Hooked Shoes and The Initiation of the Turn Shoe

Putt Mossman's newly designed shoe in 1927, that sported hooks on the inside edge of the points, was the beginning of a major revelation in the sport. What was to be a historic event of the 1927 World Tournament (Summer) was not without some resistance. This is described in a note hand written by Frank Stinson in the late 1970's. It is amazing, of all of us present day members that knew Frank, or had met him or even those who can recall the name - Frank Stinson was a participant in the 1927 World Tournament, he was there in person and an eye witness to the introduction of the hooked shoe.

"Putt Mossman invented first hooked shoe in 1927, I was one of many who used it. Other manufacturers were caught by surprise and tried to have it barred at the pre-tournament convention, but players voted to allow its use. Otto Swanstrom, president of Diamond Horseshoe Company stood and offered his shoes free to any player to use in the tournament with $100.00 extra going to the one winning the title. Of course, those using the new hooked shoe had a big advantage and C.C. Davis won 1st with them."

Those initial hooks were barely buttons compared to the hooks later designed by other shoemakers. In fact, Mossman shoes were nicknamed 'Cheeters'. For those who are enjoying the benefits of the tournament styled large hooked shoes, remember, it hasn't always been like that.

Another major change in our sport was the introduction of the turn shoe. As prominent as the turn shoe is today, especially in the championship classes, the turn shoe was not always the pitch of choice. As our sport began, the most common hold was with the forefinger across the tip of one heel calk. The other hold was the flip-flop shoe. The flip shoe had a draw back as it had to maintain a full revolution that allowed shoes to land calks down, or no score. That was the rule in those days. In fact, here is the exact wording from 1919: Section IV, SCORING RULES No. 4 A - Sacrifice Ringer. A sacrifice ringer is a ringer that has been cancelled by an opponent pitching a ringer on the first player's ringer. B. - Shoes alighting upside down - calks up - is a foul shoe and does not score.

Well that situation certainly was improved with the introduction of the turn shoe, specially the 1¼ turn. It does seem strange to think that the sport existed for quite some time before the turn shoe was part of the game, even by those players that had achieved the skills for world-class rankings. Part of the explanation, could be as simple as habits are hard to break, as illustrated in the following article written by D.D. Contrell.

For nearly 40 years Mr. (Frank) Jackson held his shoe in the way he describes as follows: 'I hold my shoes with my front finger around the heel calk, hold the shoe with the thumb and next two fingers, hold the shoe level with the little finger under the shoe and gauge the turn with my wrist.' This gave his shoe a 2-¾ turn. This was the way that practically every horseshoe pitcher of the older generation learned to hold his shoe. Mr. Jackson was the best ringer pitcher that ever used this hold.

However, in January, 1926, he decided if he was ever to win the World Championship again he must change his hold because with his old turn, he was not able to work the joint of his first finger fast enough and control his shoe well enough to get better than 55 per cent ringers, while pitchers using other holds were pitching a better per cent.

Only a few weeks before the National Tournament in St. Petersburg, Florida, which was held February 18, 1926, he changed his hold and began pitching 1 ¾ turn. The result of this change of hold was that Mr. Jackson again won the title of World Champion. His record in this tournament was 2028 ringers in 3278 shoes pitched, or 61.9 per cent ringers.

Frank Jackson, who is one of the charter inductees to the NHPA Hall of Fame, seemingly took his time to employ a turn shoe, but early in his career, did not have the advantage to see other players using the turn shoe or as some used to term it - the side shoe. So, who did perfect the turn shoe? Most history buffs will give the nod to George May of Akron, Ohio. The February 1924 issue of Farm & Fireside had an article interviewing George May. Here are exerts from that article and in George Mays own words, how he perfected the turn shoe.

"I was still a dub; I held my shoes wrong, and I was still practically a novice at the game, but I still surprised everyone by bringing the 1920 national championship back to Akron with me - also some mighty sore fingers. I held my shoe like any other dub who first starts to play."
You know how - calks down, with the index finger over the end of the right fork and the toe towards you. Several days of straight pitching in my awkward way had worn off a lot of skin on my right hand, so as soon as it healed up I started out trying to find a new way to hold the shoes so they wouldn't do so much damage. I changed my grip - turned the forks towards me, calks down, and griped the shoe by the right fork and threw it in somewhat the same manner.

