Standing nearly 20-feet-high, 43 U.S. Presidential busts are an unusual sight in a field in Croaker, Virginia. From George Washington to George W. Bush, these remnants of the now-closed Presidents Park in Colonial Williamsburg are stored on the property of Howard Hankins. When the theme park closed due to poor attendance he was commissioned to destroy them, but not having the heart to do so, he paid to have them transported to his property, where they have sat decaying for years.
The heads have become a tourist attraction in their own right for those eager to take photos of the decaying busts, now the landowner has partnered with rural explorer and photographer, John Plashal, to provide a legal tour of the site. Plashal has a passion for beautiful abandoned places throughout Virginia and has held tours in the past of an abandoned prison and a historic abandoned schoolhouse. He explains to Lonely Planet Travel News why he is so invested in this project: “the heads will soon be gone from Virginia, this is a bucket list trip. The emotional responses are very powerful from people who visit - ranging from complete elation to profound sadness."
Although one head is currently missing, that of Barack Obama, “somebody made off with a miniature Obama head, which had angered the owner. He is going public on the news in an attempt to find the culprit and have Obama returned.” The heads that are most popular with visitors? “George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Not just because of their historical relevance but because they sit separate from the masses of other presidents and are easier to access and individually photograph.”
Offering different types of tours, from group tours, to ones with an accompanying talk on Abandoned Virginia, the most popular is proving to be a night-time tour of the heads. Plashal explains the appeal: “the statues assume an entirely new level of creepiness under the evening skies. It is really cool to see these things during daylight, but it is absolutely indescribable to witness these statues at night. Almost ethereal.” A light-painting expert is on hand at night to offer tutorials on how to get the best evening-time shot.
According to multiple media reports, Hankins has said he is seeking to restore and transport the massive sculptures, but needs to find more than $1.5 million in order to do so. “The heads will soon be gone from Virginia (Plashal doesn’t know where they are going), so people from all over the world are now coming in to see them while they are still in a decrepit state in the middle of a field to bid them farewell and to photograph them.”
"It’s perplexing how nobody cared to see these statues when they were accessible in a public park and now the whole world wants to see them since they are decaying and largely inaccessible," Plashala laments.
Members of the public cannot access the site without being on an official tour, to book, visit John Paschal’s Facebook page.