Friday, October 28, 2016
The Shoe Tree is Dead, Long Live the Shoe Tree
The saga of the Old Shoe Tree—the big cottonwood on U.S. 50 near Middlegate that’s filled with hanging shoes—refuses to die. It lives on despite the fact a vandal cut down the original shoe tree a few years ago.
In response to that terrible deed, Middlegaters and other fans of the shoe tree designated another cottonwood down the road as the inheritor of the legend and a new shoe tree was born.
Drivers on U.S. 50—celebrating its 30th anniversary as the Loneliest Road in America in 2016—pass by the tree and see hundreds of pairs of sneakers, boots, oxfords and other footwear hanging from the tree’s limbs by their strings.
While there are a number of variations on the legend of the shoe tree, the basic story, according to Fredda Stevenson, co-owner of the Middlegate Station bar and grill, is that sometime in the early 1990s a young couple from Oregon had traveled to Reno to get married.
They decided to spend their honeymoon camping along U.S. 50 and stopped under the original shoe tree.
In an interview several years ago with an Associated Press reporter, Stevenson explained: “They camped by the tree. They had their first big fight. The girl threatened to walk to Oregon. He took her shoes, tied the laces in a knot and threw them up in the tree.
“He said, ‘If you’re going to walk home, you’re going to have to climb a tree first.’”
Stevenson told the reporter that the husband “drove down here and we talked for two or three hours. I told him to go back and say he was sorry and that it was all his fault.”
She said the man took her advice, the couple made up and drove away. A year later they stopped by to show off their first child, whose first pair of shoes were tossed into the tree.
Over time, others saw the shoes in the cottonwood, which was about 70 feet tall, and began tossing their own footwear into its branches.
Over the years, the tree became a local landmark. It wasn’t uncommon to see cars with out-of-state license plates pull over to the side of the road so the occupants could snap a few photos of the unusual sight of a tree brimming with hanging footwear.
In December 2010, however, vandals chopped down the original tree with a chainsaw. The demise of the local icon generated national media attention and in February 2011 a memorial for the tree was even held.
“It was like a good friend had just died,” Stevenson told the Los Angeles Times. She said she began to cry when she first heard the news about the tree’s demise.
The Times reported that the memorial service attracted dozens of people including “leather-clad bikers, dreadlocked artists, giggling children, retirees toting cameras and camping chairs. Dozens more peered across the two-lane road.”
But that’s not the end of the story. A few months after the original shoe tree was cut down, a second cottonwood located about 10 to 20 yards away from the site of the original began to fill up with shoes.
The legend lives on. Good.