Episode 97

Exploring the Ruins of President's Park: A Journey into History

🎙 Warning: These new shirts may cause history-inspired travel

We delve into our experiences visiting the weathered 20-foot busts of past American Presidents at the "Ruins of President's Park" in Virginia. These remnants of an ambitious, yet short-lived theme park are not pristine but provide an eerily captivating glimpse into history. Jenn explains that each statue was intricately detailed and represented the presidents faithfully while Scott discusses his experience filming these massive structures. They also touch upon the vestiges of President's Park in South Dakota and Texas.

Visit here: https://thepresidentsheads.com

Full video: Giant Ruins of Presidents Park

0:00 Ruins of Presidents Park

00:10 Introduction to Talk With History

00:34 Review Time: Listener Feedback and Appreciation

02:07 Embarking on a Presidential Pilgrimage: The Ruins of President's Park

03:36 The History and Closure of President's Park

04:20 The Intricate Details and Current State of the Presidential Busts

06:31 The Journey of the Busts Post Closure

09:34 The Experience of Visiting the Ruins Today

17:26 Conclusion: The Lessons from the Ruins of President's Park

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Transcript
Scott:

Welcome to Talk With History.

Scott:

I am your host, Scott, here with my wife and historian,

Jenn:

Hello.

Scott:

On this podcast, we give you insights to our history inspired

Scott:

world travels, YouTube channel journey, and examine history

Scott:

through deeper conversations with the curious, the explorers, and

Scott:

the history lovers out there.

Scott:

Now, Jen, before we get into our main topic, it's review time.

Scott:

So we actually got a couple of reviews, so I actually really appreciate that.

Scott:

And we bumped up to our 10th five star review.

Scott:

Huzzah.

Scott:

And, uh, we got another five star review on Apple podcast

Scott:

from a miss Paula Daniels.

Scott:

So her five star review said, love this episode.

Scott:

Thank you for giving us a little more background to masters of the air.

Scott:

That was a really fun episode to do.

Scott:

And if you're listening, you can go back and find that.

Scott:

In the podcast episodes, or we actually did a full video version of that

Scott:

podcast on the Walk With History, our Walk With History YouTube channel.

Scott:

She continued, My husband and I have been watching My husband's uncle was a B 17

Scott:

radio tech slash gunner based in, I think it's Fugia, Italy from 1943 to 1944.

Scott:

Uncle Mickey enlisted after the bombing of Pearl Harbor as many young men did.

Scott:

This series and your podcast really help us understand the

Scott:

dangers these guys encountered.

Scott:

It's mind blowing and makes us respect our American soldiers so much more.

Scott:

Well, thank you so much, Paul.

Scott:

That was really, really nice.

Scott:

And I love.

Scott:

Absolutely love hearing from our listeners.

Jenn:

too, that really is, uh, encouraging.

Jenn:

So thank you.

Scott:

That was great.

Scott:

And for anybody else listening, please keep those reviews and feedback coming.

Scott:

If you ever want to just reach out to us directly, you can,, find our contact

Scott:

information over at talkwithhistory.

Scott:

com.

Scott:

Today we embark on a presidential pilgrimage unlike any other, a journey

Scott:

to the enigmatic and awe inspiring ruins of President's Park here in Virginia.

Scott:

Imagine this, sunlight filtering through leaves as you stroll through rolling

Scott:

fields and suddenly you come face to face with a 20 foot bust of George

Scott:

Washington or Abraham Lincoln and 41 other American leaders who came before them.

Scott:

It's an experience that's both humbling and unforgettable.

Scott:

But these aren't your typical, pristine presidential statues.

Scott:

Weathered and decaying, they stand as remnants of an ambitious dream

Scott:

that never quite materialized.

Scott:

Get ready to ponder the legacies of our past presidents, marvel at the power of

Scott:

nature, reclaiming man's creations, and maybe even unearth some unknown secrets

Scott:

you can use with you on your next journey to Maybe South Dakota of all places.

Scott:

So whether you're a history buff, a fan of the unusual, or simply looking

Scott:

for a virtual adventure this episode is for you, grab your headphones, buckle

Scott:

up, and let's embark on a journey to the ruins of president's park.

Scott:

So Jen, this was a lot more fun than I expected it to be.

Scott:

So tell us what we're talking about today.

