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A Sole-Searching Response to the Story of the Missing Shoe

September 01, 1985|DICK RORABACK | Times Staff Writer

Stamps, one can understand. Coins. Baseball cards.

They're small, flat, engrossing and have an endearing way of vaulting in value over the years.

Not too many people, though, save old shoes.

Oh, Lou (The Toe) Groza, maybe, and the Old Lady With Too Many Children. Nancy Sinatra probably has a pair of old boots around, just for old times' sake, and Cinderella might still have a fetish for glass slippers.

Ordinary people, though, can take old shoes or leave them alone.

Except Marco Thorne. Not that Thorne is exactly ordinary. He's the San Diegan who found a distinctive little wood-and-leather clog on Los Angeles' Hobart Street back in 1923, sheltered the shoe for 62 years, then, in a very tardy crise de conscience, decided maybe he ought to return it to its owner--if he could find him or her.

Made in the Midlands

Enchanted by the shoe and fascinated by the scholarly if mercurial Mr. Thorne, The Times recounted the story on June 23.

And that, we thought, was the end of it.

Right church, wrong pew.

Considering that the clog (a toddler's shoe, really) was made only in the English Midlands, that the last one was turned out some 75 years ago, that even then most of the good folk who wore them were mill workers and their bairns--considering all this, you wouldn't believe how many people called or wrote about the shoe. In affluent Southern California. In 1985.

Together, The Times and Thorne fielded some two dozen letters, maybe 30 phone calls. (How many shoes or fanciers are loose on the streets, Lord only knows. We modestly assume that there are some folks out there who actually don't read The Times. Not that we know any. . . .)

And not that anyone actually wanted to claim Thorne's shoe. They just wanted to chat, to reminisce. Some people talk skiing, some talk gourmet, others talk old shoes. And one thing leads to another. . . .

Mae Matson of Anaheim "couldn't believe it when I saw the photo of Mr. Thorne's shoe. It's exactly like the one I wore, down to the number of nails."

Matson was born in 1907 in Lancashire, England, where "My father worked in the mill; my mother was a velvet weaver.

"They had seven sons in a row, so when I came along they had the family clog maker make me a pair in celebration.

"In my village, Heywood, people wore the clogs because of the cobblestones, which would wreck ordinary shoes. They were easier to walk in in the rain, too. Of course, I just heard this, because we went to Canada the year I was born.

"In Lancashire, my father was considered a peculiar little man, always wanting to better himself, so off we went to the 'New World.' They kept us on Ellis Island for a while--didn't think my folks were married. I never would have made the trip, at least not with eight children, but what a favor my father did us!

Off to Niagara Falls

"The clogs? Sure I wore them--in Canada, when I was small. Very comfortable if you wore thick socks. I knitted the legs and my mother the feet.

"We moved to Ohio--my brothers worked in the mines--but we didn't get along too well with the Germans, so it was off to Niagara Falls. That was too icy; Dad fell down a lot. He went to spend a winter in California and sent for us in 1921.

"We lived on Menita Avenue--it's Broadway now--and coincidentally, we had friends who lived in Mr. Thorne's neighborhood. Somewhere along the way, my mother lent out my shoes and only one got back. . . .

"No matter; I love that little shoe from Lancashire. Lancashire, oh my. It's a great place--to be from."

Marie Wilson of San Diego thought her shoes, in the family for generations and "at least 100 years old," came from the Orient.

Her grandfather, a Pennsylvania wallpaper manufacturer, traveled extensively, often to China, and never returned empty-handed. On the other hand, Grandfather, an Englishman, "used to say he loved the noise of children walking on the cobblestones in clogs.

"My father, I'm pretty sure, wore the shoes," said Mrs. Wilson, "and my grandmother saved everything, even my father's long curls.

"I have the shoes on the mantelpiece. I look at them whenever I dust, and I wonder about them.

"Among other things, I wonder what they're worth; I wonder whether I could go to the Greek Islands on these shoes. . . ."

Helen Prince of Newport Beach apologized for the condition of her single clog: "It had silver buckles at one time, but one of my grandchildren ate them."

The story of the Prince shoe gets a head start in 1852 "when my grandparents--Mormons--came across the plains and raised the first white twins in the state of Utah. My grandfather was quarrying stone for the temple in Salt Lake City when he died. His son--my uncle--finished the job, by placing the statue of the Angel Moroni on the top."

The family in time moved to Wyoming, where Helen's mother taught Sunday school. One of her pupils was Jimmie Kirkland.

"Jimmie died of the black measles. My mother went by to see what she could do, and Jimmie's mother gave her the shoe as a keepsake.

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