The old tree had so many shoes it just didn't know what to do

February 07, 1992|By Tom Keyser

When Troy Rohrbaugh was a freshman at Johns Hopkins University, he asked the same question he is being asked now: Why are all the shoes in the tree?

"And this is what I was told," said Mr. Rohrbaugh, now a senior, . . . Fraternity brothers were always forgetting things, and they'd yell to their roommates to throw them stuff out the window. One time somebody threw down a pair of shoes and it got wrapped around a limb.

"From then on, any time you wore out a pair of shoes, or your roommate had really smelly feet with a tendency to leave his shoes laying around, they'd end up on the tree."

The tree is outside the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity house at 33rd and St. Paul streets just east of the Hopkins campus.

Mr. Rohrbaugh, fraternity president, believes the tree may be an elm, but he's not sure.

What's certain is that it's bare except for old sneakers hanging like Spanish moss from its limbs.

There must be 50 pairs up there, tied together by their shoelaces, and there were many more before a storm blew down a couple of the lower branches last year.

The lower branches always were the easiest targets.

"You get a technique after you've been here," Mr. Rohrbaugh said.

"You can always tell a freshman or sophomore because he'll miss the tree three or four times, and when he finally hits it it won't wrap around," he said.

"Real pros get it in one shot," Mr. Rohrbaugh added."

The fraternity moved into the brick building about 1980, Mr. Rohrbaugh said, and that year or the next the first shoes got snagged in the tree.

Since then, brothers have flung them up from the ground, or tossed them down from a third-floor porch.

The real smelly ones got tossed from the porch onto the high branches, where even the most daring jock with stinking feet could not retrieve them.

Destitute people fish the shoes from the lower limbs with a stick.

Mr. Rohrbaugh said word apparently spread throughout the city that shoes hang outside like prizes at a carnival.

"We consider it our free-shoe tree for the homeless," he said. "We figure that's our charity."

Nobody has ever complained about the shoes, Mr. Rohrbaugh (( said, although a woman from the neighborhood once heaved her vacuum cleaner and hose over a low branch.

"I thought that was your place for disposal," the woman muttered.

"I think she was trying to make a point," Mr. Rohrbaugh said.

Mr. Rohrbaugh expects to graduate this spring with a degree in political science. He plans to donate one last pair -- his fifth or sixth.

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