Ever notice those metal contraptions bookending the Faunce Steps? These masterpieces of metal-smithing are not simply ornamental. They have a name: boot scrapes. These simple items first gained popularity in 18th-century Europe, when wealthy pedestrians walked through muddy city streets cluttered with horse manure and sewage and then employed the scrape to avoid tracking filth into their homes. The French call boot scrapes decrottoirs, which literally translates to “excrement removers.” As a traditional New England town, and a metropolis in one of the original colonies, Providence boasts architecture with boot scrapes galore. Boot scrapes also lurk by Faunce House’s Waterman entrances, and near the doors of historic homes on College Hill.
Although boot scrapes tickle the fancies of antique dealers and historians alike, the modern pedestrian tends to overlook these artifacts. The odd modern pedestrian who does notice the boot scrape approaches it in a bewildered state.
Have no fear! We’ve reevaluated the boot scrape’s relevance in the modern world, and established the top five ways to usher these Brunonian boot scrapes into the 21st century.
1. An anchor for your Pilates exercise bands
Studies show that one should regularly perform activities that engage your hamstrings and glutes, and we all walk past Faunce each day, so why not incorporate the building and its regal boot scrapes into your workout regimen? Who needs the Nelly when you can do Pilates in front of everyone on the Main Green? By simply tying a Pilates exercise band around one of the building’s many boot scrapes, you can limber up in a matter of minutes. Can anyone say: stretching time?!
2. To cut your Blue Room sandwich in half
Don’t you just hate when your Blue Room sandwich isn’t cut all the way through? We feel you. Boot scrapes provide a quick and easy fix to this widespread Brunonian nuisance. Just step outside the door of Faunce House, place your Turkey-Ham-Provolone-Focaccia masterpiece on the boot scrape’s sharp edge, and VOILA! A perfectly symmetrical cut!
3. Croquet gates
Say you’re in a heated croquet match on the Main Green and suddenly, out of nowhere, Divest Coal replaces one of your deliberately placed gates with a notorious black balloon mid-play—the nerve! Is it time to pack up the mallets and leave? Absolutely not. Adapt to the situation at hand: use the boot scrapes as your substitute gates, and keep living the dream.
4. Bottle opener in desperate situations
We’ve all been there before. Main Green. Saturday night after dusk. A cold Woodchuck cider in hand, and no means of opening the beverage. Alas! Do you resort to using your teeth, or simply throwing the glass bottle against the ground and licking up the elixir’s sweet remains? Of course not — utilize the boot scrape’s divots and open that puppy up.
5. Paper football with two goalposts
We all need to de-stress after a long week of the College Hill grind. While this campus’ traditional recreational activities include sitting on the Main Green, playing ‘ping-pong’ in the dorm basements, and Punching In, there is incredible potential to incorporate even MORE boot scrapes into your collegiate lifestyle. Yeah, we went there. Providing an antique twist to an old game, boot scrapes function as the perfect goalposts for an intense Friday afternoon game of paper football. Crabcakes and paper football, that’s what Brown University does.
Of course, boot scrapes might also come in handy when it comes to their original intention: try giving your shoe a good scrape to remove snow or mud from the sole after traipsing around campus in the throes of winter. (We’re still hoping that a Brunonian boot scrape becomes the next victim of a yarn-bombing.)