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.
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.
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.
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 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.