Sole Survivors

They are the feet of the reporter who exposed Jim Garrison as a fraud in the persecution of Clay Shaw, cofounded the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society and continue to walk up and down the steep stairs of Faulkner’s former digs, now a bookstore run with her husband, Joe. Rosemary James has feet made for reporting as well as walking. Like James, those feet have stories to tell.

In 1964, The New Orleans States-Item assigned James to cover a Lady Bird Johnson whistle-stop blitz by train covering eight southern states. During her interview with the First Lady on the “Lady Bird Special” between Biloxi and New Orleans, James wore “my best dress of modest length, a good string of pearls and high-heeled pumps.”

“The pumps, which I previously had only worn for a dinner date, were rubbing blisters on my toes and heels. [By the time the train arrived in New Orleans], I wanted to cut my feet off they hurt so bad,” says James. She persevered following Lady Bird, who had been met by her significant other for a short ride to the Jung Hotel where President Johnson gave a speech.

Off the train and off came the shoes for a barefoot walk out of the train station. James had to put her feet back into her instruments of torture to get past security at the Jung. Once inside the hotel and firmly seated at the press table, off again came the shoes. After the speech, James walked out barefoot, leaving the shoes under the table. The Jung is now undergoing renovation. If developer Joseph Jaeger searches all the nooks and crannies in that old ballroom, he just might find those pumps of torture.

“The best ticket for blisters is an ill-fitting shoe,” says Dr. Field Ogden, a New Orleans orthopedist known for his expertise in treating complex foot problems. “A woman can wear a four-inch heel all day if the shoe is the correct fit and broken in.”

The human foot is a biomechanical wonder of 26 bones and 100-plus tendons, ligaments and muscles all hooked up to a blood transport network of arteries, capillaries and veins. While feet were made for walking, standing, jumping and running, more things that can go wrong with our lower appendages than there are recipes for gumbo.

Arthritis, diabetes, gout and vascular disease can cause specific foot problems. Sprains, strains, fractures and bruises are other common factors that disrupt foot comfort and functioning. The most important cofactor in causing foot problems, as well as aggravating other foot disorders, is improper shoe choices.

Good footware cushion and support for stability and motion control. Like Gaul, shoes can be divided into three groups. Casual sneakers and athletic shoes are the most foot friendly. The second group comprises what most sensible folks wear, with hard leather or rubber soles or work boots. And the third general group is those lacking sound support and structure; high-heeled shoes, sandals and slippers that are most likely to cause foot problems when worn or years later.

Trying on new shoes just sitting down isn’t a good idea. Feet change shape with standing. The arch flattens and the foot becomes both longer and wider. And getting fitted for the right sized shoe is as much an art as a science, as shoe sizes often vary by brand.
Bunions are prime examples of what happens over time when people crowd their toes into ill-fitting and tight shoes. A cramped big toe bends in towards the smaller toes. Over time, the boney protrusion known as the bunion develops. The smaller toes shift direction and size, becoming deformed into hammertoes and claw toes. Distorted toe alignment fuels foot pain, corns and calluses.

High heels and pinched-in toe compartments are the leading contributors to bunion formation, explaining why women are more affected. But flat feet or wearing shoes that are too narrow are bunion risk factors among men, and there’s also a strong genetic component that breeds bunions.

In a move from high heels at press conferences to footwear for gardening, I contacted Jim Delery, a community activist and urban farmer blooming with stories of splinters, thorns, glass chards, nails and little pieces of gravel in shoes.

“My feet get sore. I work constantly in my gardens and farm on what I call mud rocks, dried soil especially clay formed by tilling. It is difficult to find a lightweight cooler shoe with hard soles preventing the balls of my feet from getting sore. This might be why old farmers wear those funky looking old boots,” says Delery.

“I recommend heavy socks, the short runner ones. Wal-Mart seems to have the best thick sole heavy cotton sockletts. I also find buying a longer shoe, one to two sizes up, gives a better bend and spreading the impact of each step with less toe cramp.

“If you’re one of those who like those little thin sole loafers, the expensive designer type, remember good socks can be you friend. When buying shoes or work boots bring the type of sock you expect to wear with that shoe type to insure a good comfortable fit,” says Delery.

“Thick cotton socks can help prevent blisters,” said Dr. Ogden. “Cheap shoes a size or two larger with thick socks might be a short term solution, but a good quality leather shoe is your best bet in the long run. Over time, shoes with leather uppers of the correct size will stretch to your individual foot. Wet leather in particular stretches. Plastic, vinyl and nylon will not stretch even with heat. They just melt. And runners who wear oversized shoes are more prone to stress fractures.”


Rosemary James’ remembrances of her aching feet related to a 1964 train ride with Lady Bird Johnson and press coverage of a speech by President Johnson in New Orleans were extensively edited for this column. The entire dispatch is available at


Plantar Fasciitis & Heel Spurs “Plantar fasciitis is the common cause of foot pain,” says Dr. Field Ogden, a New Orleans orthopedist known for his expertise in treating complex foot problems. The plantar fascia is a flat piece of gristle under the foot connecting the heel to the front of the foot and supports the arch. Too much pressure or wear and tear of this fascia causes the tissue irritation and heel pain known as plantar fasciitis.  

The good news about plantar fasciitis is that simple treating techniques, including stretching exercises and time, heal most heels. When plantar fasciitis is especially severe or turns chronic, lasting over a year or two, it’s time to see a specialist. A steroid injection into the area of irritated fascia often helps. Shoe supports, heel pads and night splints are other tools in the trick bag to help treat plantar fasciitis.

Tiny boney outgrowths from the heel, termed heel spurs, are common radiographic findings unrelated to plantar fasciitis. According to Ogden, routine surgery to remove heel spurs is obsolete and almost always unnecessary. A recommendation for surgery to remove a heel spur signals the need for a second opinion. In very rare cases there are some surgical techniques that have a good track record, but surgery should never be the initial recommendation.




Digital Sponsors

Become a sponsor ...

Sign up for our FREE

New Orleans Magazine email newsletter

Get the the best in New Orleans dining, shopping, events and more delivered to your inbox.