Archive for June, 2008

Mystery of the shoe in the wall

Jun 22, 2008 04:30 AM


Mystery of the shoe in the wall

The child’s canvas shoe, entombed for decades, has the grey, dead look of a flattened mouse. Holes in the toe and the heel are roughly stitched with red thread, and a scrap of dark cotton has been poorly sewn to the rubber sole.

I’m loath to touch this object, which my husband found within the plaster walls of the small house in Etobicoke we’re rebuilding, and long to throw it away. Yet there is mystery to it. Who did it belong to? Why was it hidden? Was it lost or put there purposely? If the latter, for what reason?

We’d found other discards in the course of construction. Whisky bottles from Gooderham & Worts fell out of the eaves. Vanilla extract bottles, mustard tins and an OXO mug were retrieved from beneath the floorboards.

Most often we found what we took to be remnants of workers’ lunches – milk bottles, the remains of a pork chop, magazines (we presume they were used to wrap food) including Canadian Motorist, Live Stories (sentimental tales for women readers) and a cowboy adventure periodical called Ace-High Magazine. They are all from June 1925 – we can imagine a family 83 years ago doing what we are doing this summer, building a house.

But there was something poignant and haunting about this shabby running shoe – its poverty, of course, but also the fact that a child, perhaps a 6-year-old, had worn the life out of it.

A visiting friend with some knowledge of folklore believed the shoe had a function. She was familiar with the centuries-old English superstition of secreting shoes during house construction for good luck. They have a name: “concealed” or “concealment shoes.”

A call to Elizabeth Semmelhack, curator of Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum, provides details. She gets inquiries from homeowners who have found shoes while renovating 19th- and early-20th-century houses. (In Britain, the practice is so common there’s a registry of concealed shoes.) The Bata, the world’s largest shoe museum, has one concealed shoe – a desiccated man’s work shoe – in its collection of 13,000.

Strangely, when she talks about the most common concealed shoe, it seems she’s describing the very one we found. “Typically, it’s a child shoe and it’s well-worn, extremely well-worn,” she says. “Who had the money to put a brand new pair of shoes in a wall? Often, it’s a single shoe, put in to keep away bad luck, though it’s morphed into a symbol of good luck.”

The metal aglets – sleeves on the tips of the laces – are a clue that our shoe dates from the Twenties or Thirties. Eventually, looking at a photo of it, Semmelhack can’t say definitively that the shoe is of that vintage or is indeed a concealed shoe, but it seems likely.

The shabby patch job is another hint. “It looks like the repair had nothing to do with making the shoe more wearable,” she says. “That makes it more likely it was repaired to function in an apotropaic role in the wall rather for the child to wear it again.” “Apotropaic,” she explains, is the term for an object used as a talisman to ward off evil, like a charm bracelet. By stitching the shoe, it became more of a vessel to contain bad spirits.

When she renovated her Danforth-area house, Semmelhack concealed a pair of her husband’s shoes with a note explaining why his Kenneth Coles were in the walls.

Most often concealed shoes are placed in chimneys or over doors and windows – “areas of the house considered susceptible, or weak, where something could come into the property,” says Josephine Hickin, shoe heritage development officer at the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery in England.

She adds that shoes are one of the few personal items that retain the shape and, according to some beliefs, carry the spirit of the owner. The concealed shoe is connected with the animist notion that the shoe is “protected by the spirit of the owner. And children are believed to have a stronger spirits than adults.”

Traditionally, shoes have been symbols of authority also linked to fertility – remember the old tradition of tying old shoes to the car bumper of newlyweds – and good luck.

The study of concealed shoes began in 1957 when June Swann, keeper of the boot and shoe collection at the Northampton Museum, and a fellow curator each received a half-dozen shoes for identification. Most had been hidden near chimneys. Swann could find no literature on shoes concealed in houses. She wrote in a 1996 article in Costume Society Journal about how her curiosity was piqued especially by the discovery of a pair of child’s boots in the thatched roof of a cottage in Northamptonshire. “I had this vision of a tiny child on the thatched roof,” Swann, now 79 and retired, told the Star, “and I wondered, `What kind of family does this?’ … Not being superstitious, it took me a long while to convince myself that all my finds were (put there deliberately).”

