No one will confuse BREC’s Marvin A. Britt Memorial Bridge for the Pont des Arts, largely because the latter is in Paris, and the headwaters of Bayou Duplantier are not quite as iconic as the Seine.
Yet, as Valentine’s Day approaches, the bridges have this in common: For some, they are the place to declare one’s undying love. With a padlock.
On the vertical metal bars and handrail supports of the walking path bridge near the intersection of Stanford Avenue and West Lakeshore Drive, couples are placing padlocks inscribed with their names or initials. About 70 of them are there, a number that has slowly grown since at least Oct. 20, 2013, based on the date written on one such lock, otherwise inscribed “SBªRK.”
While this pales in comparison with the quantity of locks affixed to numerous bridges worldwide, let it never be said that Baton Rouge lacks a place for quirky, kitschy expressions of affection. Some of the locks attached to the local love bridge were designed and sold for that very purpose. (Another, with a sticker that reads “Thank you for storing with us,” clearly was not.)
But who are we to judge others’ expressions of love?
Making bridge railings the place to declare the permanence of one’s devotion seems to have begun roughly a century ago in Vrnjacka Banja, Serbia, where a local schoolteacher and a Serbian soldier would meet at Most Ljubavi (literally, “Bridge of Love). During World War I, the soldier was sent to fight in Greece, where he gave his heart to another, and his former fiancée later died, supposedly from heartbreak. Young women began writing their names and those of their loved ones on locks and attaching them to the bridge railings, hoping to avert such a tragic fate.
This took a while to spread — Facebook and Instagram not having come along, yet — but other European cities began catching on when the 21st Century began, and the trend has spread to North America, most prolifically at the Brooklyn Bridge, which allows pedestrian as well as vehicular traffic. Part of the tradition is for couples to snap the padlock in place, then throw the key into the water to symbolize eternal commitment. (One assumes it is considered bad form to return with a magnet at the end of a fishing line should doubts ensue.)
However, while love may know no limits, the same cannot be said about bridges. So many were attached to the Pont des Arts in Paris that the railing collapsed under their weight on June 9, 2014. Some municipalities have removed locks, only to see them quickly replaced by others.
There aren’t so many on the local Britt bridge to threaten damage. Most of them are locked on where the handrails are attached to the parapet.
The vertical bars have no crosspieces, so the only other option is to attach locks to those bars at the bottom, and a few locks are there. Most are on the more scenic University Lake side of the bridge.
While the vast majority of the locks celebrate the love we celebrate on Valentine’s Day, one stands out for its poignancy: “Alexis 1953-1990.” Truly, some love never dies.