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Valentine’s Day memories: Love locks can be found in Harpers Ferry

By Staff | Feb 7, 2019

Couples walk across the bridge in Harpers Ferry, passing love locks attached to the fencing along the bridge's edge. Toni Milbourne

HARPERS FERRY — Around the world, couples celebrate their love on Valentine’s Day in a variety of ways. While to many, Valentine’s Day means a nice dinner with roses and chocolate, to others, Valentine’s Day may mean a diamond ring or, in some cases, a love lock.

The idea of love locks is a long-lasting one. A couple crosses a bridge, puts a padlock on a section of the bridge and dramatically hurls the keys to the lock into the body of water beneath the bridge. The lock, representing their love, will remain for all of eternity.

Research indicates the idea of love locks dates back before World War I. In a town called Vrnjacka Banja in Serbia, allegedly a young man and woman fell in love and met every night at the Most Ljubavi Bridge in the town. According to the story, the young man went off to fight in World War I and fell in love with another. His first love died of heartbreak and other local women, feeding superstitions, began writing their names and those of their lovers on padlocks and attaching them to the bridge where the fated lovers met.

The popularity of the practice surged again around 2006, when Italian writer Federico Moccia penned “I Want You,” featuring a couple who put a love lock on a lamp post on Rome’s Ponte Milvio bridge. The book was turned into a movie, which led to people putting locks all over the Rome bridge.

The tradition traveled to Asia and the rest of Europe where, in Paris, the problem escalated with the massive amounts of locks placed on the Pont des Arts bridge, causing parts of the fencing along the bridge to collapse under the weight of the metal.

The Pont des Arts bridge, which eventually was covered with more than 700,000 locks, saw continued deterioration in the fencing where the locks were attached, and in 2015 all of the locks were removed. The total weight was estimated to weigh about 45 tons.

Despite the problems related to love locks being attached to bridges, the practice has also spread to the United States. In Jefferson County, the most popular bridge on which to place love locks is along the walking bridge over the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry. While the number of love locks placed on this bridge is not as excessive as in other places around the world, the problem could get similarly out of hand if the National Park Service did not regularly remove the locks.

According to NPS rangers, the locks are cut off the bridge on a regular basis; however, individuals continue to keep up the practice, carving or writing their names in permanent marker and attaching their locks as a symbol of their unending love.

Locks of all sizes and shapes can also be found along the walkway heading from Harpers Ferry to the towpath. Some are shiny and new, while others are rusted with age, as they hang up high or far out over the water, where it is difficult for the NPS to remove them.

Since the practice can cause structural damage as extensive as on the Pont des Arts bridge, it is often viewed as a type of unsightly vandalism warranting removal. Many areas have made the act illegal and have posted signage to that affect. No signage can be found in Harpers Ferry. However, couples should not be surprised if they return to the site of their commitment to true love, to find their lock removed.