New York
Published on February 04, 2016
What Does it Really Mean When You See Shoes Hanging from a Telephone Wire?

If you live an urban area, you've probably come across a pair of shoes dangling from telephone wire at some point or another. In fact, the act of “shoe tossing” - in which shoes are tied together by their laces and thrown across power lines - is considered by some to be a folk sport. Everyone has seen it, yet no one really knows what the shoes symbolize or why shoe tossing happens in the first place.

Urban folklore offers a variety of explanations, but these stories differ from city to city and even from neighborhood to neighborhood. A few weeks ago, my friend, a foreign exchange student from Korea, noticed a pair of sneakers dangling above her head and asked our group of friends why they were there. In some parts of New York City, the most pervasive theory seems to be related to drugs. Apparently, the shoes indicate sites where they are sold.

Aside from my one friend, everyone within the group – all of whom are long time New Yorkers - knew this, which struck me as strange. Prior to that day, the topic had never come up in conversation…yet somehow, we’ve all heard the same theory at some point or another.

Interestingly enough, if you delve deeper into the topic, you’ll uncover a treasure trove of other explanations - the most popular one being bullying. According to this theory, bullies steal the shoes off their victims and toss them on the wires, where they cannot be retrieved.

The shoes can also be used to identify gang turf, signify that a person has passed away or to commemorate an event, like the end of a school year or a wedding.

Alternatively, they could have no meaning at all. Maybe people have just begun to fling shoes out of boredom. (Although why would you want to sacrifice a perfectly good pair of sneakers?)

The wide range of explanations makes it difficult to really know the whole story. However, one thing is for certain: as a whole, the practice of shoe tossing seems to hold a negative connotation, usually associated with more downtrodden neighborhoods.