A nearly century-old tradition amongst European couples has slowly made its way across the Atlantic Ocean — and across the Missouri River at Yankton.
Since the Meridian Bridge was opened as a pedestrian bridge in 2011, padlocks — known as “love locks” — bearing the names of couples have been appearing on fencing along the bridge’s decks.
Yankton Parks and Recreation director Todd Larson said he’d become aware of the trend before the bridge’s closure.
“We’ve had some people that traveled to Europe and come back that have told me about it even before Meridian Bridge had opened up to pedestrian traffic,” Larson said. “Once it opened up to pedestrian traffic, the word kind of spread. Basically people take a padlock, write in permanent marker names or initials of the person that they love, lock the padlock onto the bridge and toss the key into the river.”
Larson was unaware if any other bridges or structures in the area have become popular locations for the locks.
The story of love locks dates back to the Serbian town of Vrnjacka Banja. The tale recounts a romance between a school teacher and a Serb soldier who, upon the fall of Serbia, married a local Greek woman instead. The teacher eventually died alone and heartbroken. In an effort to avoid the same fate, young girls in the town took to placing padlocks symbolic of their love on area bridges.
Kenny Kopetsky, general manager of the ACE Hardware stores on Broadway and downtown, said there’s been a noticeable uptick in sales as a result of the love lock trend.
“The downtown (location) has said they’ve seen a few more (padlock sales),” Kopetsky said. “When people are checking out, they’ll mention they’re buying it to put it on the bridge.”
Kopetsky said the store has seen a nearly 20 percent increase in lock sales.
With the rise in popularity, some controversy has arisen in Europe. Some cities have faced backlash for removing the locks from bridges. One popular spot for love locks in Paris — the Pont des Arts bridge — suffered a partial parapet collapse last month due to the weight of the locks attached to it.
In Yankton, Larson said while adding locks to the bridge is welcome, part of the tradition is discouraged due to the river’s status.
“The story that I hear is that you’re supposed to toss the key over the bridge into the water, which we — the Parks Department — don’t advocate whatsoever because of the river and the National Park Service and its designation,” he said. “If people are doing it, we hope they’re throwing the key away in one of our trash cans and not over the railing and into the river.”
He added that action will only be needed on the locks if it becomes necessary in the future.
“We don’t mind them,” he said. “If at some point we get a lot of complaints about them or they become unsightly, then we may have to cut off what’s there. I don’t know that we could stop the effort and we don’t want to put up more signs than we have to.”
To date, Larson said he only recalls receiving one complaint about the locks that compared them to vandalism.
Kopetsky said he sees the trend continuing to grow as word spreads.
“When you walk by them, it’s certainly a cool trend,” he said. “We’re probably in the infancy stages of what it will grow to as well.”