber boots worn by most farm workers and many other outdoor workers. A competition to see who can throw a gumboot the furthest is a feature of many Agricultural Field Days in the rural communities. The town of Taihape in the central North Island is particularly identified with this sport; they claim to be the Gum Boot Throwing Capital of New Zealand. They hold an annual competition in the main street and award a Golden Gumboot as the trophy; see Wellie wanging.
Since 2003 the sport has been practiced competitively in Eastern Europe. The 2004 World Championship Competition was won by Germany who is hosting the 2005 Competition at Döbeln. Teams were also expected from Sweden, Estonia and Russia. Boot throwing has been a popular sport in Finland since 1976 when the first Finnish Championships of boot throwing has been organized.
In Wag the Dog, a 1997 film, a political spin doctor played by Robert De Niro used shoe-tossing as a propaganda weapon to commemorate a fictitious veteran of a war they made up by manipulating news media.
In Big Fish, a 2003 fantasy drama film, Jenny Hill, a young girl in the town of Spectre, throws the shoes of protagonist Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor) over telephone wires to discourage him from leaving the town.
In episode six of the fifth year of the television series Viva La Bam, the protagonists abandon a shoe in which they were sailing down the Delaware River and tie it to a tree "like they do in the ghetto".