Since then, the Northampton Museum has become a repository of concealed shoes. It has a collection of 246 of them and a database recording some 1,700 hidden shoes found around the world. Some are from Ontario – including a pair of brown boots, from 1830 to 1845, discovered in a house in Palgrave, and six ankle boots, dating from 1870, from a house in Kincardine.

Most of the shoes in the index are from Britain, but concealed shoes have been reported in Germany, France, Australia and the eastern U.S., especially the New England states. While a few date from the 15th century, the practice appears to have grown more common after that, peaking in the 19th century and then falling away after the 1930s.

Almost all are thoroughly worn, most beyond repair, and suggest working-class owners; nearly half are children’s shoes. Some have been found with knives or other sharp objects, chicken bones or cat bones and may be linked to some kind of ritual sacrifice. (We also found a pair of skate blades in our walls.)

Swann notes in another article that the study of concealed shoes is incomplete, in part because of the “reticence of the finders of footwear, which is usually in a disgusting condition,” and because tradesmen working on old houses will discard shoes, not knowing their significance.

We know, from searching property records, a farmer named William Golding owned our Etobicoke house in the early 1920s. But by 1925 it belonged to Thomas Bruce, whose name appears on the magazine labels. and who was a stock keeper and salesman for Hyslop Brothers, a bicycle manufacturer at Victoria and Shuter Sts. Golding may have left the house unfinished – some dwellings in the area were built as cottages – and Bruce may have put in the plaster walls.

Following the Northampton Museum’s recommendation, we will likely return the shoe to the walls, not out of superstition, but in the spirit of continuity. And we will adopt a new perspective on the shoe as suggested by Elizabeth Semmelhack, who says, “Think of it as a symbol of a new beginning for those people. They have a child and want to keep bad luck at bay.

“The shoe is devoted to hope in the future.”

World renowned paranormal expert, Rosemary Ellen Guiley, will guest.  She will share her up and coming works, as well as, what she is up to now.  It should make for a very good show.  It airs on Friday at 9pm.  Please hit the link below for more details.

Alexandra Holzer is motivated, enthusiastic and with as many goals as she has talents, se is so much more than just the daughter of Hans Holzer, the first and most famous Ghost Hunter.::::::::Alexandra Holzer had anything but a normal childhood. One of two sisters, she is the youngest born to Ghost Hunter Hans Holzer and Countess Catherine Buxhoeveden. She explained some of the funny, offbeat and frightening moments of her youth in Growing Up Haunted: A Ghostly Memoir (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2008). To understand Alexandra, you really have to know a bit about her parents, so we’ll begin there.

Hans Holzer is generally considered to be the father of modern spirit investigation. The author of over one hundred and forty-five books and novels, Hans wrote Ghost Hunter in 1963 and established the methodology that many within the field of paranormal investigation use today. He received his Ph.D from the London College of Applied Science and has made appearances on popular television programs such as In Search Of and Murder in Amityville.

Countess Catherine Buxhoeveden, also known as The Haunted Countess, is a direct descendent of Catherine The Great of Russia. Born at Castle Rovina in Merano, Italy, she grew up and eventually married Hans Holzer. Catherine helped research many of the topics for his books and added her own intuitive, imaginative and inspired artwork to those projects. The Countess lives on Long Island and often shows her art work in The Hamptons.

After reading almost all of her father’s books, I was thrilled to speak with Alexandra over the phone. She instantly communicates a sincere interest in spirit investigation. However, it would be wrong to believe that she is just some chip off the old block. Alexandra makes it clear that she and her father do not see eye to eye on a number of issues. One of them happens to be the subject of demons.

“My father doesn’t believe in demons…he says spirits are beings of light” she told me matter-of-factly. Hans is not alone in his assessment of evil spirits, however, it does cut a swath across research by others that do believe in them including Ed and Lorraine Warren, well-known ghost hunters and authors in their own right, and his own daughter. He also seems to find fault with some of her conclusions as evidenced by a recent debate over a photo she showed to him and her mother. Alexandra describes the situation:

“After rediscovering my ability of sight and tapping into my sixth sense, I began taking photo’s around my home. The results showed anomalies which I concluded were not manmade from the environment of my home such as dirt, dust or in-door rain. I became excited and had my mother take some of her own photos. I explained to her that the objects were probably the physical manifestations of spirit guides, family members that passed over and so on. She was just as excited and in her low-key mellow way, just as astonished to see what appeared on her bedroom curtains and floors. Shapes taking form, an arm here, a leg there… That began the topic of our orb conversations. Sounds like a bucket of chicken: You get the wing, oh look here’s the breast!”

