As cars and trucks whiz by below at 70 miles per hour, the new American Tobacco Trail bridge spanning Interstate 40 might not seem like the most romantic place.
But love, as they say, knows no bounds, nor do proclamations of special attachments.
The craze of latching padlocks to some of the world’s most iconic bridges – symbolizing a couple’s hope of being locked in love forever – has come to Durham.
Gold locks. Silver locks. Colorful ones and rusted ones. Some hang in groups. Others are intertwined.
The keys are gone, but the messages of a moment endure – that is until a city maintenance crew spots them.
On four pink locks latched to the mesh fence on the eastern side of the 270-foot bicycle and pedestrian bridge, “K & B” left a mystery about the blank pink lock hanging with the other three. Why was it left blank? Is a third initial on the way?
On another padlock, a couple found clever use of a Master logo announcing: “Sandra and David Master the world.”
As in other cities where the locks have appeared, Durham, too, knows love can be a weighty thing.
In Paris this summer, part of the parapet of the Pont des Arts bridge over the Seine River collapsed under the weight of the locks attached.
In Rome, when the city’s mayor introduced fines for anyone leaving a padlock on a Ponte Milvio lamppost over the Tiber River, critics accused the politician of “trampling on lovers’ rights.”
In Durham, maintenance crews remove the padlocks from the American Tobacco Trail bridge every few days, according to spokeswoman Beverly Thompson, who was surprised to learn of the trend of saying “I love you” with a padlock.
“They definitely pose a threat to safety of people placing them there,” Thompson said, “and especially to people driving on the highway should one get accidentally dropped from the bridge.”
Additionally, Thompson said, “the bridge was meant to be a visually pleasing gateway, and we wouldn’t want to see it defaced like this – similar to graffiti.”
Birth of a trend
There are different takes on the history of love padlocks.
Some claim the trend is rooted in a Serbian tale from the first World War and a broken engagement between a seamstress and a Serbian officer who went off to war in Greece and fell in love with a beautiful Greek woman. The seamstress never got over her lost love and died, leaving other girls in Vrnjacka Banja, the spa town along the Vrnjacka River, determined to proclaim their loves on the pedestrian bridge that once served as a meeting place for the former lovers.
The more popular story, though, is that padlocks began to show up on the iconic bridges of Europe after the book “I Want You” by Italian author Federico Moccia was made into a film in 2012.
The hero of that story persuaded a potential girlfriend that if they wrapped a lock and chain around the third lamppost of the northern side of the Ponte Milvio in Rome and then threw the key in the Tiber River below their love would endure.
The locks then started showing up in Paris; Cologne, Germany; Florence, Italy; Dublin, Vancouver Island, Canada; Algiers, Algeria; New York and other cities.
Wikipedia lists no such places in North Carolina, though such public displays of affection might not have gained the attention of the masses. The closest thing in North Carolina, perhaps, is a fence in downtown Wilmington where people have left thousands of keys, following the lead of an artist who started the trend.
The locks on the Tobacco Trail bridge brought mixed reaction Monday, when many people were out riding bikes and taking long walks on their holiday from work.
“I love it,” said Rachel Meyden, a Durham resident who noticed the statements of love for the first time Monday while walking with her husband and children. “It’s so cute that people started doing this.”
Bob Stroh, a resident of Charlottesville, Va., who was visiting his younger sister, Susan Wells of Durham, could see the romance in the rite.
“If it means something to them, and it’s not hurting anything, I think it’s great to do this,” Stroh said. “It’s not like they’re putting chewing gum up there.”
But siblings do not always agree, and Wells, who works in a public building, said she thought the love locks had the potential to be dangerous and become an eyesore.
Wells said she hoped people would attach themselves to her philosophy about how to visit national parks and other public beauties of the world.
“It should be footprints and memories,” she said. “Leave nothing behind.”