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These giant sculptures bring new meaning to ‘heads of state’

In our NewsHour Shares moment of the day, intrepid explorers flock to this rural Virginia farm for a glimpse of past presidents.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now to our NewsHour Shares, something that caught our eye that might be of interest to you, too.

    Some people collect stamps, some coins, or, in the case of our founding co-anchor, Jim Lehrer, anything to do with buses.

    But one Virginia man owns dozens of giant sculptures of our nation’s commanders in chief.

    To mark President’s Day, the NewsHour’s Julia Griffin has paid his collection a visit.

  • JULIA GRIFFIN:

    Cracked and crumbling, battered and broken, these are the faces of Presidents Park. The 10-acre tourist destination outside of Colonial Williamsburg opened in 2004. The main attraction? Forty-three Texas-sized busts of presidents past by Houston artist David Adickes.

    Utility contractor Howard Hankins helped build the original park.

  • HOWARD HANKINS, Utility Contractor:

    The eyes look like they’re staring at you, just gazing at you. It’s incredible how big they are and lifelike.

  • JULIA GRIFFIN:

    The statues are big, but attendance was low, and the venture went belly up in 2010.

    When the Presidents Park was forced to close, the presidential busts were destined for a landfill. Rather than let that happen, Hankins decide to bring them here, to his family farm in Virginia.

    But the steel and concrete sculptures weigh between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds, and moving them wasn’t exactly an easy lift.

  • HOWARD HANKINS:

    I got a ladder, climbed up on top, popped a hole in their head, and rocked them loose from the frame with about a 70,000-pound machine, and picked them up and put them on my lowboys and brought them here.

  • JULIA GRIFFIN:

    Abraham Lincoln, in particular, took a beating.

  • HOWARD HANKINS:

    Lincoln over there, we dropped him on his — back of his head. We had tires to cushion him, and the chain broke, and we dropped him.

  • JULIA GRIFFIN:

    The busts can be repaired. But, for now, Hankins lets the elements take their toll.

  • HOWARD HANKINS:

    Being out of concrete, the water gets in and freezes and cracks them. They kind of have character the way they are, I mean, a little mold and moss on them and crack here and there.

  • JULIA GRIFFIN:

    Even though it’s private land, intrepid explorers, with their selfie sticks, still flock to the farm for a glimpse of the stone-faced leaders.

  • HOWARD HANKINS:

    I have to tell them, this is not a site to visit. And I’m nice as I can be. I will let them walk around and look. And they try to climb on them, and no climbing on the statues, please.

  • JULIA GRIFFIN:

    Rather than relegate the busts to an unofficial tourist attraction, Hankins recently started raising funds for a new park outside of Richmond, one that will include two new additions, Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

    Until then, Hankins will keep a close watch over his commanders in- chief.

  • HOWARD HANKINS:

    Yes, these guys seem to get along out here pretty well. I don’t see anybody fight.

  • JULIA GRIFFIN:

    It’s all bipartisan, though?

  • HOWARD HANKINS:

    Yes, very good people.

  • JULIA GRIFFIN:

    Once they retire.

  • HOWARD HANKINS:

    They all listen to me.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JULIA GRIFFIN:

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Julia Griffin in Croaker, Virginia.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    That’s another way of thinking about our presidents. And on the NewsHour online right now, we test your knowledge of all things presidential with our President’s Day quiz.

    All that and more is on our Web site, pbs.org/newshour.

    It’s not easy.

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