In the vicinity of the small town of Croaker, Virginia, an eerie sight haunts a field: 43 derelict larger-than-life-size busts of former presidents of the United States that range in height from 18 to 20 feet. The effigies were once part of Virginia’s Presidents Park in Williamsburg, which went out of business due to financial issues and a lack of visitors.
The park, which opened in 2004, was founded by Everette “Haley” Newman, a local landowner from Williamsburg, together with the Huston-based sculptor David Adickes. The two were inspired by Mount Rushmore, but their $10 million investment didn’t pay off and it was shut down in 2010.
Since then, the land has been sold, and the statues were in danger of being demolished as there was no place for them to go. That is, until Howard Hankins from Croaker, which is located around 11 miles from Williamsburg, decided to turn his family farm into a safe haven for the asylum-seeking presidents.
The 400-acre farm is now home to all 43 colossal busts, where they stand next to one another, while George Washington oversees the bunch from a distance, as the founding father of the nation. The sculptures are still in bad condition, some of them missing their noses, while others have their faces etched with tear-like scars.
Abraham Lincoln has a huge hole on the back of his head, sadly reminiscent of his unfortunate fate, while Ronald Reagan’s bust suffered a lightning strike a few years back, leaving its mark on the already damaged face.
The main reason for the further worsening state of the busts, made of concrete on a steel structure, was the transport. Even though their former location isn’t very far from their current one, each statue weighs 20,000 pounds and transporting them proved to be a very tricky business.
Hankins found that out the hard way. Investing around $50,000 on the week-long transport alone, he tried the best he could to preserve the busts, but their relocation was just too hard to accomplish without damage. The busts had to be lifted from the base by a crane, which caused some cracking to each sculpture’s neck but enabled the workers to lift them in one piece.
The crane had to be attached to the steel frame inside the busts via a hole that was smashed into the top of each sculpture’s head. Last but not least, each president had to survive the flatbed truck ride to Hankins’ property.
Even though the process saved the sculptures from certain demise, it also crippled them so much that they now demand much more serious restoration then during their time in Williamsburg. Nevertheless, their “survival” is ensured for now, and that is what counts.
Despite the elements constantly peeling and crushing the sculptures into slow decay, the 43 presidents still stand tall and proud, as their bruises add to the pathos in a way. Howard Hankins remains optimistic regarding the future of the busts. He announced to the Smithsonian magazine in 2016 that the giant heads of America’s greatest sons might be put back to use soon.
In the meantime, he managed to completely restore the bust of former president Andrew Jackson and to acquire an Air Force One fuselage replica. Even though President’s Park in Williamsburg was already an ambitious project which included a visitor center with presidential memorabilia and a recreation of the Oval Office, Hankins’ vision, which he shared with a Travel + Leisure reporter, overshadows it by far: “My plan is a real White House, actual size, with tours, a ballroom—every event the White House has, I’m going to have it”.
His plan also includes the addition of both Barack Obama and Donald Trump to his gargantuan collection. Today, the park isn’t open for public, as it is officially located on private property, and Hankins rarely lets sightseers visit. Sometimes, he makes an exception:
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“One boy came out to see the heads, then he sent me a picture he drew of the presidents. It just tugs at your heart to look at it.”