“ I took it another step forward by taking some photos during a function at my sisters house in Riverdale, New York. I wasn’t just interested in preserving family moments, but was searching for evidence of life after life on film. What I believe to be a face appeared in one of the photos. It was just behind my sister and seemed to come out of her curio. After looking at the photo a couple of times, she agreed that the anomaly was a face. That’s when the orb fight began.”

“My mother, sister and I went to show the photo to my father. Well, Mr. Ghost Hunter didn’t exactly see eye to eye with us. He emphatically stated, ‘That’s not an orb! I can’t see what it is, BUT it’s not a person!’ That’s all it took to start a ten minute verbal battle over the photo and its contents. I said, ‘Look there is the head,’ and he’d reply, ‘That’s not a head, it’s the light coming from the room!’ I’d say, ‘It’s shaping here like a person,’ he’d reply, ‘That’s not a person, it’s a bug of some sort perhaps, but it’s not a person!’ We ended the argument by agreeing to disagree, but I was still red-faced angry over the whole thing and the argument was far from over as far as I was concerned.”

That’s what is so terrific about Alexandra. She has a passion that rivals her father’s when it comes to spirit investigation. That passion came through during own phone conversation and in her description of her relationship, agreements, disagreements, admirations and frustrations with her dad. She says, “Life with my father is difficult, confusing and inspiring all rolled into one.” Alexandra continued:

“As a child, he was there for me to hold my hand crossing the busy New York City streets. He was there to take me to the pediatrician when I was sick, but always felt uncomfortable sitting in the waiting room. He complained about the germs in those places. Despite that eccentricity, he was entertaining and very considerate of my likes and dislikes. He once made the mistake of bringing me toast with orange marmalade when clearly, strawberry was my favorite. I bellowed at him at the ripe old age of seven and said, ‘Father, that’s NOT the right jam!’ Laughing, he just smiled, left the room and returned with a new batch of toast and strawberry jam.”

“I long for those days and wish for more, but my father never allowed me into the paranormal side of his life with the exception of telling me stories from the past. As old age set in, it was too late to get involved with that. The man I once knew had become more difficult and less forthcoming of his business. Today, all I can do is develop my own path and try to carry on what little he’ll let me until he passes. When he does, I will be able to continue without walking on eggshells or being fearful of insulting his ego. He’ll be in a better place, smiling again, and devising a plan to haunt me I am sure!”

I was nine years old when I became aware that my father’s military career and the friends he knew from those days provided proof positive that Extraterrestrials were visiting our planet. That awareness became the catalyst which launched my interest in the paranormal. It caused me to read books on the subject (including Ghost Hunter) and watch people like her dad on television. I wondered when Alexandra first became aware that her father was a famous Ghost Hunter? She provided the following answer:

“I was around the age of nine or ten years old. It was Christmas Time and my mother began wrapping up some of my father’s books as gifts for the school teachers. I attended prep school in Manhattan, so the environment was quiet, proper and subtle. One day before Christmas break, my class sat watching our History teacher as he opened up his gifts. I hadn’t a clue what we got him, but was excited to watch him open the present. I picked out the silver, shiny paper that apparently left glitter all over any hands that touched it. As he looked at his hands, I felt very bad and sunk into my chair. He laughed it off and with a smirk continued to open the package.”

“When the paper fell to the floor, a bunch of books appeared and the look on his face went from a smirk to a serious grin. ‘What could it be?’ I wondered. ‘What the heck did mother buy this poor man?’ As the other kids and I crowded around him to find out, the teacher showed us the covers of the books that emerged from the wrapping. They were titles like ‘The Ghost Hunter‘, ‘ESP and You, ‘Witches’ and ‘The Lively Ghosts of Ireland’ by Dr. Hans Holzer! Oh no…that is MY father! I couldn’t believe it. He wrote those? What the heck does he do for a living? I sank to the lowest point in my chair at that moment. As if to add insult to injury, I fell off that chair to the ground with a thunderous thud! It was at that moment that I wondered if I should switch schools right away or maybe just leave the planet!”

