Following the Leaders
Newman, the developer of Water Country USA, said he, too, was initially skeptical of Adickes's idea, not because he fretted about the region's historical integrity, but because he questioned the park's profit potential. Then he realized that if done right, the park could be educational.
Newman enlisted dozens of teachers and a "national council of scholars" to design a curriculum for the park that fits into Virginia's Standards of Learning. Because of that, school groups -- and many others -- have come. And they have learned, he said.
"This is the only place in the entire country that represents its beginnings . . . to the present, and that's pretty significant," Newman said.
The park has drawn more than 20,000 visitors since March 1, he said. That's less than a tenth of what Colonial Williamsburg attracts but just fine for a new business, Newman said.
There is little disagreement that the busts are impressive. Adickes spent five years making them, with some presidents presenting more of a challenge than others. Gerald R. Ford's features were hard to pin down, as was Bill Clinton's hairstyle, he said. George H.W. Bush, who once posed for Adickes, was his favorite. The busts each took about six weeks to complete.
There's space for eight more busts, and Adickes said he will be ready this fall if Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) wins the presidency. Kerry's face would be easy to render because it is long and craggy, he said.
To Newman's delight, most visitors don't find the enormous heads the least bit tacky. Comments on exit surveys have been more than 90 percent glowing, he said. And the park has won over some of its original doubters -- sort of.
"We are a nation that is sorely in need of more aggressive enlightenment on our own nation's history, and to the extent Presidents Park helps do that, we certainly commend them for it," said Tim Andrews, spokesman for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Or as Walter C. Zaremba, a member of the York County Board of Supervisors, said: "There is resigned acceptance of it."
Visiting on a recent day, Naleen Cordle of Blackstone, Va., called the park "moving" and chalked up opposition to the "snooty-patootie" attitude of Williamsburg residents.
"They're men that . . . led our country into the future," she said of the presidents. "They were larger than life."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
The Sussmans-Marty and Joanne and children Jake, Lizzie and Annmarie-wander the path of presidential busts in the park, near Williamsburg.
(Cathy Kapulka - The Washington Post)