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Love Locks

View Lake Murray Dam's Fence of Forever Affection

Article by Julie Brown Patton

Photography by Jordan Blackwell

Originally published in Lake Murray Lifestyle

"Always on my mind. Forever in my heart."

A worldwide trend stemming from Paris continues at the Lake Murray Dam. Called "love locks," they're padlocks placed in public places to symbolize unbreakable love. Some people engrave names, initials or dates on the padlocks and throw away the key to symbolize unbreakable love. The lake's local chain-link fence bears testament to many stories of enduring love.  

However, one such story reflects the heartbreak of Irmo mother Marti Bedell and her husband, Frank.

"I don't want anyone to forget my J, even those who've never met him," says Marti, speaking of her 27-year-old son, Jonathan, who died unexpectedly in April 2013.

One way she hung on to J's memory was by hanging locks that held deeply special meanings. 

"It became clear one day when I was walking on the dam, that's what I would do," she recalls. "And that I would give an opportunity for friends to send me locks from everywhere, and we'd put them in the shape of a J."

After Jonathan's passing, Marti says at first she couldn't envision how to get through the next 30 days; but it was months later, while facing the start of a brand-new year without him, that left her feeling utterly smothered, emptied and devastated. It was the locks project that gave her courage and enough energy to face time moving on without her beloved son. She spray-painted an orange chain to blue to use on the fence because that was Jonathan's favorite color. Consider it true-blue dedication as well. 

"We received locks from Jonathan's amazing friends, some from around the world. It was those locks that kept my heart beating for that new year," she remembers. 

Marti began making the "J" on New Year’s Day in 2014, then threw a party at her house for Jonathan's friends. Since then, she's added 50-pluslocks in Jonathan's memory, with all of the keys nestled together in a basket that her family still keeps closeby. The lives of Jonny's two sisters, Rebecca and Rachel, were forever changed as well. 

Whether seeing J's locks on a walk or simply driving by, Marti hopes people not only notice his story but that they also see many stories there—and that each lock is a lasting reminder of love that was, and is, and never ends. She says those locks are tangible, visual reminders of the wonderful, compassionate man J was in the world. 

Background of Love Locks

The history of love padlocks reportedly dates back at least 100 years to a melancholic Serbian tale of World War I, with an attribution for the bridge Most Ljubavi (the Bridge of Love) in the spa town of Vrnjačka Banja. As the tale goes, a local schoolmistress named Nada fell in love with a Serbian officer named Relja. After they committed to each other, Relja went to war in Greece, where he fell in love with a local woman from Corfu. As a consequence, Relja and Nada broke off their engagement. Nada supposedly never recovered emotionally and died of heartbreak.

As young women from Vrnjačka wanted to protect their own loves, they started their names, along with names of their loved ones, on padlocks and affixed them to the bridge railings where Nada and Relja used to meet.

In the rest of Europe, love padlocks started appearing in the early 2000s as a ritual, with reasons that varied in explanations between locations. In Rome, the ritual of affixing love padlocks to the bridge Ponte Milvio can be attributed to the 2006 book I Want You.

  • Love padlocks on the bridge over border river in Vrnjacka Banja, Serbia.
  • Marti Bedell says her son, "J," saw each person's true souls; Jonathan is especially remembered with this love lock tribute each New Year.
  • Marti Bedell says her son, "J," saw each person's true souls; Jonathan is especially remembered with this love lock tribute each New Year.