HISTORIC TRIANGLE — On Saturday, April 3, we asked you through social media to guess where the above picture was in the Historic Triangle.
We had so many great guesses but now it is time to reveal the answer.
If you said one of the busts from the former Presidents Park, you are correct!
One of the more unique attractions to have graced the Historic Triangle was our very own open-air museum, Presidents Park.
Opened in 2004 by Everette “Haley” Newman, the idea for this “Roadside Americana” gem was to have an accessible way to teach visitors about American Presidential history and civics.
After some controversy with York County over its classification (and quiet mutterings over whether it was a little too “tacky” for the park’s neighbors), followed by a brief stint of the heads being put temporarily on display at Norfolk Botanical Gardens, the 15- to 20-foot-tall white busts were inaugurated as part of the local tourism scene.
Here’s a fun fact… there are 42 busts of all of the presidents through our 43rd president, George W. Bush. Why only 42? Well, Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms!
Inside a red brick building, guests could explore reproductions of the First Lady gowns, an Oval Office set (that was used for an episode of “Saturday Night Live”), and the contents of the Presidential Pet Museum, which shuttered its doors in Annapolis, Md. a few years prior.
But it was behind the building that was a real head scratcher. These giant statues stood behind signs that contained biographical information about each of the presidents. There was also the model of an Air Force 1 fuselage as the centerpiece of this outdoor display.
Some say the park was far too expensive for what was actually there, while others could never find it due to its lack of visibility behind a local motel. But for many reasons, the little park that couldn’t closed its doors in 2010.
That’s when local contractor, Howard Hankins, stepped in to save the day. And like Washington crossing the Delaware (if it cost Washington $50,000 to do so), Hankins loaded each head one by one on the back of flatbed trucks and moved them to his personal property in Norge.
While there were several pitfalls along the route (including Abraham Lincoln’s bust falling off the back of the truck and, rather ironically, creating a cavernous wound in the back of its head), they made it to Norge to sit in a possible post-presidential retirement.
Howard Hankins has toyed with the idea of putting the heads on display. Should he just reopen the park like it was? Should he open a presidential-themed water park near Doswell (though I would hope there would be a policy against one of John Quincy Adams’ preferred ways of swimming! Click here for more!)? Or should he sell the busts to Wreaths Across America?
So far, the busts have not been put on the ballot to leave the bottom of the pit where they now languish in wait.
It is in this afterlife that they have found more attention than ever before. The inaccessible nature of the property has made it the target for clandestine urban explorers who go there only to realize that Hankins keeps the property under lock and key.
Instead of risking the temptation further, Hankins has partnered with Virginia photographer, John Plashal, who routinely gives tours of the busts. With the ticket comes more than the otherworldly view of the heads… but also a wealth of facts that John has collected during his time with the 42 men. Take it from me, the cost of the event is worth every dime (just wear comfy shoes and be prepared to see the occasional goat).
From one roadside attraction weirdling to all of you, let’s sing “Hail to the Chief” and celebrate this oddity in our own backyards.
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