As a catering supervisor at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden, Sara Cortina has crossed the Schenley Park Bridge often. She noticed the chain-linked fence adorned with metal locks, but thought it was “weird” and never thought twice about their meaning.
“I thought it was like one of those things where people stick their gum on a wall and somehow, other people start doing it, too,” Cortina, 26, said. “I’ve seen it at Kennywood.”
These European-inspired “love padlocks” have been accumulating over the past three years and can be found on several bridges throughout Pittsburgh, but are most concentrated on the Schenley Bridge in Oakland.
They are said to be inspired by Federico Moccia’s Italian novel, “I Want You,” which depicts a couple who secures a bicycle lock around a lamppost and tosses the key into the Tiber River as a symbol of their love.
Locks of all shapes, colors and sizes hang from top to bottom like Christmas ornaments in the center of the bridge’s fence at Schenley, and while they may not all be love locks, one definitely is.
Lisa Shuster and Joshua O’Malley clicked their silver Master Lock shut on May 27, 2012 – their wedding day. And though their Sharpie initials have faded to faint outlines, the lock remains.
The couple, who currently resides in San Francisco, chose to have their wedding in Pittsburgh because of family in the area.
Lisa learned of love padlocks from a blog by an author and her husband who traveled and worked extensively in Europe. They shared in one post how they made a tradition of adding a lock to bridges in the countries they have visited.
“For some reason, the idea stuck with me,” Lisa said, “When I saw the bridge leading to Schenley Park during one of our [wedding] planning trips [to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens], I thought it would be a fun idea.”
So, during their photography session before the ceremony, the O’Malleys fastened their lock to the bridge, and tossed the key over the fence and into Panther Hollow below.
“It’s kind of an industrial, steel-city version of carving our initials in a tree,” O’Malley said. “A very public declaration of our love and commitment to each other. Once we threw the keys away, there was no way to undo the lock. It had a permanence to it.”
Their wedding photographer, Kate Beard Miller, 32, of Bellevue, Pa., had not heard of the custom before, but had a lot of fun with it.
“It’s really a mini-ceremony in itself,” Miller said. “Being a sentimental person, I love that Lisa and Josh can come back to the Schenley Bridge someday and find their love lock. And I hope there will be many more locks there, like you’d find on the bridges throughout Europe.”
But Miller also hopes the locks will not be removed by local authorities as they recently have been in other countries.
“That’s like stealing someone’s coin out of a wishing well,” Miller said.
The locks, or more specifically, the rust they are developing, have been condemned by officials in Rome. On Sept. 10, thousands of them were removed with bolt cutters from the Ponte Milvio Bridge, according to the BBC. They also imposed a fine in 2007 that charges couples 50 euros if they are caught attaching a lock.
Dr. Channa Newman, a professor of global cultural studies at Point Park University, believes they should be cut down in cases such as Rome’s, where they pose a threat to the ancient infrastructure. But on chain-links such as Schenley’s, they’re harmless.
“One good thing about the trend is that it harks to love over any other value,” Newman said. “Love, and happiness, is what we should concentrate on.”
Richelle Szypulski of Point Park News Service is a senior mass communication and multimedia student from Lower Burrell, Pa. She currently interns with online fashion and culture magazine Front Row Monthly and is a college brand ambassador for ModCloth. She is also the social media and marketing coordinator for Tavern 245.
Note: The writer is still unaware of the statement the wads of chewed gum at Kennywood are intended to make.
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