As a Paranormal Researcher with more years of experience than I care to admit and children of my own, I can understand how strange it must have been for Alexandra to face her father’s unusual claim to fame. My own kids always enjoy listening to my radio and television interviews, but it can confuse them at times. After all, I am not exactly dealing with conventional topics. With that in mind, I wondered what Alexandra’s earliest memory of her father’s ghost hunting might be? She told me:

“I was around the age of eleven when my father came bursting into my room announcing he would be on television that evening. He gave me the time, channel and show’s name. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Yeah, okay whatever.” But when the time came for the show to air, I was not going to get off that easily. He stormed back into my room and announced it was on. My mother, sister and I (and the cat) went into the living room to watch my father on television. He sat there smiling, commenting and folding his arms. Although it seemed really funny at the time, I can now understand his sense of accomplishment as I am now trying to accomplish the same thing. I might have been bored when I watched those shows, but I was also impressed and sensed his fame.”

My paranormal ‘awakening’ occurred at the age of nine. I wondered how and when Alexandra became interested in spirit investigation. Now thirty seven years of age, she says that a ghostly experience of her own at the age of thirty two was what propelled her into the world her father had dominated for so long:

“I was folding laundry and I heard my late aunt’s whisper of a voice in my ear. She passed from a rare form of Lymphoma two years before. I had experiences as a child and never felt alone, but this was something foreign to me that suddenly became familiar. As I began to open up and allow her in, the dreams came, then the messages and soon, I was able to read people naturally. I didn’t ask for this second sight or to be a medium to help others. My aunt allowed me to get back to my roots and chose the right time for me. I could have picked a better moment, like before I had four children, but that is not how it works.”

Alexandra Holzer has partnered with Carly-Rose Singer and Shira Etzionis to form a kind of Charlie’s Angels threesome of east coast ghost researchers called New York’s Pretty Paranormals. Each one of them brings something to the table of spirit investigations including Alexandra’s vision of what Ghost Hunting should be. “I want to help people,” she tells me. I can understand her vision and admire the fact that she and her partners want to do more than just show up at someone’s house with a bunch of gadgets and an emotional detachment that is unhealthy for all involved.

There is an honesty and sincerity that comes across when you speak with the youngest daughter of Hans Holzer. She is motivated, enthusiastic and with as many goals as she has talents, she is so much more than just the daughter of a famous Ghost Hunter. You’ll be seeing a lot more of Alexandra Holzer. She hopes to create and host a television show about the paranormal and I cannot think of anyone better suited to do that. She’s also a prolific author with several books currently available and more on the way.

Alexandra Holzer is available for radio, internet and television guest spots and print interviews. She is also available for Speaking Engagements. For more, visit

Bill Knell is a popular Speaker, Author and Consultant with eclectic interests. Best known for his Paranormal Research and Seminars, Bill also excels in the area of personal, business and financial advice and management. Featured in the Wall Street Journal, Omni, the L.A. Times, Toronto Star and NY Times; seen on CNN, NBC Nightly News, Fox Television and many Cable Networks; heard on Mancow, Bob and Tom and Howard Stern; consultant to films like Independence Day, Men in Black, the Fifth Element and World of the Worlds.

Friday The 13th, My Survival Story!

This past Friday I experienced quite the series of unusual events.  I am not a very superstitious person and I personally look forward to those special Fridays.  I always enjoy a good scary movies or to delve further into the paranormal… I really appreciate the supernatural on those days.  Well, I usually do all of those things anyways, but even more so on the 13th.  On this particular Friday the 13th my husband and I were driving west on the 401 when it really started to rain, monsoon like, and my husband mentioned what day it was.  As soon as he did an 18 wheeler nearly side swiped us.  If he didn’t slam on the breaks we would have been toast.  I do admit I screamed like a little girl!  My heart nearly jumped out of my throat.  First the crazy rainstorm and then the near death experience. OMG what was going to happen next!!!???  Well then we had to stop for gas so when hubby was pumping the octain our car started to roll.  I was a bit shaky from the prior incident that I was a bit delayed in popping the emergency break on.  My husband said I wanted to watch a horror movie, however, I did not want it in 4D lol!  I wonder if people who believe that Friday the 13th is negative actually amplify it’s detrimental effects.  It’s as though my husband was tuning in the bad vibes to actually cause almost harmful things to occure.  Thank the Lord I was there to cancel the negative energy!  We were very lucky to walk away without a scratch.    


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