It was about this same time that I discovered something about my new way of holding the shoe. If I held it a certain way it went through the air making exactly a one and one-quarter turn in flight, and landed with the forks toward the stake, making the chance for ringers 100 per cent - provided of course the shoe hit the stake.

"Somewhere in that hold was the secret of the 'open shoe', something horseshoe pitchers everywhere told me to try for but couldn't tell me how. It's really simple enough, though it took a long time and a lot of pitching to discover."

But here is another accounting that addresses the 'open shoe', and is even earlier than the days of George May. This short exerpt is from early-day (1927) writings of D.D. Contrell:

In 1907, the winter visitors to St. Petersburg, Florida began to amuse themselves by pitching horseshoes in the sand on a lot next to the Poinsettia Hotel on Central Avenue. There were two courts for horseshoe pitching and two courts for quoits. The pegs used for horseshoe pitching were 35 feet apart and three inches high above the grounds. Games were 21 points, ringers counting 3 points. First part of the winter season of 1909 and 1910, the courts were moved to the corner of Third Street and Second Avenue North, where the Park Cafeteria now stands and the latter part of the season to the vacant lot next to the Allison Hotel. No pitcher had up to that time heard of so controlling the delivery of a shoe so it would fall open toward the peg.

In the winter of 1909 on the lot side of the Allison Hotel, Dr. F.M. Robinson, Poughkeepsie, New York, and O.T. Battles, Chardon, Ohio as partners were playing a game with Frank Elliot, Rochester, N.Y. and another man. While the game was in progress, it was discovered while digging the shoes out of the sand that Robinson's shoes all came fork to the stake. This had not been previously noticed, even by the doctor himself. The other then began to question the doctor to find out how he did it, but he didn't know, other than it was natural to him to release his shoe so that it fell open towards the peg with a one and three-quarter turn.

From that time the other players began to practice holding their shoes on the side with the opening toward them and from them and by most conceivable way in order to try to control the shoe so it would fall open toward the peg for they said if the doctor's shoe naturally fell open toward the peg they could acquire the skill necessary to control the delivery of a shoe so it would fall open.

So now we see that the turn shoe had several introductions to our sport. The turn shoe had an impact each time. So much so, that many of the times earned documentation. What we today assume to always have been common to our game, just wasn't always the case. Even though notable pitchers had developed the turn shoe, that didn't mean the word had spread throughout the country. Or maybe, the old diehard player refused to let go of the 'spin-shoe' hold that they had used from their beginning.

Here is an interesting insert from our own Ed Quigley. Ed's account of the 'Spin Shoe' from the 1930's is testimony to the fact that the turn shoe was reinvented on many occasions, therefore more than one is to be credited with developing the turn shoe.

"Before the turn shoe was the Spin Shoe. The Spin Shoe was what the adults in my neighborhood pitched when horseshoe pitching was the national pastime, during the Depression years. The shoe was held with the tip of the index finger at the point of the shoe. The shoe was made to rotate rapidly in flight. There was no science involved and ringers were scarce too."

(This 1946 ad for Phoenix shoes is still featuring the 'Spin Hold)

At age seven in 1932, I couldn't get my index finger to the point of the shoe so I just held the shoe on the left side and it made a show ¾ turn in flight. Consequently, I was the first to pitch a turn shoe - in my neighborhood.

"It seems to me that in actuality, the various turns and flips were discovered and initiated simultaneously in various sections of the country."

Facts & Folklore Jottings

By Bob Dunn

Letters and input are being received. What is lacking, however, is input specific to the origin of the term 'Four Dead'. If you have a version, please send that to Bob Dunn, 6417 Georgia Ave No. Brooklyn Park, MN 55428. If you have any interesting story from the by-gone eras of our sport, write it up and mail it to me.