Swelled Heads of State
Big Presidential Portraits Loom (and Rot) O’er the Land

5047 Mount Rushmore, the biggest heads of heads of state. CLUI photoWE ALL KNOW MOUNT RUSHMORE, home to some of the largest presidential heads in America. Sixty foot tall faces of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln, carved out of solid living rock by Gutzon Borglum (and others) gaze out and down at the masses below, who in turn look up and gawk at them.

5048 President Coolidge and his peers peer at the empty trails in Presidents Park, South Dakota, now closed. CLUI photoA few miles north in the Black Hills, however, another cluster of presidential heads lurks in the woods, unvisited, at Presidents Park, an attraction that closed in 2010. Here twenty foot tall busts of 43 presidents (up to the second Bush) are arranged along a winding path, behind a closed gate, slowly falling apart.

The heads were made by the larger than life artist David Adickes, known for his fifty foot-tall Sam Houston Monument, next to the interstate in his hometown of Huntsville, Texas. He was initially inspired to make the presidential heads after visiting Mount Rushmore, and was later commissioned to make them all by the developers of Presidents Park, five miles outside of Deadwood, in the Black Hills. The park opened in 2003, but lasted only a few years before going out of business. Apparently it is still for sale.

5049 The big heads from Presidents Park, Virginia, now closed. CLUI photoThis was one of two complete sets of president busts of this scale that Adickes made. The other is 1,488 miles away, near Norge, Virginia. This set was commissioned for a Presidents Park in Williamsburg, Virginia, which opened in 2004. It too went out of business in just a few years.

In this case, the land was auctioned off, and a local contractor, Howard Hankins, was tasked with crushing and removing the heads, but could not bear to do so, so instead he hauled them one at a time to his property. Though damaged by the move, the ten-ton plaster busts, placed in haphazard rows, are decomposing in a dignified manner amidst his commercial mulching operation. Hankins hopes someone will come forward to help get them fixed up and put on display somewhere. Meanwhile people sneak in when they can and post photos of them online.

Other stray presidential heads made by David Adickes are scattered around, here and there. Reagan, George W. Bush and JFK are clustered next to the highway and a drive-in in Hermosa, South Dakota, and a giant Eisenhower looms over the interstate outside his birthplace at Denison, Texas. Adickes has become the go-to guy for big presidential heads, though at the moment the boom in big busts seems bust. ♦

5051 Big Head Nidus: The artist David Adickes studio in Houston is the point of origin of large white presidential heads that are scattered nationwide. CLUI photo