MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Every university has some kind of unique tradition, and the University of Minnesota is no different.

But theirs is deeply-rooted in mystery. The shoe tree is exactly as it sounds, with hundreds of pairs of shoes hanging from its branches.

In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen shows us how they think the tradition got started.

“It’s pretty cool. I remember when I was touring my freshman year I saw it and I was like, whoa,” said student Lydia Vejar.

It doesn’t matter if you are traveling east to west or west to east. Once you see the tree that looks like it’s growing shoes, you’ll never not see it.

There are hundreds of pairs. Hanging Nikes. Dangling Adidas. Even boots and Birkenstock’s. Size five up to 15.  U of M archivist Erik Moore knows that taking shoes off this tree would be like taking pennies out of a wishing well.

“At some point someone threw a pair of shoes in the tree and at some point someone threw a second pair,” said Erik.

From there, it just branched out. But its origin is rooted in mystery. Erik believes it began half a century ago, when the Washington Avenue Bridge was relocated.

“It was moved about 50 years ago and re-angled. So before that time, the bridge would have been about 100 yards north of here,” said Erik.

Whether you’re coming from the East Bank or West Bank, the tree, located on the south side of the bridge, is either the first one you see or the last one. And no matter what time of year it is, it’s never bare. But why all the shoes?

“If you throw your favorite pair of shoes over and it catches onto one of the branches, you’ll pass your finals and midterms. But if it fails, then you’ll end up failing,” said student Sabrina Le.

If that’s the case, then there are some pretty disappointed students out there, as more than one pair has failed to stick the landing.

Other theories are that a student might do it right before they embark on a journey, or before they graduate, as a way to save their sole, so to speak. No one really knows for sure, but it’s definitely caught the eye of students, professors and even visitors from other countries.

“We don’t grow trees like this in Scotland,” said visitor Myra Burke.

“Can you spare your shoes today?” We asked.

“No, I only have one pair in my suitcase,” Myra said.

But plenty will spare a pair. After all it’s tradition, so don’t expect the shoe tree pruners to be out any time soon.

“If you see a black pair of work shoes those will be mine,” said Johnny Black.

Erik said he thinks a lot of the shoes are tossed over the bridge at night. There are shoe tree traditions in other states like Idaho, Indiana, Michigan and New York, just to name a few.

John Lauritsen

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