Birthday Discoveries

Our son, Jacob, attends the College of William & Mary. He finds the academics suitably challenging, but laments that activities in Williamsburg are primarily limited to historical museums and tours. Colonial overload! He prefers off the beaten path adventures, art galleries and museums, and always independent book stores.

To celebrate his 20th birthday we made plans for a visit. We wanted to give him a break just before the long week of final exams. I searched “weird things to do in Williamsburg.”

And just like that, we veered away from Duke of Gloucester Street, Raleigh Tavern, and the Wren Building and on to the cool and unusual.

First up, Eastern State Mental Hospital. America’s first public mental health facility, established in 1773. In the early years, the institution used inhumane methods of treatment – bleeding, bullying, blistering salves, and electrocution. And the old abandoned buildings are creepy even in the light of day.

My husband tells the story of his grandmother, Isabelle Hopkins, who was a resident of Eastern State Hospital. Admitted for “taking to the bed” after her nine children apparently drove her crazy, Isabelle was eventually released after a 27 year stay, and certified as “legally sane” upon discharge. I imagine she stayed long enough for those kids to be grown and out of the house!

Second, President Heads. There are 43 giant busts of US presidents sitting in a farmer’s field in Croaker, Virginia. Each bust is 20-foot tall and weighs 22,000 pounds.

They were open to the public at Presidents Park and received thousands of visitors until 2010 when a company bought the plot of land. The huge presidential heads had to move.  Instead of allowing the busts to be demolished, Howard Hankins, who helped construct the park, adopted all 43 heads and lugged them back to his private family farm for safekeeping until someone can think of what to do with them.

And finally, the Presidental Pets Museum, which as it turns out, is permanently closed.

Two out of three ain’t bad.