In Croaker, Virginia stands a sight that would make just about anyone stop in their tracks. 43 ghostly effigies of presidents past crowd together in the tall grass. Some of the 18-to-20-foot busts have crumbling noses. Tear-like stains fall from the eyes of others. All have bashed-in heads to some degree. This could be a scene from the world’s most patriotic horror movie, but it’s all too real—and Howard Hankins’ family farm is just the latest stop on the busts’ larger-than-life journey from iconic pieces of art to zombie-like markers of America’s past.
The busts are all that remains of Virginia’s Presidents Park, a now-defunct open-air museum where visitors could once walk among the presidential heads. Presidents Park first opened in nearby Williamsburg in 2004, the brainchild of local landowner Everette “Haley” Newman and Houston sculptor David Adickes, who was inspired to create the giant busts after driving past Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.
But their presidential visions soon (literally) went bust. The park, which cost about $10 million to create, went belly-up due to a lack of visitors in 2010. Doomed in part by location—it was hidden behind a motel and slightly too far away from colonial Williamsburg’s tourist attractions, the park went into foreclosure.
It’s about two and a half hours southeast of the White House, but a little field in Croaker, Virginia, is now home to some very presidential figures.
The farm belongs to Howard Hankins, who salvaged the giant statues from an open-air “Presidents Park” that closed in 2010. Hankins was supposed to destroy the concrete heads, but instead he offered to give them a new home.
“They called me and wanted to know if I would come down there and crush [the heads] and haul them away,” Hankins told the website DCist last year. “I said, ‘Heck no, can I have ‘em? I’m going to preserve them.’”
Here’s what the statues used to look like in their former home in Williamsburg, before the Presidents Park museum went bust.
Speaking to Smithsonian magazine last week, Hankins estimated he spent around $50,000 moving the sculptures, which each weigh between 11,000 and 20,000 pounds.
The busts had to be broken in the neck and at the top of their heads in order for a crane to load them onto a truck that transported them to the farm 10 miles away.
There the former presidents have sat ever since, exposed to the elements that have left them weathered and cracked in a sort of ghost town Mount Rushmore.
Photographer David Ogden visited the property, and his stunning pictures were recently featured on the @abandonedearth Instagram account.
Now, Hankins is working to raise money to restore the busts and rebuild the museum.
He started a Facebook page to publicize the project.
“Plans include a new facility with exhibits featuring an Oval office, Presidential transportation, The White House, First ladies, a secret service and covert ops area and other Presidential documents and memorabilia,” he wrote.
He hopes the museum will benefit the community and serve as a more fitting home for the presidents.