Jenn:

So if you ever wonder what happens to old theme parks when they close, think

Jenn:

of like old Scooby Doo episodes and stuff.

Jenn:

So this was an established theme park outside of Colonial

Jenn:

Williamsburg, and it opened in 2004.

Jenn:

And it was busts of the first 43 presidents.

Jenn:

Now there's only 42 busts because Grover Cleveland served

Jenn:

twice with someone in between

Scott:

that's right.

Scott:

So I got my little intro.

Scott:

My intro was off

Jenn:

And I didn't know that either until I read it a couple of times like

Jenn:

42 busts, but there's 43 presidents.

Jenn:

And they say, cause Grover Cleveland had a break.

Jenn:

He's 40, he's 25 and 27 or something like that.

Jenn:

He's in, he has.

Jenn:

He's served twice with a president between him.

Jenn:

So it's these 18 feet to 20 feet busts of these presidents and they are really

Jenn:

grand and very intricate and detailed.

Jenn:

It's just amazing to see them.

Jenn:

So this park.

Jenn:

opened in 2004.

Scott:

It was originally called just President's

Jenn:

It was called President's Park.

Jenn:

And it was like, if you go to Colonial Williamsburg, it's very much a tourist

Jenn:

destination with the Historic Triangle.

Jenn:

We've done a lot of episodes, Jamestown, Yorktown, Colonial Williamsburg.

Jenn:

This is something else for people to do.

Jenn:

So basically, if you bring your family for a week to Colonial Williamsburg.

Jenn:

How are you filling the days, right?

Jenn:

Like you're taking them to New York town one day, you're taking them to

Jenn:

Jamestown one day, you're spending a day in Colonial Williamsburg, and

Jenn:

you're like, okay, what can I do?

Jenn:

Oh, I'll take you to President's Park.

Jenn:

So it was like a walk, it was outdoor.

Jenn:

And it was a kind of a walk with these bus with three plaques in front of them.

Jenn:

And the plaques would give you Just details of their lives, of

Jenn:

their presidencies, and then a bunch of like fun facts, trivia

Scott:

Yeah.

Scott:

And we actually, uh, funny enough, cause if you're listening to this,

Scott:

we have a full video, so I highly encourage anybody listening to go watch

Scott:

the video because you can really get a good feel for how big these busts are

Scott:

and like you said, how grand they are, but a friend of ours, Chris from over

Scott:

his, another history, YouTube creator at, at WhitDocs he commented on the

Scott:

video and he's I actually went there.

Scott:

In, I think it was 2005, and he says, I've got pictures somewhere, they may

Scott:

be lost to time, but he actually went there and paid and walked through

Scott:

the park and did all the stuff.

Jenn:

Yeah.

Jenn:

And if you have gone and have pictures, the gentlemen who

Jenn:

run it now want those pictures.

Jenn:

So if you, there's a website, the president's heads that are run

Jenn:

by the two men who now run these.

Jenn:

weekend visits, and they're looking for original pictures so they can

Jenn:

show those to people who come and visit what the park originally looked

Scott:

Oh, cool.

Jenn:

So, like I said, it was outdoor.

Jenn:

It was like a walk around.

Jenn:

We walked around and they were in order from other presidencies.

Jenn:

And then there was some it.

Jenn:

Exhibits inside and they said they had the first lady's dresses and things

Jenn:

like that things you can see today at the smithsonian But unfortunately

Jenn:

the museum went bankrupt in 2010.

Jenn:

So basically it only was around for six years and they auctioned off the land

Jenn:

and The bus was supposed to basically be Recycled destroyed they're made

Jenn:

of metal So there's metal inside of a metal framing which you could recycle

Jenn:

that and then there's cement on over the metal with plaster over the cement.

Jenn:

And the gentleman who was supposed to recycle them is the gentleman who actually

Jenn:

took them and put them on his property.

Scott:

I think he, he either purchased them or worked out a deal, adjusted it.

Scott:

They had, he had been hired to recycle and, and get, get them off the land.

Scott:

And then instead he was like, well, hey, let me work something

Scott:

out so I can take these and.

Scott:

Do something else with them.

Jenn:

Yeah, he figured maybe I can open another park.

Jenn:

Now they were originally created this Everett Newman, the second was a local

Jenn:

entrepreneur in Colonial Williamsburg.

Jenn:

It was his idea to make this original president's park.

