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43 Giant Presidential Heads Are Stuck in a Field in Virginia

Tucked away in an unassuming field in the town of Croaker, Virginia, sits perhaps the greatest presidential monument you’ve never heard of. That’s because this private farm is home to 43 presidential busts that were originally crafted to be the centerpiece of Presidents Park, an open-air museum in Williamsburg, Virginia that would rival anything found in Washington D.C. Today, though, they sit as crumbling colossi waiting for a new home.

The park was originally conceived by Houston artist David Adickes, who was struck by the idea after visiting Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. He teamed with investor Everette “Haley” Newman to turn this idea into a lasting monument for these larger-than-life politicians. When it opened in 2004, Presidents Park featured a sculpture garden with every Commander in Chief from George Washington to George W. Bush, all meticulously crafted by Adickes and his team of sculptors. The busts ranged from 18 to 20 feet tall and weighed in at around 22,000 pounds.

Unfortunately, the $10 million experiment that was Virginia’s Presidents Park wasn’t long for this world; it was shut down in 2010 due to lack of visitors. Though it was located in Williamsburg, Virginia, it wasn’t near the tourist-friendly colonial section. Instead it was located adjacent to a highway, obscured by woods and a motel, which left these 20-foot presidential heads as nothing more than an obscure curiosity. Money got so tight toward the end that they couldn’t afford the $60,000 to add a bust of Barack Obama to the roster.

After the park was shut down and the land auctioned off, Howard Hankins, who helped build the park, had the heads moved to his family’s farm in Croaker—even though Newman originally just wanted to destroy them. It took nearly a week to move all 43 busts to their new location, and due to their immense size and weight, the move didn’t exactly go smoothly. Cracked heads and damaged noses were just some of the maladies suffered during the $50,000 relocation. The most notable damage was inflicted upon Abraham Lincoln, who now sports a not-too-subtle gaping hole in the back of his head. That’s in addition to the dilapidated state the busts were in before the move, including a lightning strike that claimed half of Ronald Reagan’s face and severe weathering from years of neglect.

Though they’ve been at their new home since 2012, there are still no specific plans for the heads. Weather and nature have now taken a considerable toll on the busts—some frogs apparently call James Buchanan "home" now—and a GoFundMe campaign by the Hankins family to repair the statues and move them to a new museum has earned a paltry $841 of its $500,000 goal in 12 months.

Still, Hankins is keeping his dream of a new museum alive, telling PBS, “It’s amazing, the history of it all, I want to preserve all I can and share it.” Until Hankins can find a permanent home for these statues, tourists looking for an obscure site to see should know that there are 240 years of American history peeling and cracking in a field in Croaker, Virginia.

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Courtesy of Freeman's
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History
For Sale: More Than 150 Items of Victorian Mourning Art, Clothing, and Jewelry
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Courtesy of Freeman's

Funeral fashion hasn't always been reserved for memorial services, judging from a massive memento mori auction that's being billed as perhaps the largest collection of mourning art ever offered for sale. Spotted by Atlas Obscura and sponsored by Philadelphia-based Freeman’s auction house, the online sale—which kicks off on Wednesday, November 15—features more than 150 works from a renowned private collection, ranging from clothing and jewelry to artworks.

During the Victorian era, people paid tribute to their loved ones by wearing black mourning garb and symbolic accessories. (The latter often featured jet or real locks of hair, according to a 2008 article published in the academic journal Omega.) They also commissioned death-themed artworks and objects, including paintings, as exhibited by Angus Trumble's 2007 book Love & Death: Art in the Age of Queen Victoria.

These items have long since fallen out of fashion, but some historic preservationists amassed their own macabre private collections. Anita Schorsch, who’s arguably the most famous collector of memento mori, used her historic treasures to launch the Museum of Mourning Art back in 1990. Located in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, the museum is—as its name suggests—the only institution in the nation devoted exclusively to mourning art. The museum has been closed since Schorsch's death in 2015, and the items featured in Freeman's auction are from her collection.

Check out some of its memento mori below, or view the online catalogue here.

Hairwork choker, 19th century-mori, from the Collection of Irvin and Anita Schorsch
Hairwork choker, 19th century-mori, from the Collection of Irvin and Anita Schorsch
Courtesy OF Freeman's


Hairwork shroud pin, 19th century, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

Gold, enamel and pearl "Stuart crystal" mourning slide, made in late 17th century England and part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Gold, enamel and pearl "Stuart crystal" mourning slide, made in late 17th century England and part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

Group of 19th century ladies and gentleman's mourning costumes, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Group of 19th century ladies and gentleman's mourning costumes, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's


18th century iron and brass cemetery padlock from London, England, part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Christie's Images Ltd. 2017
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History
Abraham Lincoln Letter About Slavery Could Fetch $700,000 at Auction
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Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, in which future president Abraham Lincoln spent seven debates discussing the issue of slavery with incumbent U.S. senator Stephen Douglas, paved the way for Lincoln’s eventual ascent to the presidency. Now part of that history can be yours, as the AP reports.

A signed letter from Lincoln to his friend Henry Asbury dated July 31, 1858 explores the “Freeport Question” he would later pose to Douglas during the debates, forcing the senator to publicly choose between two contrasting views related to slavery’s expansion in U.S. territories: whether it should be up to the people or the courts to decide where slavery was legal. (Douglas supported the popular choice argument, but that position was directly counter to the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision.)

The first page of a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Henry Asbury
Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

In the letter, Lincoln was responding to advice Asbury had sent him on preparing for his next debate with Douglas. Asbury essentially framed the Freeport Question for the politician. In his reply, Lincoln wrote that it was a great question, but would be difficult to get Douglas to answer:

"You shall have hard work to get him directly to the point whether a territorial Legislature has or has not the power to exclude slavery. But if you succeed in bringing him to it, though he will be compelled to say it possesses no such power; he will instantly take ground that slavery can not actually exist in the territories, unless the people desire it, and so give it protective territorial legislation."

Asbury's influence didn't end with the debates. A founder of Illinois's Republican Party, he was the first to suggest that Lincoln should run for president in 1860, and secured him the support of the local party.

The letter, valued at $500,000 to $700,000, is up for sale as part of a books and manuscripts auction that Christie’s will hold on December 5.

[h/t Associated Press]

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