My informant has a diverse familial background. Her maternal side of the family has been living in Pennsylvania for about 300 years, and is deeply entrenched in the Pennsylvania Dutch folkloric traditions. Her paternal family has come to America fairly recently – her grandparents emigrated from Italy shortly before her father was born.
One night, my informant came over to my apartment and immediately panicked because my roommate had her feet on the coffee table.
“In my house, putting shoes on a table means the worst possible luck, usually some kind of death. My dad’s exceptionally superstitious, but this is one of his most strongly held superstitions, so much so that after I go shopping, he confirms that there are no shoes in the shopping bags I place on our table.”
My informant had no idea where superstition originated, or what it meant. Out of curiosity, we looked it up, and found that this was an old mining superstition. When miners died while at work, in mining accidents, their shoes were brought back to their houses and placed on the table.
After hearing this, my informant exclaimed that this made perfect sense. Her town was primarily a mining community, and both of her grandfathers were miners. Her father probably grew up hearing this superstition, and without knowing exactly what it meant, he passed it on his own daughter, who continues to believe in it.