Most roadside attractions promise to wow you with superlatives—“the world’s largest this” or “the country’s oddest collection of that.” The Shoe Tree makes no such guarantees. Commonly attributed to Mitchell—the spectacle is actually a good 20 miles east of the town—it easily catches your eye since it’s the only sign of human existence beyond the rare vehicle headed the opposite direction. No one really seems to know its significance, or if there is any. Could the tree be the rural version of sneakers tossed over a power line in tribute to the dead? Did someone just decide to ditch their footwear along Highway 26 in the most dramatic way possible, like a frustrated Reese Witherspoon in Wild? Tough to say. But what I can report is that what looks quirky and fun while whizzing by is deeply creepy up close. As you stare at shoes dangling in the wind, with hundreds collapsed in a heap surrounding the trunk, it’s easy to become convinced these are actually souvenirs amassed by a serial killer, and you’re now inches away from his trophy case. Tread carefully.
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