Jenn:

And then he hired sculptor David addicts to sculpt these sculptures.

Jenn:

And he really used a, if you can think of a Mount Rushmore as his inspiration.

Scott:

mean, and, and you, you can, this is a pretty easy Google search.

Scott:

Mm-Hmm.

Scott:

, right.

Scott:

Or look in our show notes for some links.

Scott:

But it, it looks very much like that.

Scott:

The, the models, the busts.

Scott:

It's the very, very much the same style.

Scott:

I mean, if you look at George Washington in our video.

Scott:

It looks like the George Washington sitting up there on Mount Rushmore.

Jenn:

Yeah, they're very, I'd say favorably done to depict the presidents.

Jenn:

And so they're 18 to 20 feet because I think some presidents

Jenn:

are taller and shorter than others.

Jenn:

So he wanted to play a little bit with scale, but not.

Jenn:

too much.

Jenn:

And he made three actually of each president.

Jenn:

So one was for Colonial Williamsburg.

Jenn:

They did do the same idea outside of Deadwood, South Dakota.

Jenn:

Same premise.

Jenn:

When you go visit Mount Rushmore, usually go for a week.

Jenn:

And there's only so many things you can do while you're there.

Jenn:

You see Mount Rushmore, you'll see crazy horrors and you're

Jenn:

like, how can we fill the rest of

Scott:

And, and that would be very much in, in theme with being there

Scott:

at Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, because of busts and presidents

Scott:

and all that kind of history

Jenn:

Yes.

Jenn:

You go to Deadwood for a day.

Jenn:

And then this park, kind of like President's Park, was around Deadwood

Jenn:

and, but the same thing happened.

Jenn:

It couldn't be financially sound.

Jenn:

I think it was actually in Lead, which is right outside of Deadwood.

Jenn:

Remember Lead is the mining

Scott:

Oh yeah,

Jenn:

And so it couldn't be financially sound and they closed as well.

Jenn:

Now what I read what happened to their busts is a lot of RV parks.

Jenn:

In the area, South Dakota, North, North Dakota, even Montana.

Jenn:

If their name for the president, like there was a Teddy Roosevelt Park, there's

Jenn:

a Lincoln Park, they took the busts.

Scott:

that's cool.

Jenn:

So you can still find them today in

Scott:

You could, you could drive into Lincoln RV park and there's Lincoln

Scott:

sitting out front, 20 foot bust.

Jenn:

And then the other set is in Texas because that's where the sculptor is from.

Jenn:

So he built one set there.

Jenn:

So I have people have commented online that they've seen them in Texas.

Jenn:

And I, I just assume that he has them maybe on his private

Jenn:

land where people can visit.

Scott:

Yeah, and one of the fun things about doing this video, I was like a

Scott:

kid in a candy store when I, there with my camera because it was just so unique

Scott:

with all of us, the average person is, hovers around just below or just

Scott:

above six feet, six feet tall, right?

Scott:

And all of us are walking around and it's families and it's kids and these

Scott:

busts, how they're grouped together, actually grouped very close together.

Scott:

And so what happens in this field, it's on private property.

Scott:

It's not a public park.

Scott:

They only open it, I think eight times a year,

Jenn:

you have to buy your tickets beforehand.

Jenn:

Again, visit presidentsheads.

Jenn:

com.

Jenn:

They sell them on Eventbrite and they basically do it for a whole

Scott:

Yeah, they give you like a two hour slot.

Scott:

So you show up, you gather your two hour slot, they give you the intro and

Scott:

then they give you a fair warning and be like, Hey, typically, If it rains,

Scott:

it doesn't really dry out because these busts are tall and it doesn't let the sun

Scott:

in and so it's very, very muddy and so fortunately, they've actually purchased a

Scott:

bunch of boots, kind of rain style boots.

Scott:

You can take your shoes off, put boots on.

Scott:

And our kids love that.

Scott:

That was like their favorite part, was just walking around, traipsing around in

Scott:

this big, thick mud in these rain boots.

Scott:

And we kept yelling at them don't get dirty the whole time.

Scott:

And then you and I, I think you actually put rain boots on.

Scott:

I had my kind of boots that I didn't care if they got dirt.

Scott:

Dirty.

Scott:

But these, they are amazing to be close and personal with.

Scott:

The, the old ones, it was almost a little neater because they're decaying some.

