“My plan is a real White House, actual size, with tours, a ballroom — every event the White House has, I’m going to have it,” says Hankins, whom many have credited with preserving a landmark. “I’m going to have a mini White House, too, with Secret Service training in there for kids, and they’re going to come in and play laser tag after they get trained to protect the president. I’m going to have re-enactors for all the events. If they have the turkey thing I’m going to have the turkey thing. When they do the Easter egg hunt I’m going to do one.”
The heads, of course, would accompany all this. But so far, this new park is merely hypothetical. He’s still scouting locations, soliciting investors — including Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump — and he’s reluctant to give many specifics, all of which make his plans feel, if not totally farfetched, incredibly ambitious and more than a little eccentric.
“I did contact him [Trump]. I said, ‘I’m building a museum and you’re going to pay for it.’ I said, ‘I’m getting ready to build you two statues, one out of concrete and one out of gold.’”
Lost in the narrative of the heads, however, in the shadow of their own peculiarity and Hankins’ grand plans for their future, is 89-year-old David Adickes, the world-renowned artist who created them. Less than a year ago, well after they’d been relocated, a friend sent him a link to a story on the heads, the first he’d heard about the current status of his work.
“I was totally shocked and disappointed that they had been raped,” he says. “I was pissed off and devastated and sad and all the rest. But there’s nothing I could do about it at this point.”
Adickes is responsible for several major sculptures in Texas, including “The Virtuoso,” a 36-foot-tall cellist outside The Lyric Centre in downtown Houston, and a 67-foot-tall Sam Houston in his hometown of Huntsville. While at work on the Sam Houston sculpture in 1993, Adickes vacationed to Canada to visit friends. On his return south, he stopped at Mount Rushmore for the first time in his life, “which was overwhelming.”
“But I was disappointed that I couldn’t get up close to them, and look them in the eye like I did the Sam Houston statue,” he says. “I thought, ‘Why not do a park with big heads, and not just four, but all 42 of them at the time.”
In 2002, he displayed his first set of presidential heads in Lead, South Dakota, complete with informational placards for every commander in chief. In retrospect, Adickes says, the first park was a mistake. Too much snow in the Black Hills, the window to enjoy the park too short. Today, the park is closed, though he still owns the 52-acre property, and he’s started a program to sell off the heads individually to communities that correspond with each president. Eisenhower, for example, now resides in Dennison, TX, where he was born, and Andrew Jackson is now in Jackson, MS.
That Adickes is “really old, and I hear dying,” is the extent of Hankins’ knowledge of the sculptor. Neither Hankins nor anyone else in Williamsburg informed Adickes about the crumbling status of his work — both literally and metaphorically — nor did they ask for his advice on how to move the busts in the first place. If they had, he would have told them to drill a small hole, just two or three inches, in the top of the head, and then to loop a nylon strap through the rebar underneath. It’s how he moved them all to Williamsburg in the first place, without any damage at all.
“But no, they cut big holes in the back of the heads and lifted them with a forklift, and that damaged them terribly,” he says. “I don’t even like to look at the photographs, because I can see they’re damaged in other ways. Now they look like a graveyard of our greatest heroes, of our American presidents. That’s sad to see.”
For the time being, the heads will remain on Hankins’ farm, more than four million dollars — the work of an acclaimed sculptor — resting in plain sight, exposed to the elements, to the wind and the rain and the sun, and to all those curiosity seekers undaunted by his warnings to keep out.
Allison DeMarcus heads toward the truck. Hankins steps out. It’s call time, again, for the presidents’ keeper.