While little is known about the true purpose of the world’s most enigmatic megalithic monument (Burial ground? Observatory? Prehistoric health spa?), this much is for certain: The ancient builders of Stonehenge, whoever they were, never had to deal with being evicted.
Thousands of miles away from the vast, haunting openness of south-central England’s Salisbury Plain in rural Rockbridge County, Virginia, the creator of a particularly uncanny Stonehenge facsimile rendered entirely in plastic foam is facing just that: imminent displacement.
Conceived by Mark Cline, a gentleman described by the Richmond Times-Dispatch as an “artist/entertainer/genuine-piece-of-work,” Rockbridge County’s one-and-only Foamhenge was completed on April 1, 2004. April Fool’s Day, how apropos. Aided by a small team, the whole process took Cline six weeks — just a touch shorter than the estimated 1,500-year-long construction process behind Stonehenge.
Initially viewed as an ephemeral gag, Cline’s magnificent Styrofoam monument still stands strong 12 years later, luring curiosity-seekers off of U.S. Route 11 by the carload.
This all said, I’m not the biggest fan of Cline’s medium of choice from a materials standpoint. But who knows, this painstakingly accurate replica — yes, it's even aligned in the astronomically correct position — might prove to be even longer-lasting than the real deal. “It's non-biodegradable so it might last longer than the original,” Cline explains to Roadside America, tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Mark Cline isn't angry Foamhenge must be moved. However, he does believe it could benefit the new Natural Bridge State Park. (Photo: Patrick Woodward/flickr)
A true kitsch visionary, Cline and his wife Sherry operate Enchanted Castle Studios, a fiberglass monster- and muffler man-making factory located just up the road from Foamhenge, a work that Cline considers to be his greatest achievement amongst his dinosaur- and leprechaun-heavy oeuvre.
While assumed by many that much-beloved Foamhenge would stick around for the long haul, it turns out that the Shenandoah Valley's faux-Neolithic stone circle is getting the boot. The monument — ersatz bluestones, sarsens, cheeky signage and all — must be relocated by Aug. 1.
Although a “little bit disappointed,” Cline is optimistic that Foamhenge will live on in another locale. “The only reason I hate to move it is because I feel like it does so much good for tourism here,” the showman and fiberglass sculptor explains to the Times-Dispatch.
As reported by the Washington Times, Cline has received numerous offers from folks interested in providing Foamhenge with a new home. While nothing is set in, umm, stone as of yet, Cline explains to the Times that, ideally, Foamhenge will remain somewhere in Virginia. “I would like to keep it in Virginia somewhere because I’m really pro-Virginia tourism,” he says. “I think it can continue to breathe new life into a community. It’s not really over, it’s just evolving somewhere else.”
You've been warned. Mark Cline plans to reopen his Civil War-themed dinosaur park near Natural Bridge later this summer. (Photo: PatrickRohe/flickr)
Of course, the tale of an exact Stonehenge replica built from beaded foam blocks getting evicted wouldn’t be complete without an irony-laden twist. And that twist comes in the form of what Foamhenge is being displaced by. And no, It's not a packing peanut factory. It's a brand new state park dedicated to Rockbridge County’s most famous natural geological formation.
Yes, an arrangement of fake rocks is being ousted by a real rock.
You see, one reason that Foamhenge has proven to be such a high-traffic roadside attraction is its proximity to Natural Bridge, an iconic limestone arch that forms, you guessed it, a natural bridge over Cedar Creek. Not to be confused with a white marble bridge of the same name in Massachusetts or a famed sandstone arch in Kentucky, Natural Bridge lends its name to the unincorporated community that the jaw-dropping limestone formation — and Foamhenge — are located in.
Once owned by Thomas Jefferson (he purchased it from King George III in 1774) and billed in the 19th and early 20th centuries as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the Modern World, Natural Bridge is both a Virginia Historic Landmark and a National Historic Landmark. As far as historic landmarks go, this early American tourist magnet is a big deal. However, Natural Bridge and the Blue Ridge Mountain-flanked land surrounding it do not belong to an official park system.
