Hidden objects like old newspapers, bottles, kids’ toys, gloves and shoes have been found in the walls and foundations of homes in Naperville during remodeling projects including homes in the Historic District. While some of the items were trapped in the walls by accident – say falling through a floorboard in the attic or placed there by children trying to keep something secret; some objects were intentionally placed in the walls to serve as a time capsule or talisman. Builders in the 20th Century might have left a coin or a newspaper to mark the date of construction, but in older homes the reason is much different.
Since the 1300s, builders have hidden objects, usually shoes, but also other personal items into the foundation or frames of new homes which acted as good luck and fertility charms and to ward off witches and ghosts. The practice is known all over the world, but is more common among British cultures. In America concealing shoes was widely practiced in New England and the Midwest from Colonial times through the mid-19th Century.
The most commonly concealed object is the shoe, usually a woman’s and usually just one. The nursery rhyme, “There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe” bespeaks to the idea that a hidden shoe in the house would bring fertility and good luck to the occupants. Concealed shoes have been found in frames above doors, windows and roofs, but most often in the foundations and walls of homes.
While recording the framework of the now demolished yellow house on the corner of Webster and Aurora (directly opposite of the Preemption House) I discovered a concealed shoe! A single ladies slipper was placed on the top of the Naperville quarried limestone foundation and beneath the 12” x 12” oak or walnut sill plate. It was definitely placed during construction. Who built the house and when is unknown, but research is ongoing – all indications now point to construction pre-1860s.