- Associated Press - Monday, February 13, 2017

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - An unlikely string of events led Kent State University student Ryan Schron, 21, and Clemence Besnard, a 23-year-old graduate student from France, to hang a padlock on the Schenley Bridge in Oakland.

Over Valentine’s Day weekend last year, Schron and Besnard hit it off at a bar in Ohio - at the time, she was an exchange student at The University of Akron. By Valentine’s Day, the two were dating, after knowing each other for just four days.

Over the summer, the couple drove to Pittsburgh to sightsee and visit Schron’s grandmother. While there, he hatched the idea of hanging a love lock, knowing there was a bridge by Phipps Conservatory dotted with hundreds, if not thousands, of locks.

“I thought it was cute,” Besnard laughed over the phone from Dinard, France. “It’s funny because he’s a guy and they’re not usually into all of that. Since it was the end of my stay in the U.S., it was symbolic.”

The lock is simple - chrome with a blue border at the bottom. On it, the two painted “R+C” in red acrylic paint. Beneath an early summer sunset, the couple from Ohio and France locked their love.

And they’re not the only ones.

The practice, which supposedly originated in Serbia during World War I, has become popular locally not only on the Schenley Bridge, but also the Sixth, Seventh and Ninth Street bridges known as the Three Sisters connecting Downtown with the North Side over the Allegheny River. Many locks are simple such as the Ohio-France couple’s, and some are professionally engraved. Others include embellishments such as rhinestones or other flourishes. There are also clusters of locks strung together representing a group of friends or a family.

“There’s an awful lot of locks on there,” said Mike Gable, director of the city’s Department of Public Works. “It’s certainly something we will monitor.”

City and Allegheny County officials work together to enforce bridge safety, with Pittsburgh maintaining the Schenley Bridge and the county managing the Three Sisters bridges.

While there is no city law banning these locks, Gable said, these colorful additions to the Schenley Bridge may become a future concern because of the accumulated weight. Allegheny County Public Works director Stephen G. Shanley said via email that, technically, putting up a lock may be considered an act of vandalism.

In Paris in 2015, 700,000 locks were removed from the pedestrian-only Pont des Arts over the Seine after the accumulated weight had reached an estimated 45 tons, leading to broken rails and fears the bridge might collapse. The sides were replaced with panels of Plexiglas to restore views of the river and showcase artwork.

In Pittsburgh, locks that had accumulated on the Andy Warhol Bridge, aka Seventh Street Bridge, have been removed during renovation work because they were damaging the netted steel sides, and there are plans to do the same on the Sixth Street (Roberto Clemente) and Ninth Street (Rachel Carson) bridges when they are refurbished in coming years.

For now, Pittsburgh city officials have been instructed to periodically remove locks, according to Mr. Shanley. Due to operation and waste disposal costs associated with the high volume of locks, this may be a slow process.

“I don’t know if anybody envisioned it would become as popular as it has,” Mr. Gable said.

Locked at Pitt

Rich Henderson and his wife, Cindy, of the city neighborhood of Hays, consider Oakland their one true home and have also locked up.

In 1987, Mr. Henderson graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in accounting and returned in 1991 as an employee. Currently, he is the director of budgets and financial planning for health sciences. Mrs. Henderson began working in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid in 1988.

Around this time, the two met at a going-away party for a mutual friend on Pitt’s campus and began dating shortly after. “It’s been a solid 24 years,” Mr. Henderson said.

In that time, the Hendersons have had a son, who is now 19. He attended Central Catholic High School in Oakland and now goes to Duquesne for accounting. “We’re city folk,” Mrs. Henderson said.

The couple have also gone to at least 400 Panthers basketball games, Mr. Henderson estimated. Spending every weekday and many weekends in Oakland, the couple decided to hang up a lock last year on the Schenley Bridge.

Their silver Master Lock has a black dial and no decorations. “We couldn’t find it if we tried,” Mrs. Henderson said, joking.

Locked to Pirates

Green Tree resident Melissa Taggert, 31, and her fiance, Chris Squeglia, 32, locked up on the Roberto Clemente (Sixth Street) Bridge late last summer during an engagement shoot.

“I’ve been to Paris and Amsterdam where there are love locks, and my mother had recently been to Italy where she said there were some,” Taggert said. Squeglia knew he wanted to surprise her, so he bought a custom lock on Etsy - a red heart with each of their names on it.

Because the two are serious Pirates fans, Squeglia felt it was only appropriate to hang the locks on the Roberto Clemente bridge overlooking PNC Park.

“It’s great because you’re literally locking your love, and it’s a symbol you’re showing off to everyone,” Taggert said.

But in late January, the couple’s lock went missing. Taggert believes it was cut from the bridge, adamant that she knows exactly where it had hung.

The two are getting married shortly after Valentine’s Day.

Locked in 2 countries

Back in Paris, Schron visited Besnard in France last month. The two had plans to hang a second lock on the Pont des Arts pedestrian bridge but found the Plexiglas panels. Now, locks have started to appear on the bridge’s lampposts.

“When we locked ours up, we had to be pretty sneaky,” Schron laughed. “We were determined, so we hung ours up with about 20 others on a lamppost.”

This year, they can’t be together for Valentine’s Day, but they plan on arranging a date (between the six-hour time difference) to watch a movie and have dinner over a video call. Besnard hopes to find an internship or job in the U.S. after she graduates from ESC Rennes School of Business in the spring. But for now, the couple are satisfied with their two monuments to love.

“It’s nice to have locks on both our sides of the world,” Mr. Schron said.





Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, https://www.post-gazette.com

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