In 2014, however, that all changed when Natural Bridge was deeded to the Commonwealth of Virginia as part of a complex agreement with plans to transform the site, now owned by the nonprofit Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund after decades of private ownership, into a sprawling state park. Foamhenge is located within the boundaries of the in-development park on property that once belonged to the private company that owned Natural Bridge and other attractions along Route 11.
So why can’t Foamhenge, a popular attraction in its own right, stay put? Wouldn’t it benefit the newly established park with additional zany appeal?
It would seem that officials aren’t too keen on the idea of a foam replica of Stonehenge — a triumphant work of outsider art, really — existing within the new 1,500-acre park. Their loss, I guess.
“The mission of Virginia state parks is to expose people to those natural resources through recreational and educational opportunities,” Jim Meisner Jr., a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, explains to the Washington Times. “Foamhenge does not align with our mission.”
So, anyone in Virginia with deep pockets and a love of offbeat roadside attractions have a few undeveloped acres to spare? (Photo: PatrickRohe/flickr)
A roadside attraction, gratis (kind of)
It should be noted that Foamhenge is free as Cline has not attached a price tag to his work. However, the cost of removing and transporting the massive foam stones will be the sole responsibility of whoever acquires the attraction. As Cline makes clear, the new custodians of Foamhenge must be able to pay for upkeep and repairs. Furthermore, they must fully understand that they’re in possession of a world-famous roadside attraction — people from all over will be clambering for a post-relocation visit.
In an email to the Richmond Times-Dispatch Patty Williams, marketing director of Lexington and Rockbridge Area Tourism, notes that she’d very much like to see Foamhenge stay local despite “challenges in terms of its massive size, overall condition and accessibility to the public.”
This would be an interesting opportunity for an individual or organization who has the physical space to install the exhibit. Foamhenge is in need of repair, which could be completed with fundraising efforts if private funding was unavailable. It will take some creativity to find the right fit for this attraction, and I hope the folks of Rockbridge can look beyond the challenges and see the possibilities.
Regardless of Foamhenge's eviction, Cline still plans to unveil Dinosaur Kingdom II, a reboot of his original Dinosaur Kingdom attraction that was closed when a 2012 fire destroyed his adjacent Haunted Monster Museum. Located just outside the confines of Natural Bridge State Park, Dinosaur Kingdom II will be similarly themed to its predecessor, which depicted 30 fiberglass dinosaurs battling with the Union Army. “In this world, Stonewall Jackson doesn’t die,” Cline tells WSLS 10 News. “His death is fake, and he’s here to help the South as the Yankees are using these dinosaurs as weapons of mass destruction against the South.”
Got it. With Foamhenge exiting, other Natural Bridge-area attractions — that is, other Natural Bridge-area attractions that aren't alternate history dinosaur parks — include caverns, a drive-through safari, a historic hotel and a Native American-themed living history village. The local wax museum closed a few years back.
Perched high above the Columbia River in Klickitat County, Washington, this 1918 concrete replica of Stonehenge is now part of the Maryhill Museum. (Photo: marissa anderson/flickr)
Neolithic knock-offs from coast to coast
Although superior in its detail and unique in its Styrofoam construction, Foamhenge is far from the only Stonehenge replica in the United States.
Dedicated in 1918 on the Washington state side of the Columbia River Gorge, Maryhill Stonehenge is both the first American Stonehenge replica and the first American monument to honor the brave souls who lost their lives fighting in World War I. Now a popular stopover along the ultra-scenic Lewis & Clark Highway, the concrete monument was commissioned by Sam Hill, an eccentric attorney and businessman of Quaker extraction who championed the spread of modern roadways throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Other Stonehenge lookalikes, some more authenticity-seeking than others; include a partial reconstruction of the megalith on the campus of Missouri S&T; Stonehenge II, a somewhat recently relocated replica located deep in Texas Hill Country; an above-average clone erected in 2004 at University of Texas of the Permian Basin; and Kentucky’s Stonehenge, a modest reproduction located in the teeny-tiny dry county town of Munfordville.
Although often assumed to be a faithful replica of Stonehenge, America's Stonehenge, in Salem, New Hampshire, has absolutely nothing to do with brooding prehistoric ruins in England. Originally known as Mystery Hill, this archaeological site of dubious origin-cum-alpaca farm bills itself as "most likely" the oldest man-made construction in America.
Natural Bridge photo: David Wilson/flickr