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Baby's Shoe Leather, Netherlands, 16th century
Photograph by Mitchell Feinberg
By Cathy Newman
The shoes of the dead have a life all their own. When Elizabeth Semmelhack, curator at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, first examined the brown leather 16th-century baby's shoe from the Netherlands, she had a revelation. "It was my epiphany shoe," she says. "I understood that I would never escape the wearer." Meaning she understood that the shoe was more than an object. A shoe—like a hat, or, to lesser extent, a glove—keeps the shape of and can conjure the person who owned it in a way that few possessions can. "When I held this baby's shoe, I thought to myself, Who was the kid who owned this? I realized it was something I would buy my daughter today."