For the bargain price of $3.99, the Deaver sisters locked their love in forever.
Abigail, Tori and Chloe Deaver of Hastings purchased the gold-colored padlock, no bigger than an acorn, from Wal-Mart last May. They etched their initials on it with 18-year-old Abigail’s pocket knife, and the lock now swings from the chain-link fence on the walking bridge in Vermillion Falls Park, one among a growing patch of sentimental trinkets in Hastings.
City park officials don’t know who started the trend — an import from Europe that invites lovers to hang a lock on a bridge and toss the key into the water below — or when exactly the romantic ritual began in Hastings. But for now, they find the public love notes touching and plan to leave them alone.
“You don’t see stuff like this in smaller communities and smaller towns,” said Cory Likes, operations and maintenance supervisor of the city’s parks and recreation department. “Whoever started it should get kudos because I bet it will take off from here.”
More than 60 locks hang like metallic fruit — in pale purple, sky blue and bright red — from the 5-foot-tall fence, telling fragmented tales of love and friendship.
Chris and Amy, for example, affixed their lock on Dec. 20, 2015. “Sam + Andrew” hooked theirs near the middle of the bridge not long after, and “AB + JB” have been “locked in love” since April 2006. Most of the relational tributes are smudged and fading, written in fat Sharpies or thin, felt-tip pens. The Deaver sisters’ lock is one of the few with a carved message.
Even before the locks popped up, residents say the bridge has always been a meeting ground for lovers and a hangout spot for friends. It stretches across the Vermillion River near the ruins of a flour mill that burned down in 1894.
Longtime Hastings residents, such as Dave Youngren, remember when the bridge was still used by railroads, long before it became a walking bridge in 1995. Youngren, who works for the Dakota County Historical Society, has lived in Hastings since 1960 and values the locks for their aesthetic beauty.
“I look at that wall of padlocks as being a wall of art,” Youngren said.
The idea that this wall could memorialize sisters — as well as lovers — first came to Abigail Deaver in high school French class last year, during a discussion of the love locks hanging from the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris. Though the locks on this iconic Parisian structure have since been cut down because of weight and safety concerns, Abigail set out to add her own lock to the few already hanging in Hastings.
“The lock means that my sisters are the closest people in my life,” she said. “I’m always going to value their friendship.”
This friendship has taken on deeper meaning in recent years. Abigail begins classes at Winona State University this fall and leaves Tori, 16, and Chloe, 13, behind. Tori, who thought the love lock was “cheesy” at first, now walks to the bridge on a regular basis.
Their symbol of sisterly love will remain suspended somewhere between the old flour mill and the latest high school romance.
“We all want to move back here after college,” Abigail said. “It’s something we can all remember together and hopefully show our kids.”