In 1951, before he was a country music superstar, Johnny Cash was a young man in San Antonio about to ship out from basic training. When away from the base, Cash enjoyed strolling along the River Walk, holding hands with and courting his love, Vivian Liberto.
One sunny afternoon, Cash pulled a pocket knife from his pocket and inscribed “Johnny Loves Vivian” into a large cedar bench located along the river. Though worn and barely visible, that simple love note can still be seen today.
Cash and Liberto stayed in touch while he was deployed in Germany. They later married and started a family. Not soon thereafter, Cash began writing and recording hit songs—one of his most famous tunes, “I Walk the Line,” was dedicated to her. But his new fame and touring schedule, along with alcohol and drug abuse, took a toll on the marriage. After 13 years, the two divorced.
Years later, Liberto was visiting San Antonio and found the old bench still sitting near the river. She looked down and rubbed her fingers across the worn, faded confession of love written to her decades earlier and discovered it was still there. Sometimes love doesn’t last, but pocket knife graffiti carved into a cedar bench can.
Excited by the rediscovery, she informed the City of San Antonio of the situation and offered to buy the bench for her home. The city, reluctant to release property graffitied by a music legend, gifted the bench to a local museum instead.
Today the “Johnny Loves Vivian” bench is on display at the B. Naylor Morton Research and Collections Center. It’s located just inside the entrance to the right. Though no longer a place to sit, posted signs point out and translate the worn, difficult to read etching.
Update February 2019: The bench has been moved and is available for viewing only by appointment.