The 60 or so metal padlocks hang from the cables strung between the supports of the Sandifur Bridge near Peaceful Valley. They offer a visual juxtaposition – the moving water contrasted with solid metal.
The locks vary. Some are utilitarian Master Lock brand behemoths. Others are frilly, painted affairs with scribbled notes of adoration. Names, dates, short messages. Most represent commitment.
“5-25-2015 to forever,” one says.
“7-12-15 Let your past make you stronger, not bitter,” another says.
“It’s a tangible way to signify your feelings,” said Debbie Peysar, a co-owner of LoveLocks, a Utah-based company that distributes specialty locks. “And it lets people know how special they are.”
Sandifur Bridge seems to be the only place in Spokane these locks have appeared, city spokesman Brian Coddington said.
But that could change. According to Peysar, her company sells as many as 10,000 locks a month. Peysar said she works with cities to find places where people can legally and safely lock down their love.
“We want to see this tradition grow and flourish, but we also want them to be put in places that are respectful, safe and legal,” Peysar said.
Peysar’s concerns about safety and legality are well-founded. In June, Parisian officials removed hundreds of thousands of locks from the Pont des Arts Bridge. The combined weight of the locks, which started appearing roughly five years ago, threatened the integrity and aesthetics of the historic bridge, according to news reports.
Technically, locking anything to a public right of way is a violation of Spokane city code, Coddington said. However, because the city hasn’t heard any complaints there are no plans to remove them.
“This hasn’t been raised as a big issue,” he said.
None of the locks hanging on the Sandifur Bridge are from LoveLock, although the company does have a representative in Coeur d’Alene. Peggy Rushing, the Coeur d’Alene-area representative, said she’s sold about 24 locks in the last six weeks.
The tradition of placing locks on bridges goes back at least 100 years to a Serbian folk story about the town of Vrnjacka Banja. According to the legend, a Serbian schoolteacher fell in love with a local soldier. While fighting in Greece during World War I, he fell for another woman and never returned. Brokenhearted, the teacher died shortly afterward.
In memory of her, and in the hopes of avoiding a similar fate, young women in the town started placing love locks on one of the city’s bridges, according to the New York Times. The keys are then tossed into the river.
Despite the dramatic origins, Rushing said the locks serve a simple purpose.
“The lock is more or less a memento for a special occasion,” she said.
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