Between Winnemucca and Sparks (a town joined to Reno by urban sprawl), the greatest excitement is in Lovelock, a town lying in a meadow valley bounded by three mountain ranges. It was here that pioneers heading west stopped to rest and graze their animals before crossing a dreaded 40-mile desert and the Sierras to reach California and Oregon.
A modern traveler will find that Lovelock now has three very different claims to fame. First is its courthouse, said to be one of only two round courthouses in the country. Since 1919, when Lovelock became the seat of Pershing County, justice has been meted out here. But when my husband and I visited, there was no one in the building to ask whether a court in the round is any more just than a square or rectangular court.
The second attraction is a small park right behind the courthouse. In 1868, the coming of the Central Pacific Railroad brought a large Chinese population to the town, and it is here, in Lovers Lock Plaza, that the town preserves a Chinese custom of symbolically “locking one’s love” on a never-ending chain.
Accordingly, lovers bring a lock (or buy one in the town) and make eternal their declaration of love by attaching the lock to one of the chains strung between metal poles behind the courthouse. A quick look at the locks reveals that many bear a “Lovelock” stamp, which suggests that this “ancient Chinese custom” is very good for local business. The town’s name, however, has nothing to do with love and locks, but derives, instead, from the surname of merchant, rancher, and prospector George Lovelock.
The town’s third claim to fame―or infamy―is that O.J. Simpson, who did not know how to love or live, has been locked up since 2008 in the Lovelock Correctional Center, where he is serving a 33-year sentence (with possibility of parole after nine years) for his part in an armed robbery. The judge in this trial said that the sentence, which some consider stiff, was unrelated to Simpson’s 1995 acquittal in the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
Text and photographs copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. No portion of this text or photographs may be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Esther Hecht.