Metro, Featured Column

Boston’s Love Locks and the Complicated Question of Copying

Massachusetts Avenue is one of those massive streets that fuels city life. It intersects with other landmark roads like Boylston, Newbury, and Commonwealth (to name a few), and houses important centering points for city life, like the Hynes Convention Center T stop.

People familiar with the Hynes T stop are undoubtedly familiar with the bridge running over the Mass. Turnpike that you cross immediately after exiting the station. The bridge’s chain link fence offers the perfect view of Boston’s skyline and of the cars below speeding off from the city. This bridge has undoubtedly been the site of many artsy photographs of the Prudential Tower, and—for the more adventurous photographers—long exposure shots of the red and white tail lights of cars at night as they trail through the lanes.

The chain-link fence is also home to a number of small padlocks that have been firmly looped through the rusted wire of the fence. Some of the locks are shining and new, as if someone had just purchased them from their local hardware store before directly sticking them onto the fencing. Others look like they have been there for decades, their once gleaming metal now dulled by a thick layer of coppery rust and dirt. While most of the locks are square or round (like the padlocks that you would use to secure your locker in middle school), some stand out, like the lock in the shape of a heart, or the antique-looking lock with a frayed red ribbon tied around it.

Regardless of the shape, almost every single lock features a pair of initials or names. The permanence of these markings ranges from MAC+CONNOR scrawled across the metal in thick black marker, to professional engravings done in curling script inside a heart.

Despite the difference in their shapes or the relative level of fanciness of their engraving, these locks all mean one thing: love.  

They are love locks, a globally-recognized symbol of a couple’s love for, and commitment to, each other. The tradition began in Paris, when couples began attaching locks to the famous Pont Des Arts as a sign of their love for each other, and the tradition caught on so quickly that the bridge became structurally unsound because of the sheer weight of all the locks. Paris officials had to start clipping off locks with wire cutters, but more were put back in their place.

So somewhere along the way, an intrepid Boston couple decided to bring the tradition back to their hometown. Boston might not have quite the reputation that Paris does regarding happy couples in love, but when you look around the Boston Public Garden on a sunny day, there’s no arguing that this city has its fair share of lovebirds.

Most of the time, when I walk past these locks, I’m not actually thinking about the happy couples eager to demonstrate their love for each other. Instead I’m thinking about the tricky business of inspiration.

Just as these Boston locks were obviously inspired by the ones hanging from a bridge across the Atlantic Ocean, much of our lives are inspired by modern and past people and ideas that surround us. But what is the line between inspiration and copying?

You see, this question has been bothering me for a couple years now, ever since I processed that people have been around for long enough that no ideas are really new ideas anymore. And I don’t think it’s necessarily an uncommon realization—it’s just a factor of being a member of the human race.

But until I read a piece in The New York Times a few days ago explaining that we, the people of the 21st century, are living in a copycat culture, I hadn’t been able to put a name to this phenomenon. As I read the piece, I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach—for the issue suddenly seemed much more worrisome than I had thought.

We have reached the point in society where we just recycle our ideas. Burned out and unsure of what the future holds, we reach back into the past not only for inspiration, but also for comfort.

So when I walked past the love locks most recently, I almost glared at the physical evidence of the dried up well of human creativity. Then I felt bad about glaring. It just felt wrong.

It is impossible to go through our lives without drawing from the world around us. Trying to shut oneself off from the value that different perspective brings breeds a dangerous kind of individualistic mindset—one that would have our society believe that only the ideas it comes up with are worthy of attention and try to shut out those who might intimidate us by appearing different or challenging to our preconceptions. Sometimes copying results in beautiful things, like Boston’s budding love bridge. Doesn’t every city deserve a bridge where people can try to quietly demonstrate their undying love for each other, even if it is mimicking one from across the world?

I guess that I would rather be a copycat than someone closed off from the world around me.

Featured Image by Madeleine D’Angelo / Heights Editor

February 9, 2017

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