Quest for Foamhenge
By Edward Cone
News & Record
It was the Fourth of July and we were on the road looking for America, or at least the small piece of America upon which stands Foamhenge.
Our dream of visiting Foamhenge was one my wife and I had harbored since the previous evening, when a waiter at a restaurant in Roanoke’s City Market district first clued us to its existence. We had asked him about things to do in the lower Shenandoah Valley, and once we made it clear that our interests ran less to the quaint and more to the weird, he knew just where to send us.
Honestly, we were sold at “full-scale, Styrofoam replica of Stonehenge,” but when he said it was near Natural Bridge and quite close as well to some very large dinosaur models in the tiny town of Glasgow, not to mention the Blue Ridge Parkway, the deal was sealed.
We left Roanoke on the morning of Independence Day via I-81 but quickly dropped off on to side roads that meandered through rolling farmland and the flag-lined main streets of parade-ready towns, past a tiny graveyard where the restored headstone of a Confederate private (KIA, Dranesville) stood out from the weathered markers deemed suitable for the rest of his family. Presently we came to Natural Bridge.
Here I would like to tell you about the Natural Bridge, upon which a young surveyor named George Washington once carved his initials, but I cannot, because we did not see it. The locals at some point decided that their natural wonder was not wondrous enough and so constructed nearby a wax museum and a toy museum and other monuments of the tourist trap variety; they will not sell you tickets for the bridge alone but only for the whole schlocky package, an offer we found ourselves quite capable of passing up.
It’s an odd artifact of 20th-century roadside culture, mirrored just up the highway, where a faded sign advertises Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park campsites, a business premised on the idea that a cartoon bear is needed to sell travelers on the allure of the naturally beautiful place to which they have already traveled.
Not much farther to Glasgow, where on a greensward with a mountain view stands a very large fiberglass dinosaur — an apatosaurus, I’d say, known in my youth by the far superior name of brontosaurus — upon which sits a bow-wielding, midriff-baring female mannequin vaguely reminiscent of Raquel Welch in the movie “One Million Years B.C.,” although somewhat more expressive. While we admired the scenery, a couple rode up on a Harley. They, too, had passed on Natural Bridge, but they had been to Foamhenge.
I asked how it was. “About what you’d expect,” the guy said. This response floored me. Was it meant to be ironic, in that one cannot truly know what to expect of a scale-model foam replica of Stonehenge until one has seen it? Or was it a nugget of laconic Harley-rider wisdom, an acknowledgement that we all project our own expectations onto experiences, and it is the moment in which we match those expectations to reality, or, in this case, “reality,” that the whole trip comes into focus?
In the event, Foamhenge greatly exceeded my expectations. There was a discreet sign by the road and an unpaved track on to the property and a sign at the bottom of a hill comparing Foamhenge to the mysterious place that inspired it (“Stonehenge took 1,500 years to complete … an estimated 600-1,000 men dragged the stones; Foamhenge was completed in six weeks … it took 4-5 Mexicans and one crazy white man to construct”).
No admission charge, no attendant, although a sign at the top of the hill warns that creator Mark Cline could be lurking in the woods to make sure nobody damages his fragile work. The ring of painted foam blocks is big and convincing; Cline could have saved Spinal Tap a lot of embarrassment. A life-sized Merlin, his face modeled on the death mask of a man the artist knew, overlooks it all.
We took a right back on to the highway and followed the James River across the Blue Ridge. I thought about the opening pages of Stephen Ambrose’s book, “Undaunted Courage,” which describe the advancing Virginia frontier at the time of Meriwether Lewis’ birth, and of my own thrice-great-grandparents who once lived nearby, and was happy about the day and the country all the way home.
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