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A Mystery Shoe Leads to a Sole-Searching Experience

June 23, 1985|DICK RORABACK | Times Staff Writer

Remember that shoe you lost? On Hobart, about three houses up from 2nd Street?

Well, you're not going to believe this, but somebody has found it. Not only that, he's willing, even eager, to return it.

No questions. No reward. All Marco Thorne asks is that you produce the shoe's mate. Just so he's sure that it's yours, you understand. You can't be too careful these days.

Thorne is not a petty man. Rather generous, actually. He just wants to be absolutely certain that the shoe falls into the proper hands--or feet, as the case may be.

Helpful Hints

He even supplies some clues to help you stake your claim. The owner of the shoe, he figures, is British or of British descent, likely from the Lake District. He or she is about 64 years old, possibly with a slight limp on the left side.

The shoe, by the way, was found in 1923.

In truth, it is a lovely little shoe, almost otherworldly. "A Pilgrim shoe!" thought Thorne, who was 9 years old when he found it.

Thorne and his classmates had been studying Colonial history at the grammar school on 2nd and Hobart--a school that still stands--and the lad had a lively imagination.

"I was living at 437 N. Harvard Blvd.," he recalled last week. "My usual way to school was to bicycle down Harvard, across Beverly Boulevard--it was only 2 years old then, just a dirt road--to 1st Street. Right on 1st, then left on Hobart.

"On this particular morning, I was riding merrily down Hobart when I saw the shoe, right in the middle of the road. I jumped off my bike, all excited, and picked it up. It was heavier than I'd thought. Then I saw it had a solid wooden bottom.

"We'd been studying about the Plymouth Colony and the Puritans, and the shoe was unlike anything I'd ever seen. I took it in to my teacher--a Miss Mernin--and proudly announced, 'Look! I've got a Pilgrim's shoe!'

" 'Nonsense,' said Miss Mernin. 'Where did you get it, Marco?'

"I said I'd found it on the street in front of the Shillinglaws' house. She told me to take it to Mrs. Henderson's office--the principal--and see if she couldn't find the owner.

"Miss Henderson was unimpressed too. She told me to take the shoe home, which was fine with me. I'd shown it to the other kids. Nobody was wildly excited; nobody claimed it. So I figured I'd done my part.

"Besides, I confess I'd become pretty attached to the little shoe.

"It was unusual; it was pretty. Above all, it was a mystery."

The shoe sits today in the Thornes' living room in San Diego, like something from a fairy tale, a Grimm reminder of a past populated by little people. It does that to you, the shoe; evokes a time when Ozma and Eeyore were a lot more real than Herbert Hoover or the Wobblies; when trolls lived under bridges and leprechauns danced on the green.

For a telltale instant, Thorne considered the leprechaun theory, then discarded it, coming down with a thud on the side of reality. "It's a child's shoe," he said firmly, decisively. "A small child, perhaps 2 years old."

Sturdy and Hand-Carved

True enough, if the shoe was ever worn by an elf, it was a blue-collar brownie. The sturdy, hand-carved wooden bottom, only 4 1/2 inches long, is reinforced by an iron plate, nailed on like a miniature horse shoe. High leather sides are attached to the sole by hand-hammered brass studs, while a black lacquered clasp secures the shoe over the tongue. The parts of the shoe that one would handle while putting it on--sides and tongue--are slightly scuffed. The shoe--a left one--definitely has been worn.

"By whom I don't know," said Thorne. "I've thought about it often. I've speculated that it might be a family keepsake that someone had

brought to school to show off--and lost, and got a good whipping. Then again, nobody at school had said he'd lost it. . . ."

Since it's a working-class shoe, might it not have been worn by the child of a domestic, a strapping Scot or Welsh girl just off the boat and earning her keep?

"Possibly," said Thorne. "It was a pretty middle-class neighborhood, but there were a few families who could afford help. . . ."

So the splendid if hypothetical colleen, on her half-day off, might have been taking her toddler for a walk down Hobart. The child would have complained that her foot hurt. . . .

"Why would she do that?"

Because of the nail just barely sticking up through the sole.

"What nail?"

Thorne pushed a finger into the shoe and shook his head. "Sixty-two years I've had the shoe and I've never noticed. But I see. The mother takes the shoe off, rubs the sore spot, forgets the shoe. . . ."

On the other hand, would it be likely that the child would hobble down the street Deedle-Dumpling-style, one shoe off and one shoe on . . . ?

The possibilities dwindle, but are not yet exhausted. There is the doll theory, for example. Even the dwende postulation. . . .

As a schoolboy, Thorne kept the shoe in a sack in his room, "but I often took it out, just to look at it. Once I took it to the Wilshire Branch Library. They fetched a few books, but in the end they couldn't trace the shoe.

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