The London Bridge is a central part of Lake Havasu City’s tourism appeal and identity, but it seems that some have elected to leave more than just footprints on the historic bridge.
The underside of the London Bridge, near the base on the Island side, is scratched up and marred by many inscriptions including undying declarations of love, political statements about President Trump, and a few swear words. But it is mostly just unintelligible scratches.
“I think everything you do to an old object that is an antique is kind of sad,” said Jan Kassies, Director of Visitor Services at Go Lake Havasu. “Like I said, I hate it, but it is sad, too, if that is all you can do. And you see it everywhere of course. I have been to Rome and you see it there in some places. I don’t think we should touch it…
“What would you think if you had an antique cupboard at home and I scratched something in it? They say they want to express something, and that is all fine, but not on an antique bridge.”
Mayor Cal Sheehy said graffiti on London Bridge is a relatively rare occurrence, but it does happen on occasion.
“As soon as we are made aware of it or we discover that there is graffiti anywhere within our community, if it is a city owned asset like the London Bridge, then our crews will go work on remediating it to remove any graffiti,” Sheehy said. “If it is on private property our code enforcement personnel will work with the property owner to remediate the issue.”
Sheehy said on the London Bridge, city workers would either wash the bridge with different cleaning agents to remove marker, or sand down the face of the stonework if the inscription is etched into the stone itself – which seems to be the most common form of graffiti in this instance.
“We will have city crews go out there and address it,” Sheehy said.
The penalty for graffiti in Lake Havasu City is a minimum term of 30 days in jail, a minimum fine of $1,500, and no less than 80 hours of community service. For minors the minimum fine is $500 with no specific requirements for community service.
Although the graffiti underneath the bridge appears to be relatively fresh, it is worth noting that the London Bridge wasn’t completely free of graffiti when it first came to Lake Havasu City in 1967.
Near the top of the staircase to the south, on the Island side of the bridge, there is an aged and weathered inscription that reads:
Aug – 1942
Below the inscription is the insignia of the 1st Infantry Division.
That particular inscription was only brought to the attention of Kassies a few years ago. At first he was unsure if it was etched into the stone while still in England, or if it was written by some army buddies who visited the bridge together after it had been moved to America.
Eventually Kassies was able to contact Sargent Merrill Fitzwater to ask him about it. Fitzwater wrote back to explain that he and PFC. Smith had spent several hours on the London Bridge during a rare weekend leave back in August of 1942, watching all the activity on the Thames River underneath. According to the letter, the pair ended up climbing out onto some scaffolding that extended underneath the bridge to get a better view. It was there where Fitzwater said he scratched the inscription into the bridge.
“In principle it is the same, but this one was done when the bridge was still in England,” said Kassies, comparing the historic graffiti to the more modern scratches underneath the bridge. “The amazing thing is that it came over with the bridge. These were two American soldiers.”
Kassies said he reached out to Fitzwater to try to get him to come to Lake Havasu City to meet with him and talk about it, but Kassies said Fitzwater didn’t take him up on the offer. Instead Kassies said Fitzwater expressed some remorse for the etching saying that, “he did something wrong,” and that it was “graffiti.”
Since learning the full story, Kassies said he has added an anecdote about the inscription to the walking tours that he gives to visitors.
“Often when I tell the story, a lot of people get very emotional about it,” Kassies said. “Especially people who have been in a war. I call it a little memorial. It is not really a memorial because they all came back, but there are a lot of people who have been in a war and seen all kinds of bad things. It is just a simple thing. It is just two names and an insignia - that is it. So it gives them a special feeling.”
Another way to leave your mark
If you simply must tell the world that “Tim hearts Amy” there is another way of doing so without scratching anything into the London Bridge itself. In fact, it will even last longer that way because no workers from the city will come by to remove it.
Over the last few years people have started hooking up “love locks” to pieces of metal fencing on both sides of the entrance of London Bridge.
“It came from Europe somewhere – in Italy they do it too,” Kassies said. “If two people love each other a lot you write your names on the lock, lock it, and throw your key in the river. It is kind of fun. It started about five or six years ago and it has been great.”
Kassies said that is a much more constructive way for residents and visitors to leave their mark on Lake Havasu City’s piece of history.
“First of all, it is not on the bridge. It is on a piece attached to the bridge,” he said. “And if you remove it again the bridge is still the same.”