There’s A Failed Mount Rushmore In The Middle Of Virginia

Between the Statue of Liberty in New York and South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore, the concrete heads of 43 US presidents lie deteriorating in a Virginia field. And the Presidents Park statues have only grown more popular since the short-lived attraction shut down in 2010 due to lack of attendance. Rather than symbols of American history, the heads are now another remnant of an abandoned amusement park.

Presidents Park was envisioned as an educational landmark dedicated to preserving the memory of America’s presidents. The busts – from George Washington to George W. Bush – allowed visitors to approach them, inspect the detailed faces, and compare the likenesses to actual presidential photos. Instead of being destroyed when the park closed, however, the heads were moved to a nearby field where they still sit – waiting for another chance to stare blankly at tourists.

The Heads Were Damaged When Moved To A Nearby Farm After The Park Closed

Photo:  Mobilis In Mobili/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

For two years after the park closed, the heads of Presidents Park fell into disrepair. Eventually, the land was auctioned off and the park became a car rental company – but the heads survived. Park owner Haley Newman asked local concrete recycler Howard Hankins to crush the heads and get rid of them. Feeling guilty about destroying the works of art, Hankins instead kept the heads and stored them on his 400-acre farm, about 10 miles from the park grounds.

Transporting 43 concrete heads weighing at least 20,000 pounds each wasn’t cheap, costing Hankins about $50,000. Holes were made in the top of the heads so cranes could pick them up, and many of the presidents’ necks cracked when the heads were lifted off the ground. Noses were broken, chins were scraped, and the crew made other openings as they experimented with the best methods for moving the giant sculptures. Lincoln suffered the most damage, as he was dropped and suffered a morbidly apt hole in the back of his head.

The Heads Fell Into Disrepair Because The Park Couldn’t Afford Upkeep

Photo:  Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Displayed outdoors, the heads required a lot of maintenance and upkeep. But low attendance meant the park couldn’t afford many necessary repairs, and the heads began showing wear long before the park shut down. The rain and sun took their toll on the stone, and birds left stains as well. Ronald Reagan even suffered a lightning strike, which badly damaged half his face.

After the park closed, the disrepair grew worse as pieces crumbled and stains appeared that almost resembled tears. Along with damage from the move to a now-overgrown field, the heads look more horrific than presidential.

Poor Attendance Forced Presidents Park To Close Six Years After It Opened

Photo:  Mobilis In Mobili/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Presidents Park opened to the public in 2004 with the intention of teaching visitors, especially children, about America’s journey and the part each president played. An open-air museum covering 10 acres of land, the park included manicured walking paths and informational signs about history.

If the park were closer to the bigger tourist destination of Colonial Williamsburg, it might have drawn larger crowds. Instead, the attraction resided behind a motel and a wooded area. After a $10 million investment and six years of operation, poor attendance forced the park to shut down in 2010.

Each Head Weighs At Least 22,000 Pounds And Stands Around 20 Feet Tall

Photo:  Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Each of the heads weighs about 22,000 pounds – thanks to a steel skeleton covered in fabric and concrete – and stands between 18 and 20 feet tall. Visitors who saw the statues up close said it was quite powerful having a life-like historic figure loom over them.

Artist David Adickes allegedly wanted the busts up to ten times the size of the final versions and planned to make George Washington a full-body statue standing 92 feet high – about the size of a 10-story building. The idea for the gigantic Washington was scrapped, however, in part because officials told Adickes it needed a lightning rod on top of the head.

The Park Couldn’t Afford A Barack Obama Head

Photo: JaseMan/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Since the park was open until 2010, you may wonder why there isn’t a bust for President Barack Obama. The reason, however, was practical rather than political: the park didn’t have enough money for one. Artist David Adickes wanted $60,000 to create a sculpture of the 44th president. But with barely any visitors, the park couldn’t afford it. Considering the fate of the attraction and the state of the heads now, Obama is probably glad he wasn’t included.

Locals Considered The Park A Tacky Tourist Trap

Photo: Jacksondave/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

When Presidents Park opened, it had problems beyond a lack of visitors. Members of the community worried the park would discourage tourists from visiting the more established attractions at Colonial Williamsburg. While that didn’t prove true, many locals still considered the heads tacky.

