Mysterious. Absurd. Maybe threatening. Shoes on power lines have been rumored to mean anything from a gang sign for owned turf to helpful objects meant to warn low-flying aircraft pilots of power lines nearby. Whatever the reason, shoes end up on power lines in neighborhoods across America.

The Bullying Explanation

Regardless of what they mean, one can safely assume that shoes made it onto a power line by being tossed up there. Snopes.com suggests that a dangling pair of sneakers is simply the result of severe bullying. Once a bully corners a victim, he could rough him up, steal his shoes and fling them up around a power line for extra humiliation.

History of Shoe Tossing

Snopes.com also suggests that the origin of sneaker tossing may lie in a military rite of passage. Apparently, once basic training is completed, a new officer will toss his old boots over a power line to signify the end of training and new beginning as an officer. This also relates to the idea that kids toss their shoes on the last day of school as another symbolic rite of passage.

Urban Legend

Perhaps the most popular urban legend about the meaning of sneakers on power lines is that they symbolize a nearby crack house, crack dealer, or gang. The phenomenon of shoes on power lines was first noticed in urban, poverty-stricken areas where crime levels were high, leading some to assume that the shoes were related to gang or drug activity. This theory is not backed by credible evidence. As time has passed, shoes can be seen on power lines in suburbs, rural areas and bustling cities.

Ongoing Speculation

Whatever the meaning, shoes on power lines are striking and entertaining. They make us suddenly notice our surroundings, wonder how the shoes got up there and what they mean. While there are several theories as to what shoes on power lines really symbolize, there is no simple or single answer.

Danger to Power Lines

Although the reasons for hanging shoes on power lines vary, it's a good idea to not toss a pair up yourself. In the article "What Do Shoes on Power Lines Mean," Angie Larsen reports that although the event seems like a harmless act of vandalism, the weight of the shoes can cause dangerous conditions. If a power line is old and worn, a pair of sneakers could make it snap.