Holding hands and laughing, Mary and Larry Starr stroll through Lovers Lock Plaza recalling the day they symbolically renewed their commitment to one another by fastening a brass padlock to a chain in their hometown of Lovelock, Nev. (pop. 2,003).
“It’s right here,” says Larry, 86, pointing to a small heart-shaped lock engraved with the couple’s first names.
In 2006, the Starrs celebrated 65 years of marriage by “locking their love” during a ceremony dedicating the plaza in downtown Lovelock. Since then, more than 500 couples and individuals have demonstrated endless devotion to a spouse or loved one by attaching locks to a chain that encircles the plaza.
Lovelock officials embraced the ancient Chinese custom after Limin Liu, a Nevada Commission of Tourism employee, saw the town’s unique name on a road sign and told her colleagues about a centuries-old tradition in which couples fasten locks to miles of chains along the Great Wall of China as a symbol of lasting love.
When the story reached Kirsten Hertz, operations manager of the Lovelock/Pershing County Chamber of Commerce, she resolved to bring the charming tradition to Lovelock. Today, Lovers Lock Plaza is open to everyone who wants to attach a lock to confirm or renew an eternal commitment to a spouse, friend or family member.
“We’ve even had people lock a lock for a pet,” Hertz says.
Parents have dedicated locks to their children; children have secured locks in memory of their parents’ enduring love; and newlyweds have “locked their love” after exchanging vows in the shady park that surrounds the plaza.
“They get very emotional about it,” says Pershing County Justice of the Peace Carol Nelsen, who has married nine couples on the plaza. “One couple even set up a cell phone so their family could listen to the ceremony back home.”
Nelsen, 52, and her husband Maury, 56, locked their love in 2006. “It meant a lot to us,” she says, “especially knowing that the lock will always be there for us to show our grandchildren.” People bring their own locks to the plaza or purchase them at local businesses, including Pitt-Mill Hardware store, the Whiskey Creek Saloon, and Sturgeon’s Inn and Casino. The Chamber of Commerce offers free use of an engraving pen for people who want to personalize their lock.
Locks clustered on the chains in the plaza are large and small, chrome, brass and steel, heart-shaped and interlocked. Some are ornately engraved, a few are combination locks, but most are key-operated.
After they lock their love, many couples throw away the key, symbolizing the eternity of their commitment, while others save them as a memento of the occasion.
Mary Starr, 87, carries a miniature padlock and key with her as a symbol of the enduring love between her and her husband, Larry. “I keep them with me always, just to remind me,” she says.