A neglected field in Croaker, Virginia, is the site of a modern-day Eastern Island, not made up of stone Fiji gods, but 20-foot-tall Presidential busts, each one weighing between 11,000 and 20,000 pounds. There are 43 of them–they were created before President Obama’s election–all in varying states of disrepair. Noses cracked off. Skulls caved in. Faces peeling off.
From George Washington to George W. Bush, photographer David Ogden has photographed all of Croaker’s stone President busts. But even more interesting than Ogden’s photographs of the Ozymandias-style visages is the story of how these busts came to be in a field to begin with.
As explained in this excellent article at Smithsonian.com, the busts were originally created in 2004 by Williamsburg-area sculptor named David Adickes, who was inspired to create the statuary after driving past Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. His rationale: Why should Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt be the only presidents given the Rushmore treatment? So Adickes teamed up with a local landowner named Everette “Haley” Newman to create President’s Park, a tourist attraction just outside of Williamsburg that aimed to give every president–even lesser ones like Martin Van Buren, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Millard Fillmore–the opportunity to be immortalized as a giant granite bust.
President’s Park opened in 2004 and closed just six years later after going into foreclosure. The busts were going to be destroyed, but a local man named Howard Hankins, who helped build President’s Park, didn’t think it was right that the noble countenances of America’s presidents should be demolished with bulldozers. So he paid $50,000 dollars to laboriously move the 43 sculptures to his family farm in nearby Croaker using cranes and flatbed trucks. Most of the damage that has occurred to the busts happened during this move, although there are some exceptions: Ronald Reagan, for example, has been disfigured by a lightning strike.
Unfortunately, you can’t actually go see the presidential busts for yourself, at least not legally. Hankins’s farm is officially closed to visitors, with the occasional exception made for eager photographers like Ogden.
But if you do get to see them, Ogden tells me, the experience can be breathtakingly eerie. “When I first saw these 43 heads in person, I couldn’t move. I think my camera even slipped out of my hand,” he said. “You don’t watch them. They’re the ones watching you!”
All Photos: David Ogden