Plus Sized History

2009 March 18
by Ellen Noonan

Thanks to a photo that Mike O’Malley of George Mason University put on his Facebook page, I discovered the deeply odd President’s Park in Williamsburg, Virginia. Designed to “to inspire and renew our patriotic pride through the compelling history of our presidents, their first ladies, and their pets,” President’s Park is one of a long line of public history sites in the U.S. that highlight the experiences of the powerful. Nothing odd about that (except perhaps including the pets; that’s a new twist on traditional history). No, odd comes in with the 42 busts of U.S. Presidents that dominate the site; they loom 18 feet tall and are all suspiciously full of face–although, to be fair, poured concrete is not a medium that rewards nuance. Neither the first ladies nor the pets are rendered larger than life; the park’s designers really missed the boat by not creating Macy’s parade type balloons of the pets to complete the spectacle.

Quick, name that giant U.S. President! Note also replica of Air Force One.

Quick, name that giant U.S. President! Note also replica of Air Force One.

I don’t know what to make of this kind of historical kitsch presented with a completely straight face. Is it an apt symbol of turn-of-the-twenty-first-century excess–Wal Mart-ization run amok? More dispiriting evidence that Americans prefer ersatz history to the complexities of the real thing? Or should social historians catch this wave–twenty-foot tall Bonus Marchers or garment workers might just get us in the game.

Last 5 posts by Ellen Noonan

2009 March 20

Could this be a stealth attempt to naturalize steroid use in sports?–re-envision all the presidents as seriously bulked-up behemoths . . . although one assumes that their batting averages, despite enhancemnent, will remain inconsistent.

2009 March 20
Ellen Noonan permalink

Taking a cue from the tabloids: Franklin Delano Roidsevelt? Abroidaham Lincoln? And ‘roid rage is as plausible explanation as any for Andrew Jackson’s political career.

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