I've been told this many times (in the UK). It's even mentioned in a wikipedia article:

Some also say that shoes hanging from the wires advertise a local crack house where crack cocaine is used and sold

enter image description here

Is there any evidence that this is true? It seems to be a bit of an urban myth to me. The reference in the wikipedia article is a little....weak.

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    I've heard a variant of this in the US, more generally for drug dealers than for crack, specifically.
    – KChaloux
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 13:16
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    I may be missing something here, but why the heck would you want to announce that you are selling drugs, in a code so blindingly obvious that even Wikipedia knows about it? This seems ... unlikely.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 15:12
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    Given the general prevalence of 'crack houses', etc., there's possibly a good chance of one being "nearby" regardless of intention of any 'signal'. Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 23:03
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    If so, then every elementary school in the U.S. must be a crack den. Kids have been doing this here since the 1960's. Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 19:16
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    Before the days of poorly spelled text overlaid on images of cats, this type of behavior was the definition of a "meme".
    – RLH
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 11:43

2 Answers 2


Snopes.com includes it as a legend and includes a large number of other possible reasons with the most likely one is that most people do it because they think it looks cool.

All across the United States, you'll encounter discarded shoes hanging from wires, poles, and trees. Theories as to what these shoes signify abound, but, contrary to what one hears, there's no one right answer.

It's possible that some drug users might use it as a signal, but if so, they're going to be largely lost in the noise.

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    +1. I have also witnessed it used as a rather cruel prank: Steal the target's shoes, put them somewhere both visible and unreachable, target walks home in dirty socks.
    – Brian S
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 13:45
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    I've seen it at a camping site. Rather unlikely that there was a crack den hanging out in the tent next door. Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 14:35
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    The US Marines have a tradition of throwing boots onto power lines after their contract is over.
    – Jason
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 17:12
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    @Jason: That's mentioned in the Snopes article. Unfortunately, short of quoting the entire article, there's no real way to cover all of the bases. Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 19:01
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    @BrianS I'm under the impression that it is almost exclusively a cruel prank. After that, people do it to their old pair because they think it's cool.
    – user11643
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 23:09

Shoes (probably not those ones, specifically) mark a gang's turf. This practice is in decline, however gangs selling drugs, is not. Source, living in Chicago.

"It might appear to be a juvenile prank, but it's not," said Matt Smith, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation. "My experience is that it's somehow announcing the availability of drugs, not something we think should be out there."

Smith said his department works with the Chicago police to take down the shoes, acting on complaints referred from the city's 311 help and information line.

The city had 1,200 requests last year to remove gym shoes, balloons and other objects from wires, down from just over 3,000 in 2007, said Phillip Hampton, director of 311 services.

"We take those very seriously," Hampton said. "We enter the complaint, and we let the experts at Streets and Sanitation provide the follow-up."

Smith said the city tries to salvage part of the shoes, recycling them into the rubber strips that line public gardens.

"We haven't seen a lot of this," said Chicago Police spokeswoman Monique Bond. "It's something that has been seen in the past. It was termed 'old school.'"

A Chicago police source who worked in the gang unit for decades said the shoes can have different meanings depending on the neighborhood. A particular shoe might be a marker of drug sales, like a calling card or uniform.

-January 22, 2009|By Ofelia Casillas, TRIBUNE REPORTER and Tribune reporter Angela Rozas contributed to this report. Urban Legends ... Or Real Threats

"Graffiti identifies gang territory, spooks rivals, and communicates messages from one gang member to another and from one gang to another. Another method that gangs use to mark out their territory is by draping a pair of tennis shoes that have been tied together by their laces over telephone wires or high in tree limbs. This can be done by the gang to mark its territory or by a rival gang to show disrespect of another gang's turf. The brand of shoe or color of shoe lace will denote the gang which has 'thrown the shoes.'"

-Into The Abyss: A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs, by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.Copyright © 2002 Michael K. Carlie

shoes on a wire, urbandictionary.com, (the only entry, +111, -68) Places where you see shoes that are thrown on a telephone wire indicate drug houses or places where you can purchase drugs. Hey, look, shoes on a wire! Finally we have found a place to buy drugs.

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    +1 on the source, but I would take this with a grain of salt Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 8:39
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    @Raystafarian What makes you doubt the genuiness these sources?
    – DBedrenko
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 9:23
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    @NewWorld the limited scope. This may have been true in that time period in that city, but I'm not so trusting of "official statements" (bias) e.g. California Police Chiefs Association's White Paper on Marijuana Dispensaries. Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 10:01
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    I'd reckon that this is sort of like the "handkerchief code" that used to be legendary in San Francisco in that there's some small subset of people using it for the purpose, probably because they've heard from others that's what it signifies, and a larger number of people who are doing it for unrelated reasons, just wearing a handkerchief in their back pocket because they might want to blow their nose. Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 14:59
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    And just to be clear, the practice/prank of throwing someones sneakers over a telephone wire has been widespread since the 60's. That someone somewhere may have once also used it to indicate something else would be an undetectable signal lost in the noise of this ubiquitous prank. 99.9% of the time this indicates the presence of children and nothing more. Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 19:26

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