Where can you find 43 former heads of state? In a field about 10 miles north of historic Williamsburg, Virginia. But be careful: these former presidents are well-guarded not by the Secret Service but by the property owner who is serious about his NO TRESPASSING signs.
These are quite literally heads—or more specifically, 20-foot-high busts of concrete and steel, weighing up to 20,000 pounds each, of 43 former presidents, from George Washington in his period-appropriate wig to a bow-tied Abraham Lincoln, from Teddy Roosevelt with his handlebar mustache to George W. Bush in his natty tie. They are lined up in no particular order and are in varying states of decomposition. Washington is missing his nose; Woodrow Wilson is crumbling.
The busts were created by Houston sculptor David Adickes for a tourist destination, the 10-acre Presidents Park, in nearby Williamsburg. The park, which cost about $10 million, according to Smithsonian magazine, opened in 2004. The presidential busts lined walkways through a wooded path that was lit by torches. Unfortunately, the location was slightly too far from central colonial Williamsburg tourist destinations to attract enough visitors. By 2010, the park was forced into foreclosure.
A similar park opened in South Dakota in 2003, not far from Mount Rushmore, with the idea that traveling history buffs would love to stroll among the presidents, also sculpted by David Adickes, and here lined up in chronological order. Alas, that park too closed in 2010.
In Virginia, a farmer and local contractor who had been involved in the creation of Presidents Park was hired to help demolish the heads of state upon the park’s foreclosure. But Howard Hankins didn’t feel right about busting the busts. So instead he trucked them to his own property at his own expense, which he reckons cost him $50,000. Sadly, some of the former presidents got beat up in the move, and others have become weather-worn; hence the missing noses and chipping cheeks.
The head of President 44, also known as Barack Obama, hadn’t yet been sculpted at the time of the park’s closing, so his 20-foot likeness doesn’t exist. Hankins does have a life-sized bust of Obama, a gift from a previous owner, but President Obama still lives in a packing crate.
For a time, Hankins’s farm became an irresistible Instagram hot spot, with tourists driving up to photograph themselves in contrast with the immense statues. Liability issues prohibit him from allowing people on the property, which is why he had to post the NO TRESPASSING signs. Hankins does have ambitions to restore the crumbling heads and turn the property into a proper tourist destination, but first he must secure funding.
“One boy came out to see the heads, then he sent me a picture he drew of the presidents,” Hankins told Smithsonian magazine in 2016. “It just tugs at your heart to look at it.”
In his hometown of Houston, sculptor David Adickes, now in his 90s, has many presidential busts on his own property adjacent to his studio, which can be seen from the road.
The sculptors’ talents weren’t restricted to heads of state. Adickes also created a full-size Charlie Chaplin. And a famous set of performing Beatles— John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr—used to sit outside the artist’s gates. Surprised passers-by would pull over and snap a photo to post to Instagram, natch.
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Adickes, who is being forced to close his site due to highway expansion, recently transferred the Beatles to a local brewery. He is putting the Fab Four up for sale for $350,000. Think of it: If you had enough extra cash, you could have your very own rock stars.