Amazing Places

This Eerie Scene Is All That's Left of Virginia's Presidential Park

America loves their icons to be larger than life. From the Lincoln Monument to Mount Rushmore, a great number of past presidents have been immortalized in towering stone sculptures. There's an unexpected place, however, where busts of American leaders stand tall, if a little cracked and weathered, to form what looks like a post-apocalyptic U.S. monument. That place is a rural farm in Croaker, Virginia, and it might be the final resting place of sculptor David Adickes' once-grand plan.

Larger than Life

Croaker is just the second home for Adickes' vision. He was originally inspired to create his presidential busts after a visit to Mount Rushmore. "I was overwhelmed by the majesty of it," he told the Washington Post in 2011. "Driving to Texas, the idea occurred to me to do a park with all the presidents, big enough to get in front of and look in the eyes, rather than from a quarter-mile away."

He originally hoped to put his statues in Washington, D.C., but his efforts didn't get anywhere. So instead, he headed to Williamsburg, Virginia, where he struck a deal with Haley Newman, the developer of a local waterpark, to display the pieces on the outskirts of town. With that, in the year 2004, President's Park was born: a 10-acre, $10 million open-air attraction dotted with gleaming white busts of all 43 U.S. presidents at the time, each 18–20 feet (5.5–6 meters) tall.

The park never did get the kind of tourist attention it needed to thrive. Although it was close to the highway and a retail center, the park was heavily wooded and tucked behind a Day's Inn, making it effectively invisible to passersby. A lack of profits led to a lack of upkeep: the statues were sullied by weather and birds, and a lightning strike maimed half of Ronald Reagan's face. Even worse, Newman couldn't afford to update the park with a statue of the current president, Barack Obama. Adickes wanted $60,000 for it, and Newman just didn't have it. "That monument would have paid for itself in a year," he lamented to the Washington Post.

In September 2010, the park was closed. But that's not the end of the story.

Headed Out to Pasture

In 2012, the park reached out to businessman Howard Hankins, runs a concrete recycling business. "They called me and wanted to know if I would come down there and crush [the heads] and haul them away," Hankins told Pablo Maurer for DCist in 2015. "I said 'heck no, can I have 'em?' I'm going to preserve them."

The plan was to relocate the heads to Hankins' farm in Croaker, Virginia, but considering that each statue weighs 15,000–20,000 pounds (6,800–9,100 kilograms), that was no small feat. In order to lift them onto a flatbed truck, they had to bash the heads in and expose the steel framework beneath to give the excavator something to grab onto.

Eventually, Hankins and his crew managed to move all 43 heads to his farm, where they now sit in a hodgepodge — George W. between Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, JFK next to Reagan, Bill Clinton cozied up to Ulysses S. Grant, all weathered, cracked, and peeling. There's no concrete plan for what to do with the heads, although Hankins told Maurer that he had a few leads. Right now, visitors aren't allowed to visit the eerie monuments. But it's strangely comforting to know they're there, and with new funding and a new location, they may see a second life.

For more on U.S. monuments, check out "Monuments: America's History in Art and Memory" by Judith Dupre. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

43 Giant Presidents' Heads Are Sitting in a Field in Virginia

Written by Ashley Hamer March 29, 2018

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