It had been cloudy all day, threatening rain. Once or twice an hour the sun would peek out from behind the clouds and dazzle the countryside with its brilliance only to retreat again. I kept wishing for the rain to hold-off. I was granted my wish as I approached the turn-off from Route 64 that would take me into town. The sun came out in full-force and refusing to be covered-up any longer. I discovered rather quickly that the directions were inaccurate as I drove from one end of town to the other looking for the particular street. I pulled into a canoe rental place which provided tours on the Blue River and inquired about the location of the tree. The middle aged man behind the counter with the gold teeth gave me some rather simple directions. Turn left at the cafe, go to the top of the hill and turn left again. Follow the road until you come to the crossroads.
I followed his directions and soon found myself on a narrow road winding through the countryside just south of town. The low branches hanging over the road were making high-pitched clanging noises against the tops of the smokestacks as I passed beneath. Along side the road were run-down shacks and dilapidated trailer homes, their yards brimming with rusted farm machinery and parted-out automobiles. The tune to "Dueling Banjos" began playing in my head and I imagined someone asking me to squeal like a pig. Then I thought of Hoosiers, where the kid lived with Dennis Hopper. Yeah, exactly like that.
What seemed like forever was only 3-4 miles riddled with anticipation but finally the crossroads appeared in the distance. I began immediately looking for the shoetree. What I saw was a shoe intersection. I wish there was some way I could've captured what it was like, but a photo from such a distance to take it all in would've been impossible and still have enough detail to appreciate it. It was an intersection of two roads and on each corner were shoetrees.
Ok, so this isn't 100% accurate. There was one primary shoetree, three auxillary shoetrees, and a handfull of other woody vegetation containing shoes as well. Shoes were everywhere. I feel though as if my words aren't doing justice to what I'm trying to convey here, so we shall commence with the photos. The first important thing I want to make clear is the remoteness of the area. Sure the trees in Oregon and Nevada were in the desert, but they were both on major U.S. Highways. Here in Indiana, it's a little closer to civilization but it's not even on a state highway. This is well-off the beaten path which means, aside from the few devotees like me who sojourn here specifically for this reason, this shoe-square has been basically maintained solely (heh) by locals. How remote? Here are four photos, looking down each direction of the crossroads.
I parked on the side of the road and began to take in my surroundings. I was completely surrounded by shoes! Apparently, someone wanted to make sure I didn't miss it, though, just in case.
Standing in front of those words on the asphalt, when you look up in the direction of the arrow, you're treated to the sight of the primary shoe tree.
But you can't tell two things from this photo. For one, you can't appreciate the height of the tree; it's an oak tree well over 100 feet tall. The other thing is that, there's been a fire here, rather recently.
As I was taking pictures a construction contractor in a pick-up truck pulled over. The contractor had brought his grandson with him to show him the place where shoes grew on trees. He informed me that the local newspaper reported that it was most likely caused by a lightning strike, but that sounds a little fishy to me. Not to second-guess the local fire department's testing for accelerants, but what're the odds? Shoetrees, being their own strange brand of vandalism in-of themselves, are ironically the target of frequent vandalism. In my research on the subject, many have been burned or chopped-down. I would hazard to guess that someone set fire to the tree, but as you can see it has survived, with leaves sprouting from the upper branches. It took its toll, though, charring the trunk and causing some of the lower levels of shoes to crash and burn. It looks as if at least a couple of the lower branches broke in the fire in the above picture. The picutres below coroborate this theory, for it appears that a rather large bonfire fueled by shoes raged at the base.
The fire not-withstanding, it's still a really impressive shoetree with very dense and varied collections of footwear in its branches. I think this is even more impressive that this was achieved in such a tall tree. The branches which remain in the tree are a good 60-70 feet from the ground. That's quite a distance to be slinging some shoes.
I think my favorite were the ice skates. That was a nice touch.
I think the enthusiasm for shoe-slingers to get their shoes into the highest branches is the reason for the shoes which have ended up in the vegetation surrounding the primary tree. Looking at the tree from the following angle, there is a creek which runs behind the tree and some smaller trees line its bank. If you look closely you can see shoes dangling from the branches.
I walked over the bridge which allowed the road to cross the creek. It was a pretty creek, shaded with the verdant foliage... and shoes.
The three auxillary trees were not nearly as impressive, but it contributed to the overall atmosphere which made you feel like you were surrounded by shoetrees every where you turned. Directly across the streets from the primary tree was the first of these auxillary trees. In the following photo you can make it out in the background.
It is a much younger tree, with more delicate branches. Rather than having the dense pockets of shoes like the main tree, its shoes are evenly distrubted among its branches.
On the other side of the crossroads sat the puniest of the auxillary trees, but was interesting because of the super-long rope attached to a pair of boots someone had slung into the tree.
Which made for an interesting vantage point of the main tree for photo opportunities.
The final auxillary tree is a huge sycamore that has the stature and presence to one-day rival the main tree....
....should someone actually succeed in burning it down.
I took 58 photos of the shoe trees at the crossroads. Feel free to surf over to the permanent gallery and check out all of the photos. For an indefinite amount of time, you can also download this zip file (26 Mb) which contains the high-resolution photos. If you really dig this sort of thing, I strongly recommend viewing the high-res photos. The detail afforded by these gives you a greater appreciation for the area.