Hearth and sole;The big picture

7th May 1999 at 01:00
(Photograph) - It makes you wonder what Colonel Mahlon M Haines might have cooked up if he'd sold bras. But this flamboyant American millionaire and self-publicist extraordinaire made his fortune discovering that there's no business like shoe business. So outlandish was he in his approach to advertising that, the story goes, he strode up to an architect in 1947, handed him a high-topped work boot and told him: "Build me a house like this." The architect complied - although you can bet it was no mean feat - and the result can still be seen today in Hallam, Pennsylvania.

You can't miss it. Drive up Shoe House Road past the shoe mailbox, go through the boot-decorated fence and there it is: a giant white boot, every inch of it a playful paean to the glories of the humble but lucrative shoe. Look at every window and you'll see a stained-glass picture of a shoe. On the glazed front door you'll see a stained glass portrait of Haines - brandishing - yes, you guessed, a shoe. And lest Fido should feel left out, there's a shoe-shaped dog house next to it.

The Shoe House is 48ft long and 25ft high. A wooden-framed structure, it is covered with wire lath and coated with cement stucco. It is arranged on five mini-levels, containing three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room and kitchen. Haines never intended to live in his witty monstrosity. For a couple of years, the philanthropic eccentric invited elderly couples and honeymooners to stay for a weekend at his expense, throwing a maid, cook, chauffeur and car into the bargain.

Since Haines's death in 1962, it has been used on and off as a museum dedicated to the whimsical Colonel, and most recently as an ice-cream parlour.

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