Multiple oversized monuments exist along highways and interstates around the country, but residents believed the park was merely a showy piece of entertainment designed to trick tourists into paying money to visit. Throughout its run, however, the owner defended the park as an earnest ode to history and a unique method for teaching visitors about America’s presidents.

Washington DC Turned Down A Chance To Host The Presidential Heads

Photo: Narenchalla/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

David Adickes originally wanted to set up the presidential busts alongside other monuments celebrating America’s history in the nation’s capital. Unfortunately, no one in Washington DC agreed, and Adickes was forced to consider other locations. After looking at land around Williamsburg, VA, Adickes contacted Haley Newman, the developer of a large water park in the area. Williamsburg, less than three hours from DC, seemed like the next best place for Presidents Park. 

Adickes began making the heads before the park received display permits, forcing Newman to hide several of the busts until the attraction opened. Abraham Lincoln and several others were taken to a hillside in nearby Buena Vista, causing confusion among campers and other visitors. Several other presidents ended up at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens before the park officially opened.

A Presidents Park In South Dakota Met A Similar Fate

Photo: thetravelnook/Pixabay/CC0 1.0

Since a mold was used to create the presidents’ heads, more than one copy could be made. In fact, the Virginia park wasn’t even the first Presidents Park. Sculptor David Adickes made heads for a park 40 miles from Mount Rushmore on a wooded hillside in Lead, South Dakota. Richard Nixon had a “Watergate” picnic area behind him, and close to Bill Clinton was a stone painted with the words “Monica Rock.” The lettering was later removed from the stone, however, as it was considered disrespectful.

Unfortunately, the park suffered the same fate as its counterpart in Virginia and closed down due to under-attendance. Instead of ending up abandoned together in a field, however, many of the heads remained in the woods to become homes for South Dakota wildlife.

The Presidential Busts Were Inspired By A Trip To Mount Rushmore

Photo: National Park Service Digital Image Archives/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Houston artist David Adickes decided to create the collection of heads after an inspirational visit to Mount Rushmore in the early 2000s. While stopping by the monument on his way home from Canada, he got the idea to celebrate all the US presidents. Adickes also wanted to make the experience more personal by creating sculptures “big enough to get in front of and look in the eyes.”

As a Texan, Adickes believed bigger was better. He created the heads on a grand scale, noting how the Statue of Liberty is impressive due to its size and location overlooking a harbor.

The Presidential Heads Aren’t The First Large-Scale Sculptures From Artist David Adickes

Photo: JaseMan/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

David Adickes, the artist behind the heads of Presidents Park, is well-known around Houston, TX, for his giant sculptures. Adickes has created a 67-foot-tall version of Sam Houston, the man the city is named after, and 36-foot-tall renditions of The Beatles. Many critics find the size of his work annoying and intrusive, while others argue it’s simply a gimmick. Perhaps the people who avoided Presidents Parks thought the same things.

The Heads Aren’t Currently Open To The Public, But Curious People Still Seek Them Out

Photo: Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Without a tourist attraction license, Howard Hankins can’t allow the public see the heads on his property. Though many have tried visiting, Hankins often turns people away and rejects most special viewing requests. He has allowed a few people from the media to visit the heads, considering the photographs and articles good for publicity. Hankins also appears in the documentary All The Presidents’ Heads, which chronicles his efforts to preserve the sculptures.

The Heads’ Current Owner Hopes To Open A New Museum To House The Statues

Photo: Mobilis In Mobili/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Howard Hankins is trying to find a new home for his heads. Hankins hopes to fulfill the original promise of Presidents Park and expand it to create an educational and fun attraction for families.

Aspects of the original museum, including presidential memorabilia, a life-sized Oval Office, and a visitor center, are also in his plans; along with a fuselage from Air Force One, a collection of First Lady memorabilia, and a space dedicated to the Secret Service.

And while the owner of the heads claims they can still be repaired, their current state has gathered plenty of interest from lovers of all things abandoned.



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