By Erik Moore
The Shoe Tree refers to a tree on the West Bank of the Twin Cities Campus. It grows on the southwest side of the Washington Avenue bridge. The tree is known for the numerous pairs of shoes thrown from the bridge whose laces wrap around the branches and hang from the tree.
About the Tree
The tree is a common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis). It is part of the Mississippi Gorge Regional Park and grows out of the bluff above the Bohemian Flats. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board manages the wooded areas along the Mississippi River. The tree’s canopy reaches the Washington Avenue bridge and is occasionally pruned to keep the walkway clear.
Shoe Tree Folklore
Found throughout the United States, shoe trees are primarily located along less-traveled highways or walkways. There are online maps for shoe trees as roadside attractions. Although there are many shoe trees across the country, this is the only one in Minnesota.
The Washington Avenue bridge was moved to its current alignment in 1965. It is unlikely the shoe tradition existed before this date and certainly not with this tree or location. There is no single event or campus tradition that results in shoes being thrown into the tree. Individuals do it on a case-by-case basis.
Popular Interest in the Shoe Tree
Since the early 2000s, interest in the Shoe Tree has grown. Several newspaper articles and television news segments have highlighted the tree. Discussions about the tree are found on Reddit and in podcasts. A description of the tree is in at least one graduate thesis. The Shoe Tree is a destination in Atlas Obscura. It is also a popular Pokémon Go location.
—Erik Moore is the University Archivist and Co-Director of the University Digital Conservancy. To learn more about the University of Minnesota Archives, please visit www.lib.umn.edu/uarchives.