Shoes on Power Lines

July 15, 2010 at 5:00 am 11 comments

By Chad Upton

Tying shoes together by their laces and throwing them onto overhead lines is known as “shoefiti” (shoe + graffiti).

Shoefiti started in the United States and spread throughout the world, the photo above was taken in Berlin.

There is no single reason why people do this, there are many reasons.

When sneakers are festooned on power lines in rough neighborhoods, the conclusion for their presence is often crime related. Some believe they mark crack houses where you can get your fix or some free shoes via ladder. Others say they are shoes that belong to (or hang in memory of) a murder victim. Some say they are for marking gang turf, but Tucson Arizona police have denied that and flagged the turf marker idea as myth.

They did mention that many shoes are removed each week, since they are unsightly and can cause damage to the lines.

They also said that the volume of shoes increases during the summer break from school. A couple of stories have been told that may support this. One is that of tradition, shoes are thrown on power lines to celebrate the last day of school or graduation. Teenage boys have also been said to do this when they lose their virginity.

Perhaps the oldest story about the origin of shoefiti claims it was tradition for soldiers to hang their boots on the power lines at base when they completed basic training, went home on leave or left the service entirely.

In some movies, it’s the school bully who steals your shoes and throws them onto the lines. There are also stories of kids retiring their own shoes when they get a new pair.

Chances are good that the people who are doing it now have no idea why their predecessors did it.

Some people may think it’s a harmless tradition, but the shoes can disrupt utility services by adding weight to the lines which causes them to sag and potentially touch other lines or trees, which could also result in fire.

If you want to remove shoes from the lines, because you want your kicks back or you just want to clear the eyesore, you should call the utility company to do it — a few Darwin Award candidates have earned their nomination trying to DIY their shoes back.

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Sources:, Snopes, Straight Dope, Wikipedia

Photo: edkohler

Entry filed under: Demystified. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jérémie  |  July 15, 2010 at 5:26 am

    Thanks for this great secret Chad!

    Here in Madrid (Spain) where I live, it is a common sight (in my street at least), and I have always wondered where that tradition came from.

    Thanks for that great blog!

  • 2. Polly  |  July 15, 2010 at 5:57 am

    I’ve never seen them on power lines, but there are tennis shoe trees in Oregon and Nevada that are covered with shoes. I am always too attached to my shoes to do that.

  • 3. Anon  |  July 15, 2010 at 10:53 am

    Another explanation is geo-caching (sort of like scavenger hunting). I once did a geo-cache that used the shoes on the wires as a reference point. Also the “shoe-tree” as described in the comment above is also commonly used as a geo-caching point. I’ve seen two such shoe trees before on the hunt.

  • 4. sel  |  July 15, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    If you want to try this, the easiest way to toss them is to hold the shoes side by side with the soles parallel to the ground. My personal experiences have proven the single shoe toss ineffective because it boomerangs its twin.

  • 5. Blake Smith  |  July 17, 2010 at 3:49 am

    in the Marine Corps if someone is getting out of the Marines to become a civilian, they might “hang up their boots” which is basically this but with combat boots

  • 6. Jason  |  July 18, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    The kids use to tthrow the gym shoes walking home from school on the last day

  • 7. Anony  |  July 19, 2010 at 6:31 am

    My dad (who grew up in the 1950s) says it was a bullying tactic: steal a kid’s shoes and throw them on the power lines so he couldn’t get them back without admitting what had happened.

  • 8. sandy  |  January 8, 2013 at 10:55 am

    In our hood, it marks territory. You can tell who’s territory you are in my the color of the shoes

  • 9. chriscp  |  September 24, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    At least where I grew up, shoes on power lines waaaaay predates crack and crack houses. Gangs? Pfft. It may have been adopted by some groups for other purposes eventually, but there were no gangs anywhere near my neighborhood when I was growing up and certainly no crack houses.

  • 10. Marie Morgan  |  January 29, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    I really doubt there’s some higher purpose to this. It’s just dummies doing dumb stuff.

  • 11. Bob  |  October 2, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Grew up in Philly. In the early 60’s we threw our tennis shoes up there for fun. You got new tennis shoes and your old ones had to go somewhere.


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