Presidents Park: Huston sculptor David Adikes created three sets of giant presidential head carvings in 1998 after being inspired by Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, USA. He detailed the faces of 43 presidents, from George Washington to George W. Bush.
In 2004, a private investor opened a 10-acre park in historic Williamsburg, Virginia, called Presidents Park which housed one set of these huge sculptures (the other sets are in Texas and South Dakota). Unfortunately, despite thousands of visitors, Presidents Park went bankrupt and closed in 2010.
Howard Hankins was one of those who helped to build Presidential Park in 2004. He also runs an industrial recycling service and companies would hire him to demolish concrete. He would break the concrete down which would allow it to be reused as new material.
When the park closed, he was called in to demolish all 43 busts in his industrial stone crusher. However, he could not bring himself to do it.
Instead of destroying the Presidential busts, he decided to transfer them to his private property for temporary storage. There was plenty of room on his farm and industrial recycling site.
The transportation of such huge sculptures cost him tens of thousands of dollars and he had to cover this expense using his own money. Even though the busts’ new home was only 15 miles away, it still took a week to transport them there because each bust weighs about 22,000 pounds and is about 20 feet high.
During transportation, some of the sculptures suffered minor damage, mainly to the back of the head or nose. But once they were all transported, Hankins became the proud owner of 43 presidential busts.
Initially, Hankins wanted to open his own park where he would exhibit these works of art. Alternatively, he hoped that a wealthy collector would buy the statues and take them off his hands. However, neither of these things happened and so the busts simply stood on Howard’s property, decaying over time.
Surprisingly, the Presidential busts became even more popular than they had been when they were in the park. People would travel to see the busts, take photos, and then put those pictures up on social media so that others would see and want to visit. They used the hashtag #presidentsheads.
At one point, a photographer named John Plashal visited the site. Plashal was actually an adjunct speaker for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and he was sent around the state to photograph abandoned places and tell their story.
Plashal was struck by the contrast between the powerful majesty of the presidents and the decaying state of their statues. He approached Hankin and the two men entered into a partnership to organize legal excursions around the site. They would charge a fee for such tours, which would go towards the restoration of the statues.
Owner Howard Hankins and photographer John Plachal offer several types of tours, of which the night tour has become the most popular. This is because the giant statues look very different under the evening sky.
According to Plashal, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are two of the most photographed heads – not just because of the fame of the individuals they represent, but also because those two statues are set a little apart from the other statues, making them perfect for dramatic photographs.
There is a statue of Barack Obama, but it is on a much smaller scale. Presidents Park went bankrupt while Obama was in office, so only a small statue of him had been produced at the time. Although it was on display with the others, someone stole it and Hankins had to involve the police to have it returned. After that, it was kept under lock and key and only taken out on special occasions.
Visitors need to respect the fact that the farm is privately owned and not open to the public outside of pre-booked tours. Anyone wanting to book a place on a tour should contact the owner or photographer Plashal on Facebook. Tours are available only on weekends because during the week, the industrial recycling site is operating.
The tours fill up fast now that Hankins has prevented people from trespassing on his site to take photos for free by installing security cameras and motion sensors. Because of the decaying nature of the heads, visitors are asked to sign a waiver before starting on the tour.
For those wanting to know more, there’s also a short documentary entitled All The Presidents’ Heads by Adam Roffman. It looks at the efforts of Howard Hankins to save these remarkable statues.
It seems that the plan was to move the statues at the end of 2019, although reports indicate that this hasn’t happened yet and that they are still there.
A huge thank you to Dave B. for allowing us to share his photographs of these huge Presidents’ heads in Virginia with our readers. He has got a huge collection of photos of abandoned and decaying places in his Flickr account which you can check out via this link.