March 16, 2013

Maine romantics latch on to love lock idea

Dozens of locks on a waterfront fence in Portland attest to devotion and to the spread of an international custom.

By Tom Bell
Staff Writer

The "love padlocks" are strung along a chain-link fence on Portland's waterfront, names and proclamations of adoration scrawled on them: "Becky and Clint." "I (heart) Kate + she (heart) me." "Dick + Nez." "Greg + Cabo."

click image to enlarge

Padlocks bearing messages of love began to be placed on a Commercial Street fence on Feb. 13, and by Friday numbered 47. The practice appears to have started in Europe.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Sarah Rengold and her boyfriend Erik Born from Virginia read messages written on padlocks hung on a waterfront fence in Portland. Love locks also appear on bridges and fences in Paris, Moscow, New York City and elsewhere.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

They started showing up Feb. 13, when an alcohol-assisted discussion at Gritty McDuff's among three women led to a spur-of-the-moment decision to buy padlocks at Maine Hardware and attach them to the fence on Commercial Street.

"We planted a little seed in the name of fun -- and love -- but we don't feel we should take credit for what it's grown into," said Kristel Hayes, a 40-year-old social media consultant.

That evening, the night before Valentine's Day, she wrote her name on the first lock, along with those of her husband, Scott, and the couple's two dogs, Capa and Dora, and secured it to the fence.

Although tradition calls for throwing the key into a nearby body of water or over a cliff, Hayes disposed of her key in the trash, an environmentally conscious gesture, although somewhat lacking in romantic flair.

With that, the "love padlocks" contagion that has spread across the world has finally reached Maine's shores. Like an invasive species, the padlocks in Portland are multiplying. Forty-seven of them were locked to the fence as of Friday.

In the past several years, outbreaks have popped up all over the planet, including fences and bridges in Paris and Tokyo, Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City and Mount Huang, China.

Nobody knows who started this or where, although it appears to have begun in Europe in the early 2000s.

Hayes said she and the two other women, who wanted to stay anonymous, contacted their friends, and about a dozen other people joined them at the fence with their own padlocks, she said.

The fence is situated along the sidewalk between the Portland Lobster Co. and Long Wharf -- a high-profile spot for the city's summer tourists, she said.

Some of the locks appear to be dedicated to the memory of a single individual, such as "Prince," "Miss you Sally," "Momma," and "to Little Annie 6-9-01."

At some point, someone installed a small sign, "Fences of Love." Hayes said she has no idea who put up the sign, but she's thrilled that the project has taken on a life of its own.

Even with the sign, though, the padlocks are easy to miss. Most pedestrians on the sidewalk are oblivious to them.

Erik Born, 25, a high school physics teacher from Virginia, said the display could use more "diversity" in terms of color and the type of padlocks. The display is dominated by steel gray Master locks.

Still, he appreciates the concept.

"It's cool. You walk down the street and see something out of the ordinary," he said.

In Vladivostok, Russia, where padlocks are secured to a railing on an overlook above the city's famous port, couples purchase special heart-shaped locks and write the dates of their marriages on them.

In Paris, where cast-iron locks called cadenas d'amour are given as wedding gifts, many of the locks are upscale, including antique reproduction locks that require skeleton keys. Two bridges over the Seine River have been inundated with thousands of the love locks.

Make Love Locks, a company in Brooklyn, N.Y., produces custom-engraved anodized aluminum padlocks for $29.99 each.

The phenomenon is not universally loved, however.

In Paris, there have been complaints that they're ugly. And for some free-spirited Parisians who associate love with freedom, the padlocks imply that love is a prison.

Because of concerns over aesthetics and possible structural problems, local authorities in some cities have removed the love padlocks, including from the Humber Bridge in Toronto, Canada, and the Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence, Italy.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

A padlock dedicated to “Momma” joins the dozens of other locks on the Commercial Street fence.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Newlyweds in Vladivostok, Russia, place heart-shaped locks, with the date of their wedding, on a railing on a hillside overlooking the city’s harbor.

Tom Bell/Staff Writer


Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)