Originally created 05/05/04

Wooden shoes come out of closet for fest



HOLLAND, Mich. - What do the Holland High School marching band, small planters, an electrical engineer in New Orleans and a French revolt against mechanization have in common?

The answer: wooden shoes.

For many Holland residents, the Dutch footwear - known as klompen in the Netherlands - is as much an icon as windmills and tulips. For many, such as 18-year-old Rachael Perez, Tulip Time means an opportunity to step into those wooden shoes and celebrate.

"Some people like to wear them just because it's Tulip Time season. You'll see them walking around downtown in costumes with their families," the Holland High Dutch Dancer said. "It's a Holland thing to do."

Kurt Freeman, the vice president of DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delftware Factory said there's more to klompen than dancing.

"A lot of people are claiming that they're going to be using them for gardening," Mr. Freeman said Monday. "I have an electrical engineer in New Orleans who wears them."

The wooden shoe was developed to accommodate a leather shortage during the late Dark Ages. The footwear was worn throughout Europe and became popular in Holland because it was hardy, reasonably comfortable and well adapted to the wet, rainy land, said Jim Riemersma.

"There were one or two master carvers from each village or region who would carve the shoes from logs," Mr. Riemersma said.

Wooden shoes were made from poplar or willow trees, he said.

Today, they are made en masse on machines. The Netherlands turn out about 3 million pairs each year, Mr. Riemersma said.