Usually when you hear “locks of love” you think of donated braids being sent off to help those battling cancer, but perhaps you stumbled upon a different manifestation while traveling abroad — the hundreds upon hundreds of locks bearing lovers’ names, forever secured on the railing of a bridge, their keys resting on the bed of the river below. A public display of affection

This grand romantic gesture dates back over 100 years ago to a rather melancholy Serbian tale of World War 1 lovers who used to meet on a bridge “Most Ljubavi” (lit. the Bridge of Love.) Nada, a schoolmistress, fell in love with a Serbian war officer named Relja and the two committed to each other promises of eternal love. When the war took Relja away to Greece, he fell in love with another woman and broke off his engagement to Nada, who sadly never recovered from the devastating loss. Young girls from the village who wanted to protect their own loves lest they suffer Nada’s fate, began writing down their names and the names of their beloveds on padlocks, affixing them to the railings of the bridge.

This tradition did not spread to the rest of Europe until the early 2000’s, with the reasoning behind each appearance varying between locations. Particularly famous instances include: the Ponte Milvio in Rome, which can be attributed to the book (and later, the film) I Want You by Federico Moccia; the Via Dell’Amore, a path connecting the towns of Manarola and Riomaggiore in the Cinque Terre; and the Pont de l’Archevêché in Paris. You may be surprised to know that you can also find love padlocks in many of our major cities across the United States as well. Next time you cross the Oletangy bikeway in Columbus, or the “Purple People Bridge” in Cincinnati, see how many you can spot.

I was quite surprised to recently noticed a handful of locks secured to the Harmar Train Bridge, seemingly placed there by recent graduates. No more than a few days later, I spotted a handful more– including several lovers’ locks, keys forever lost to the Muskingum River below. Ever the romantic, I am quite fond of this timeless tradition – though I do not wish to see them overtake the bridge completely. Still, they are quite charming.