Do you know the story about the old woman who lived in a shoe? Most people remember that she had a lot of children, or that she had a tendency to spank them before bedtime. Mahlon Haines, on the other hand, must have spent a lot of time thinking about that shoe. In fact, Mahlon Haines spent most of his time thinking about shoes. After all, he was known as the “Shoe Wizard of York.” But before he was the Shoe Wizard, Mahlon Haines was a young man ‘just trying to get his foot in the door’ . . .
Mahlon Nathaniel Haines was born in Old Washington, Ohio on March 5, 1875. His father died when he was only a few months old, and Haines spent most of his youth working at his mother’s department store in Washington, D.C. Elizabeth Haines ran the largest American department store owned and operated by a woman, and the profits from its success helped to pay for Haines’ education. Haines decided to attend Maryland Agricultural College (now known as the University of Maryland). He enrolled in classes in 1892, and became a corporal in the campus military organization. He studied at the college until the spring of 1894.
After leaving Maryland Agricultural College, Haines established his own store on a ’shoestring budget’. What was for sale? Shoes, of course. He put his heart and ’sole’ into the business, and soon expanded it into a string of more than 40 stores that stretched across Pennsylvania and northern Maryland. Haines knew the benefit of good advertising, and enjoyed pulling off gimmicks to attract attention. He sold some of his shoes for 98₵ per pair. He also bought a Ford car, outfitted it as a shoe store on wheels, and sent it around the countryside to attract new customers. But by far his biggest promotion was still a few years in the making . . .
In 1948, Haines cobbled together his most ambitious scheme yet. He planned to build a house in the shape of a shoe as a massive advertisement for his business. Haines hired a local architect and builder to make his vision a reality. They built Shoe House – a wood frame structure covered in wire and cement stucco that was modeled after a high-topped work shoe. The building has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, and a living room. Every element reminds visitors of Haines’ business, from the shoe-themed stained glass windows to the shoe-shaped doghouse in the yard.
Haines lived in the house for a very short time before moving to another property. Instead, he hosted elderly couples and honeymooners in Shoe House. They were treated to a free weekend in the house, pampered with service from their own personal serving staff, and given free shoes to boot. Their experiences gave a whole new meaning to living in someone else’s shoes.
Haines was a very generous philanthropist, and supported many local organizations during his lifetime. He was proud of his many accomplishments, and enjoyed sharing his wealth with others. He passed away in October 1962, and left the Shoe House to his employees. The house has had several owners, and is now open as a museum dedicated to Haines’ life. What a ‘toetally’ awesome alum!
Photos of the Shoe House from: http://www.agilitynut.com/mim/shoes.html