Shoe Tree

From the Archivist: Occasional posts related to University history

By Erik Moore

Hundreds of shoes hang from the branches of a tree.
The Shoe Tree on the West Bank of the Twin Cities Campus. Photo credit: 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.

A man in a suit is walking toward the camera up from the steep bluff along the Mississippi River. At the bottom of the bluff is a wooden house and in the distance is the original Washington Ave bridge.
The original Washington Avenue bridge is in the background and a home on the Bohemian Flats is visible at the bottom of the bluff. The man standing in view of the camera is walking in the approximate location of where the current bridge connects to the West Bank and where the Shoe Tree is now located. http://purl.umn.edu/81186.
Aerial view of the construction site of the west bank including the repositioning of the new Washington Avenue bridge and new roadway for Washington Ave. The previous Washington Ave bridge is in place to the left and is currently in use.
The realignment of the Washington Avenue bridge in 1965 was part of the West Bank development. Only after the upper deck walkway opened would people be able to reach the location that would become the Shoe Tree. http://purl.umn.edu/172310.
A single winter boot covered in snow hanging from an unseen branch. The Mississippi River is in the background.
Shoes covered in ice or snow add weight to the branches and have the potential to damage the tree. Photo credit: Tom Foley, November 21, 2001.
Four pairs of shoes hang from a branch.
Shoes of all types hang from the Shoe Tree. Photo credit: Patrick O’Leary, March 26, 2007.
Article from the Summer 2012 alumni magazine titled "A 500-foot tree?"
A 500-foot tree? The 2012 University of Minnesota Alumni Association magazine notes it is not clear when students began tossing their shoes into the tree or why they do it, calling it a “sole-ful sight.” Minnesota Magazine, Summer 2012. Vol.111 No.4, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/163524.
The Washington Avenue bridge walkway facing the East Bank. The Shoe Tree is to the right with some branches hanging over the walkway.
Washington Avenue bridge walkway in the shadow of the Shoe Tree. Photo credit: Erik Moore, March 3, 2021.
Dozens of shoes hang from branches with the Mississippi River in the background.
Shoes hang over the bluff of the Mississippi River valley. Photo credit: Erik Moore, March 3, 2021.
Looking down from the bridge to the base of the shoe tree. The ground is littered with fallen shoes and trash.
Looking down the trunk of the Shoe Tree. Fallen shoes are scattered on the ground. Photo credit: Erik Moore, March 3, 2021.
Silhouette of tree branches filled with shoes with the sun shining through the branches.
Shoes in the upper canopy of the Shoe Tree. Photo credit: Erik Moore, March 3, 2021.

 

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.

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