CROAKER, Va. >> It wasn’t exactly the heist of the century, but disappointing nonetheless when Howard Hankins discovered one of the presidential busts missing from the collection on his Croaker farm.
The crumbling, damaged large busts of 42 presidents — and a much smaller bust of Barack Obama — are all that remains of Presidents Park, the defunct open-air museum near Williamsburg where visitors once walked among the presidential heads. The York County park opened in 2004, at a cost of about $10 million, but went belly up in 2010 because of a lack of visitors.
That’s where Hankins, who helped build the park, came in. He offered to take the 18- to 20-foot heads and move them about 12 miles away to his 400-acre farm, where they have been ever since.
The display is still open on weekends through a tour given by photographer John Plashal. It was after a recent tour that Hankins discovered that the 2-foot-tall, 50-pound bust of Obama was missing.
After a public appeal for the return of the bust, a mysterious caller offered to make arrangements to return Obama, by meeting at a public location in Providence Forge. As of April 21, the piece was back in Hankins’ collection.
“He didn’t know what it meant to everybody,” Hankins said. “That it was for everybody and not just for him.”
Hankins added: “There is hope for people in this country. It is amazing that somebody actually did return him. Here we go. Let’s unite. Maybe the whole world can do this.”
The tours of the busts will continue, but with more security, Hankins said. Reservations can be made via Facebook, by visiting the “Presidents Heads Walking Tour” page. The farm is at 8201 Croaker Road in Croaker.