On President’s Day Weekend, I was more than a little excited to get the chance to photograph the Presidents' Heads! These giant busts reside on private property, with only a few opportunities for the public to visit them each year. Exposed to the elements, cracked and crumbling in various stages of deterioration, they are surrounded by heavy equipment in an apocalyptic industrial wasteland where the mold and moss adds character and awesomeness to the entire experience.
Once part of an educational park called Presidents Park in Williamsburg, Virginia, these giant heads stand 20 to 22 feet tall, with each one weighing somewhere between 18 to 22 tons. There are 42 giant heads in all, not 43; everyone forgets that Grover Cleveland served two nonconsecutive terms in office, making him our 22nd and 24th U.S. President. The collection ended with George W. Bush when the park closed in 2010 from poor attendance due to the recession.
A miniature bust of Barack Obama is at the site. Only around a foot tall, he has been affectionately named Baby Obama. Once kidnapped, he now only comes out for special occasions.
Howard Hankins, the current owner of the heads, was hired initially to crunch up the concrete and dispose of the waste material at his materials resource recycling plant. He did not have the heart to destroy these massive sculptures obtaining permission to keep them instead.
Having never attempted something like this before, Hankins and his crew improvised learning the hard way as they worked. Lifting all that weight from the top caused many of the statues to crack along their neckline, and several of the first President’s they moved received broken noses.
Eight of the Presidents Heads are 20% larger than the others. They are the busts of the presidents that are considered to be the “Great Presidents”. This caused even more problems with the move since those busts weighed more than the 18,000 pound weight limit of the crane. A second crane had to be brought in to assist with those.
The walking tour of the President's Heads was peppered with interesting random facts about both the heads and the presidents themselves:
Abraham Lincoln at 6’4” was our tallest president. Geneticists now think that he might have had Marfan or some other marfanoid syndrome that was responsible for his height and elongated features.
Andrew Jackson was involved in several duels. When he died in 1845, he had a bullet still in his chest from a duel in 1806. Jackson also had a parrot that he taught to swear. The parrot attended Jackson’s funeral which took place in his home; the parrot became agitated and began swearing loudly upsetting the guests. He had to be removed from the room.
One of the questions people ask when visiting these giant heads: Why is Andrew Jackson front and center instead of Thomas Jefferson?
To which Howard Hankins responds: “Jackson has awesome hair and cool epaulets on his uniform! Besides, I’m not a University of Virginia (sports) fan.” LOL Thomas Jefferson was the founder of the University of Virginia.
Teddy Roosevelt’s 5th cousin, Franklin D Roosevelt, was the only president to be elected to 4 terms in office, something that can never be done again.
At 332 pounds, William Howard Taft was the heaviest president. He loved milk so much that he had his cow at the White House.
Harry S Truman, the only 20th century president that didn’t go to college, he practiced piano for 2 hours every day.
Ronald Reagan bears a scar on his cheek from where he was struck by lightning. Once asked what single accomplishment he was most proud of, it wasn’t his acting career or that he had become president. When he was young, working as a lifeguard, he was credited with saving 77 people from drowning.
Warren G Harding was known to be quite the gambler, he once lost the White House china in a poker game.
John Adams shown peering through the weeds, was the first president to live in the White House.
Theodore Roosevelt: At 42, he is the youngest person ever to be President. He was the inspiration for the teddy bear.
Woodrow Wilson: He suffered a massive stroke and was not in position to perform his duties in the last one year and a half of his second term. His wife Edith helped, running the so-called "Petticoat Government."
Lyndon Johnson: Was an auto mechanic and teacher before going into politics. He used to go through the White House at night turning lights off.
Calvin Coolidge was the only president to be born on Independence Day. Famous for being a man of few words, his nickname was Silent Cal. A woman at a party once told Coolidge that she bet a friend she could get him to say three words. He replied "You lose."
Martin Van Buren was the first president born an American citizen but Dutch was his first language. He popularized the term “OK”.
There was a long-standing, public and heated feud between Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter. Howard Hankins, a self-proclaimed history nerd, demonstrates his knowledge of history and shows his sense of humor with this subtle and ironic statue placement. Do you think Jimmy might be a little uncomfortable because of big brother John Kennedy's stare down?
There are 3 sets of Presidents' Heads in existence. The sculptor, David Adickes, has a complete set at his Houston, Texas studio. A third set is located in Leads, South Dakota at another defunct educational park/museum.
If you are interested in the artist's thoughts on why he created this collection and how they were sculpted, I have linked a fascinating 5 minute PBS video here.
Although this set of Presidents' Heads reside on private property near Williamsburg, Virginia, there are a limited number of public tours conducted. It is Hankin's dream that these tours will help him raise funds to place the Presidents' Heads on public display once again.
For more information about dates and times, check out John Plashal's Facebook Page.
You can find more of Susan's Virginia Travel Photography in the Virginia Collection of her Gallery.
Susan's work is available for purchase here: The Gallery.
Her images are available as wall art, fine art prints, on home decor, gift items and apparel.
I am the 8th photographer in 4 generations of my family. Back in 2006, my husband accepted a job traveling and I jumped at the chance to go with him. We have spent the last 11+ years traveling the United States.