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City has cutting response to love locks on bridges

John Kass

June 7, 2013

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In cities across the world, from Paris to Beijing, young lovers have developed a beautiful and wonderful tradition:

Locks of love.

The custom has recently cropped up in Chicago, but unfortunately, City Hall is heartless and is bent on being known as The City That Doesn't Love Love.

"Have you seen the love locks?" asked my friend Ygal Baruch, a world traveler and hopeless romantic. "The boy meets the girl. They fall in love. They walk out onto a bridge. They bring a padlock and lock it to that bridge."

And then?

"They turn the key. And together they throw the key into the river," he said. "That way, no one can break the bonds of their love. It's so cool."

It is cool. Some use giant padlocks. Others use tiny locks. There are steely locks that glitter in the morning, and copper locks that glow at sunset. Some have ribbons. Some are plain.

The backs of the locks are inscribed with the names of the lovers, and the date they met or were married.

Last autumn in Paris, Baruch and his wife were crossing a bridge near Notre Dame.

"All of a sudden, we saw the bridge. I mean, we're talking thousands of locks. Literally thousands of locks there, and I thought it was kind of nice."

What excited Baruch is that here in Chicago, the same thing started to happen on the Michigan Avenue Bridge.

"I thought it was kind of cute, you know? For young people, anybody who loves anybody else," Baruch said.

But a few days ago, Baruch called me in horror.

City crews were using torches and bolt cutters to break the locks of love from the bridge.

This means that either Mayor Rahm Emanuel is heartless and cruel or, what seems more likely, his foolish underlings have taken it upon themselves to destroy the mayor's reputation as a soft-hearted romantic.

After the purge of hate, a few friends ran out with me to find whatever locks of love remained. The Michigan Avenue Bridge had been shorn of love.

But on another bridge, we found a lock of love. I won't tell you where, because the regime will scurry out to destroy it.

There were three bits of obscure information carved into the back of the lock. The names Agne and Elikem, and a date: 10-2-2010.

We tracked the young couple down. They live in Hyde Park.

Elikem Ansah was born in Ghana. His wife, Agne, hails from Lithuania. They met as students at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. He studied computer science. She majored in international relations and journalism.

They fell in love, were married on Oct. 2, 2010, and now have a baby daughter, Gaia Selali.

On their wedding day, they searched for the right bridge.

"She says, 'You've got to do this thing,'" Elikem told me. "She said we've got to do a Lithuanian tradition. I carried her across the bridge."

He smiled, remembering how he carried her and what they did.

"Every big city (in Lithuania) has a bridge like that," Agne said. "And on the wedding day, that's where the couples go. You lock your love, then you throw your key in the water and it means you're going to be together forever because nobody will be able to find your key and unlock your love.

"I thought that lock would always be there, but my husband was more skeptical," Agne said. "He thought the city of Chicago would cut if off quickly. But I was walking by the first two years and I was always happy to see it. It took me back to the day of our wedding and I was always happy. It was like our special spot in Chicago. I hope they don't cut it because it means a lot to me."

Sadly, the Emanuel regime is intent on chopping off the young couple's lock of love.

A spokesman from the Chicago Department of Transportation issued a bloodless email response:

"It's nice that people want to remember Chicago as the place they fell in love. Unfortunately, we cannot condone clamping padlocks to bridges, which is a European phenomenon that has occurred in Chicago for a few years now."

So City Hall sends out crews to destroy the locks because — as the spokesman explained — falling locks could cause "serious injury" to boaters below.

Of course, getting splashed by Chicago River water could cause boaters serious illness, infection and disease, but the Rahmfather isn't draining the river, is he?

Elikem and Agne aren't opposed to the mayor. And they cling to hope that City Hall will someday support young lovers.

"Chicago is a wonderful city. We've lived here for seven years," said Elikem. "There's lots of reasons people come here. Imagine one of your bridges in Chicago filled with love. Can you just imagine that?"

Agne hopes the city will reserve at least one bridge for lovers.

"I wish the city would say 'This is the Lover's Bridge and you can do whatever you want,'" she said. "It doesn't have to be downtown. It can be somewhere else."

What would you say to the mayor about your lock of love?

"Don't destroy our love," Agne said.

Again, I won't reveal the name of the bridge, and I hope that TV and other news crews following this story won't reveal it, either.

But we'll be checking Elikem and Agne's lock of love, and checking it often.

It's one way to measure whether City Hall has a heart.

jskass@tribune.com

Twitter @John_Kass