CROAKER, Va. (WDBJ7) – Tucked away in an industrial recycling environment, there is a bizarre group of supervisors watching the construction unfold before their eyes.
“It’s a complete show,” said photographer and tour guide John Plashal. “It’s almost as if this place has turned into North America’s Easter Island.”
But instead of the Moai statues, there are 42 huge presidential busts.
What they are doing here starts with a man named Howard Hankins, the owner of the property.
“He also happens to be the gentleman who saved all 42 of these precious artifacts,” explained Plashal.
From 2004-2010, the statues were part of a Williamsburg tourist attraction called President’s Park, but the park was not a hit with visitors.
“It was overpriced. It wasn’t exactly in an ideal location. It wasn’t marketed very well,” he said. “And it was a little sterile from what I heard from people who have been there.”
When he closed, Hankins was told to remove the statues and put them in a stone crusher.
“He didn’t have the heart to do it,” said Plashal.
So instead, he gave them a temporary home on his property and attempted to repair the three front row presidents. However, the time and cost of doing so has been extraordinary.
“And I think he later realized that the appeal of the masses of people who come down here is the fact that they are in a state of disrepair,” said Plashal.
There is no explanation as to why some statues are in better condition than others, except for the poor 16th American president.
“Abraham Lincoln was the only sculpture of all 42 to fall off the floor during transportation,” laughed Plashal.
But for Plashal, the injury only increases their character and attracts more people to see the show on their own.
“They are more interesting than a road trip than when they were in a park and perfectly pristine,” he said.
With the world’s growing attachment to social media, the anomaly of these statues has attracted people from all over the world, from history buffs to photographers to bizarre enthusiasts.
“You get a small subset of adults who come here without their phones, without their cameras, who just want to appreciate them for what they are,” said Plashal.
However, for most tourists who head to the abandoned and decaying cemetery of the American presidents, they want to prove that they are here.
“Now it’s all on social media,” said Plashal.
Although they have been exposed to the public for six years in President’s Park, they have never attracted the kind of popularity they have now.
“People like it better that way.”
Plashal said when they turn the corner and see the artifacts for the first time, their jaws drop. The view is as impressive as it is bizarre.
“They all say the same thing. It is more beautiful than I thought; they are bigger than I thought; and they are much more compact than I thought.”
Visitors also receive a unique history lesson from Plashal.
“They [find] Andrew Jackson taught his parrot how to swear and that he became problematic in the White House, “he said.” Or that Abe Lincoln was a skilled fighter, losing only one in over 300 games in his life, apparently consecrated in the World Wrestling Hall of Fame. ”
The 45-minute walking tour is more than fun facts and fantastic selfies. Plashal hopes visitors will leave with something a little more priceless.
“My goal is to get out of here inspired to lend a little more credibility, not just to the history of Virginia but to the history of the United States, and I’m feeling that it’s going on a bit, which is fantastic.”
Three of the presidents, Abraham Lincoln, William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor, were temporarily exhibited in Glen Maury Park in Buena Vista before being transported to President’s Park in the early 2000s.
Many people ask if the statues will ever be repaired or displayed differently. While this is still a possibility, Plashal said more likely than not, they will remain as they are because it is in this state that people want to see them.
The statues are located on private property and cannot be visited without organizing a tour. Click here to find the next available date.
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