Love Locks: An Old French Tradition in the Paris of the Plains
By Topher Wilson
“Paris of the Plains” is nothing if not the most flattering of possible nicknames a former Midwestern port town could hope to eventually come by—and Kansas City has earned it. Our city is a regional mecca of culture, art, and (perhaps best of all) romance. This tradition is perhaps never more apparent than during the most starry-eyed time of year ushered in by the Valentine’s Day season.
“Love locks” are a phenomenon with a relatively unclear origin story. For those unfamiliar with the custom, these are padlocks which couples attach to fences or bridges in order to symbolize their devotion. The key is thrown away and the couple’s initials are usually inscribed to represent a timelessness bond. The custom dates back at least a century, when a love story first told in post-WWI Serbia became popular and young ladies began affixing padlocks with the names of their loves on the bridge Most Ljubavi (the Bridge of Love). The tradition then spread throughout many notable bridges in Europe.
Known globally as a center romance, in no city did the tradition become more popular than in Paris, where the Pont des Arts, Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor, and Pont de l’Archevêché bridges became, quite literally, covered in love locks over the years. It became a mainstay of tourism in Paris with visiting lovers making a point to add their own love lock to the countless others—provided they could find an open space.
The Paris of the Plains has its own destination when it comes to this enduring tradition. Old Red Bridge has become locally known for its collection of love locks.
The bridge itself has a long history in the area and has gone through three incarnations. The first Red Bridge was built in 1859 by a Scottish immigrant and local stonemason George N. Todd. This original covered bridge was located a bit downstream from today’s, before pavement replaced wagon trails. Though the first bridge would not last, Todd’s choice to paint it red would endure. A tin bridge would replace the original wooden structure in 1892, again painted to match the bridge’s namesake. Finally, the bridge we know today was dedicated by Harry S. Truman in January of 1933 and was built of concrete, steel and—of course—red granite.
The Old Red Bridge’s aesthetic and long presence in the area have no doubt played a role in choosing it to bring this longtime Paris tradition to our own backdoor. However, unlike in the French capital, your own love locks are welcomed here. (New ones can be purchased at nearby Minor golf course clubhouse.)
In 2010 officials in Paris raised concerns over the incredible number of padlocks being added to iconic fixtures each year by visitors, worrying that the tradition was endangering the city’s architectural heritage. Many love locks around the city have since been removed and new ones prohibited (city of love indeed, right?). As sad as the defiling of these symbols of love might be, there is good news. Old Red Bridge is the perfect spot for locals to forgo the airfare and affix their own locks of everlasting love—without the worry that millions of tourists might ruin the fun a few years later.
Friday, February 12
Valentine’s Try It Night. Pottery art. Potter’s Obsession, 13035 Holmes Rd. Reservations. 816-941-2555.
Allied Saints. Music. Valentine’s dinner special offered. Murray’s, 12921 State Line Rd. 8 pm.
Kaopectones. Live music. The Daily Limit, 523 E. Red Bridge Rd. 8 pm.
Saturday, February 13
Cool Cats, the Rock and Roll Accordion Band. Kids music. Red Bridge Mid-Continent Library, 11140 Locust St. 2 pm.
YMCA Kids Night Out – Fun and games, swimming, Planet Sub dinner. Red Bridge YMCA, 11300 Holmes Rd. Ages 2-12. $15 – $30. 5:30 pm. Reservations necessary. 816-942-2020.
River Rock. Music. Valentine’s dinner special offered. Murray’s, 12921 State Line Rd. 8 pm.
Monday, February 15
Little Big Band Valentine’s Special. Big Band swing music with dinner. RC’s, 330 E 135 St. $20. Dinner, 5 pm. Dancing, 6:45. 942-4999.