Why Are There Giant Heads of 43 Presidents Sitting in a Virginia Field?
If you drive by an empty field in Croaker, Virginia, you will be treated to 43 ghostly effigies of presidents past. Why are these busts there and where in the world did they come from? It is definitely enough to make one pause.
They stand in rows, kind of like a White House version of Easter Island. You can see them in the documentary, “All the Presidents’ Heads”, at the end of the article.
There are a total of 43 concrete busts of most of the U.S. presidents. Every president from George Washington to George W. Bush. The busts towering at between 18 to 20 feet and they weigh as much as 22,000 pounds.
They all have some degree of damage, but are ominous as they stand together in unison.
The Smithsonian reports that some have crumbling noses and others tear-like stains falling from the eyes.
But where did they come from, and how did they end up guarding an empty field? Will they ever be used for anything? Or will they continue to sit and deteriorate into nothing?
The presidential heads used to be a giant display at Presidents Park in York County, near Williamsburg, Virginia.
The 10-acre park featured a museum and the heads were a part of a sculpture garden.
Presidents Park was surrounded in controversy for years. Many thought it would take tourists away from Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown.
Others felt that the attraction was tacky and a sideshow. The creator of Presidents Park disagreed and thought it would be a way to teach children about sculptures as well as history,
The park was only open for six years, from 2004 to 2010. The park closed in September 2010 due to low visitor numbers and the heads sat abandoned for several years until new developers bought the property. They were putting in a rental car business and asked Howard Hankins, who owned a local waste management company, to haul the statues away and destroy them.
“Instead of going into the crusher, I brought them up to the farm and there they are in their new home,” Hankins said.
The Smithsonian expands:
That’s where Hankins, who helped build the park, comes in. Before the land was auctioned off, Newman asked him to destroy the busts. But Hankins didn’t feel right about it, and instead offered to take the heads and move them to his 400-acre farm. And so began the laborious process of moving 43 giant presidents, each weighing in between 11,000 and 20,000 pounds, to a field ten miles away. Hankins estimates the weeklong process cost about $50,000—not including the damage done to each sculpture during the move.
Any hopes of preserving the presidents in their original state were literally crushed as the busts made their journey from park to field. Each bust had to be lifted from its base by a crane, cracking the sculpture’s neck to get the full piece off the ground. The crane attached to a steel frame inside the busts through a hole smashed into the top of each sculpture’s head. Then, each president was loaded onto a flatbed truck and hauled away to Hankins’ property.
Cracked skulls were just the beginning: The team improvised as they went along, and the earlier busts moved bore the brunt of the movers’ initial inexperience. The first few moved have broken noses, missing backsides and other structural issues. Abraham Lincoln’s bust now has an eerie hole in the back of its head that brings to mind his tragic end, and Ronald Reagan’s bust bears the scar of a lightning strike. They all now sit decaying in three neat lines on the farm (except for George Washington, who stands to the side overlooking the group), where they continue to crumble, peel and crack.
So what now?
Although the farm is private property and not open to the public, Hankins hopes to once again share the presidents with the people. He has partnered with photographer and historian John Plashal to provide tours of the busts. There is also a crowdfunding campaign to restore and transport the massive sculptures somewhere for public viewing.
In various media interviews, Hankins has said he needs to raise $1.5 million to preserve the sculptures and have them moved and reset.
“It meant a lot to me to preserve history. I would love to find the means to build an educational park for our kids to come to from all over the country,” Hankins says. “I really want to do something with these guys. If I have to leave them here, this would really disappoint me.”