The place you most want to feel safe is in your home. The actual odds of accidents, invaders, ghosts, and other bad luck often have little to do with our sense of security. It's easier to relax when you're convinced you've done something to protect yourself and your family. We've worked out myriad ways of reassuring ourselves of safety over time, including embedding objects in the structure of our houses.
When [Dan] Kolbert was renovating his late-1800s home in Portland, he was midway through the project when he tore open a bedroom wall only to find a small shoe entombed inside. It was a filthy scrap of a thing, brown and smaller than his hand. He was surprised to find it there; Kolbert didn’t know much about the history of the house, and nothing he did know would explain the presence of a lone baby’s shoe. “My house is just two blocks from St. Dom’s, in the heart of what was once the West End Irish community,” he said. “I’ve since learned it was a common good luck charm for Irish immigrants.” He kept the shoe. It’s a curiosity, a strange piece of history. Plus, it had been in the house for hundreds of years. I can’t help but think moving it would be somehow wrong.
Concealed shoes have been found all over America and in homes in the U.K., Ireland, and Europe. Historians believe the practice dates to the early modern period. The Northampton Museum in the U.K. has cataloged nearly 2,000 discoveries of concealed shoes, the majority of which were buried in the walls of homes, but some were also found in churches, barns, and shops.