Scott:

Because it's a little, it's just a different vibe.

Scott:

And I found some old videos from like 2017, so five or six years ago.

Scott:

And even Ronald Reagan was one that kind of really stood out to me because

Scott:

I guess he got struck by lightning just less than a year ago from when we went.

Scott:

He got struck by lightning in 2023.

Scott:

And so you could see nowadays his face has decayed quite, quite a bit.

Scott:

But the 2017 video that I Borrowed some of their footage and credited

Scott:

them and I wanted to show the contrast from just a few years ago to today I

Scott:

mean he looks fairly pristine and very white and and nowadays are decaying

Scott:

and you know You can see inside of some of them and who's the president

Scott:

that had his kind of jaw fall off

Jenn:

So Chester Arthur, who's the president after Garfield, after Garfield's

Jenn:

assassinated, he's the 21st president.

Jenn:

He has what they call mutton chops, which is where you can

Jenn:

grow the hair down the sides.

Jenn:

Not sideburns.

Jenn:

Like you can think of Elvis having the sideburns.

Jenn:

These go further down your chin and the mutton chops were long

Jenn:

and again, very, uh, detailed.

Jenn:

And because of the weight that the cement had with the plaster on his

Jenn:

face, it actually broke his face away.

Jenn:

So if you see, if you're on Instagram, you see me standing by a president

Jenn:

that looks like he has no face.

Jenn:

All you can see is the metal framing inside.

Jenn:

That's Chester Arthur because the mutton chops have.

Jenn:

broken his face

Scott:

And some of the detail on these presidents was really, really

Jenn:

I love that the most like walking up to Eisenhower and he's in uniform.

Scott:

ribbons and you had, you could see his five stars and who was it that,

Scott:

uh, I mean, had the horn rim glasses.

Scott:

And then Andrew Jackson up front was just, I mean, spectacular.

Jenn:

Truman had the glasses.

Jenn:

Andrew Jackson's hair was like blowing in the

Scott:

It's blowing in the wind.

Scott:

And think about this, like picture this in your mind at 20.

Scott:

He was probably a little taller, probably 20 plus 22, 23 feet.

Scott:

Full metal frame, cement, and plaster, and it looks like he's standing there

Scott:

with his classic kind of hair blowing in the wind, he's wearing, he's in uniform,

Jenn:

with epaulets.

Scott:

epaulets on his shoulders, and those really stand out, just

Scott:

looks absolutely spectacular

Jenn:

Yeah, he blew me away with how incredible again, the

Jenn:

detail was on these on these bus.

Jenn:

And then you have George W.

Jenn:

Bush, who has little Elephants on his tie to represent the Republican Party

Jenn:

and they're very detailed elephants like they're sculpted out each one.

Scott:

we say little I mean little is like they're probably five inches tall

Scott:

five six inches tall But compared to the rest of the bus that they pair little

Scott:

so it was really neat to see some of these details because they Had details

Scott:

it everywhere And it was so much fun for me as a as an amateur videographer to

Scott:

just shoot and get all these fun angles.

Scott:

And he's just, it was super unique.

Scott:

And I, I, I enjoyed it so much more than I expected.

Jenn:

I would definitely say the reason, so there's two gentlemen who

Jenn:

privately run it now and they really want to get people out there because

Jenn:

cause of the rate of deterioration and they're only going to deteriorate more.

Jenn:

So if you want to see them, they're still very impressive.

Jenn:

They're still beautiful.

Jenn:

Uh, this is the time of year to go cause it's not a lot of

Jenn:

vegetation growing up around them and you can really get in and just.

Jenn:

look at how amazing just their facial features are like I got to see

Jenn:

Garfield really up close and personal.

Jenn:

I got to look at Madison and you see Ford, you see Reagan, you see Kennedy, FDR.

Jenn:

And what's crazy is they're not in any real order.

Jenn:

They're like.

Jenn:

As they took him out of the park and brought him in and just

Jenn:

set them down and they set them close, I think, for protection.

Jenn:

But like you said, rain can get in there.

Jenn:

It's make some of them sink down.

Jenn:

So there's deeper puddles around them and hard to to slide in between

Jenn:

them, but you can still do it.

Jenn:

And it's just super impressive to be there.

Jenn:

You have two hours.

Jenn:

It's absolutely more than enough time.

