by MARY JO DILONARDO
They stand in rows in a Virginia field, kind of a White House version of Easter Island. There are 43 concrete busts of most of the U.S. presidents — from George Washington to George W. Bush. Towering at an average of about 20 feet and weighing as much as 22,000 pounds, this is an elementary school student’s history class nightmare.
The presidential heads once were on display at Presidents Park in York County, near Williamsburg. The 10-acre park featured a museum and a sculpture garden where visitors could stroll among the presidential busts while reading about each man’s accomplishments.
The park was open from 2004 to 2010, according to “All the Presidents’ Heads,” a documentary about the giant creations. When the park closed, 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 says in the documentary, which you can watch at the bottom of the file.
It took 10 men more than three weeks to lug the statues to Hankins’ farm in Croaker, Virginia, about 10 miles from their original home in Presidents Park. The ordeal cost Hankins about $50,000 and several of the presidents were “injured” in the process.
Since 2013, the heads have sat, relatively undisturbed on the farm. Weeds have grown up between them, and Hankins says frogs and snakes share the field with the former leaders.
“You almost feel they’re looking at you the way the sculptor did the work on them,” Hankins says. “It’s an overwhelming feeling being next to these giants of men who represented our country and built this strong country we live in.”
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.”