Concealment / Memory Shoes

Memory / Concealment Shoes

A few years ago, I inspected one of the oldest homes in New Boston, New Hampshire. The house was built in 1787 and the current owners had been excellent stewards of the home and had done some wonderful work maintaining the house.

But the real beauty of an old home is the rich history that abounds. You just need to apply some thought to all of the people whose lives have touched the home, and imagine all the stories that have played out over the 240 year existence of the house.

Some of the typical architectural features that we find in old homes, such as “Indian Shutters,” were located on all the windows in the home. Indian shutters could be pulled together to block the window.

But I witnessed a curiosity that was new to me. The current owners asked if I wanted to see the “memory shoe” that had been found at the base of their chimney? I incredulously asked, “What exactly is a memory shoe?”

The current homeowners had engaged a plumber to do some work in the basement installing new plumbing supply lines, and the plumber had made an accidental discovery while shuffling around in the loose soil that comprised the basement floor. The plumber had stumbled upon a single old, baby-sized leather shoe concealed in a secret compartment at the base of the chimney.

The plumber emerged from the basement, and presented the tiny shoe to the owners. He said that he had only found the one shoe, but he was convinced there must be another one.

So the owners did some research into this phenomenon, and they discovered that this single shoe was left at the base of the chimney for a distinct reason. At some point in the past, one of the previous families living in the home most likely lost a baby or a toddler – which was unfortunately a common occurrence in colonial days. The mortality rates were very high amongst children.

The parents removed one of the child’s shoes after the passing, and buried it next to the chimney. This act is referred to as leaving a “concealed” or “memory” shoe in place.

In colonial times, it was often thought that the lost child that was taken by evil spirits. So by placing a shoe from the lost child at the base of the chimney, it would hopefully ward off other evil spirits from entering the home, and potentially save the life of other children.

This belief was so widespread in the colonies and in the England, that there are several museums with dedicated “Concealed Shoes” sections.

It’s stories and curiosities like this that keep me inspecting homes!

Michael McCarty
NH Licensed Home Inspector # 316
Vermont Property Inspector License # 143.0134099
HUD 203k Consultant # P-1939

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