Jenn:

And then they have three out in front.

Jenn:

So they have George Washington, number one.

Jenn:

They have Andrew Jackson, number seven.

Jenn:

And they have Abraham Lincoln, number 16, right, the three out in front.

Jenn:

And then everybody else is scattered in these four rows.

Jenn:

But it's just super cool because you can get some great pictures

Jenn:

and get some great footage.

Jenn:

You can walk around and then they give two talks while you're there.

Jenn:

One is a president trivia.

Jenn:

So, how much do you know knowledge about President's lives?

Jenn:

And the other one is more about the history of the park

Jenn:

and before and now after.

Jenn:

And you can ask your questions there.

Jenn:

We always get questions like they only have up to George W.

Jenn:

Bush.

Jenn:

That's when.

Jenn:

They stopped making bus.

Jenn:

Now they have a prototype of President Obama.

Jenn:

It's like a little

Scott:

Yeah.

Scott:

I think the nickname there is baby

Jenn:

baby Obama because they were going to make a bust from that,

Jenn:

but they never got around to it.

Jenn:

And so they have that there so you can see it as well.

Jenn:

But after Obama, there's no other bust.

Jenn:

So don't ask this.

Jenn:

It's always someone's opinion about that.

Jenn:

But, uh, it, you can bring your dog there and we were able to find, fly the drone.

Scott:

Yeah, we asked him, they just said Hey, just watch out for the dogs

Scott:

and, just be respectful of people.

Scott:

So we got some, some fun drone shots.

Scott:

It was just, it was super cool.

Scott:

It was just one of those really neat kind of afternoon type things that

Scott:

if you live in the Norfolk area, the colonial Williamsburg area, or if

Scott:

you're in town I would definitely check out the links in our show notes.

Scott:

You can, we'll put the link to the website.

Scott:

So if you're in town the right time of year.

Scott:

Spring or fall, you can look it up and you can purchase tickets ahead of time.

Scott:

But they said they sell out pretty much every year that they've done

Jenn:

Yeah.

Jenn:

And we went president's day weekend.

Jenn:

It was sold out.

Jenn:

It's family friendly.

Jenn:

You can bring your children.

Jenn:

They have restrooms.

Jenn:

I would only say it is probably not disabled friendly.

Scott:

Yeah.

Scott:

I mean, it's, it's literally like in a field on some like contractor's land.

Jenn:

So you probably could bring a wheelchair if you didn't

Jenn:

want to get in between the

Scott:

Yeah.

Scott:

There's no way you'd be able to, to get in between.

Scott:

And again, this is, this is private property.

Scott:

So they, they, the two hosts work with the owner and they work that together.

Scott:

Well, there you have it, folks.

Scott:

Our journey through the ruins of President's Park has come to an end.

Scott:

Hopefully you've gained a new appreciation for these unique historical

Scott:

relics and the stories they hold.

Scott:

Remember, these busts may be weathered and silent now, but they still have a lot

Scott:

to teach us about ambition, perseverance, and even the fleeting nature of power.

Scott:

Maybe next time you see a presidential portrait or statue, you'll think

Scott:

about the real people behind the stone and the legacies they left behind.

Scott:

But our exploration doesn't have to end here.

Scott:

If you're curious to learn more about the ruins of President's Park, I've

Scott:

included some links in the show notes.

Scott:

And as always, if you know someone else that might enjoy this

Scott:

podcast, please share it with them.

Scott:

Especially if you know if somebody's going to be in the

Scott:

Williamsburg area sometime soon.

Scott:

Shoot them a text and tell them to look us up.

Scott:

We rely on you, our community to grow, and we appreciate you all every day.

Scott:

We'll talk to you next time.

Jenn:

Thank you.

About the Podcast

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Talk With History
A Historian and Navy Veteran talk about traveling to historic locations

About your hosts

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Scott B

Host of the Talk With History podcast, Producer over at Walk with History on YouTube, Editor of HistoryNewsletter.com
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Jennifer B

Former Naval Aviator turned Historian and a loyal Penn Stater. (WE ARE!) I earned my Masters in American History and graduate certificate in Museum Studies, from the University of Memphis.

The Talk with History podcast gives Scott and me a chance to go deeper into the details of our Walk with History YouTube videos and gives you a behind-the-scenes look at our history-inspired adventures.

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