Natural Bridge, Virginia
The first thing that we see when we arrive at Enchanted Castle Studios - home of Mark Cline, fiberglass sculptor and roadside visionary - are dozens of giant blocks of white styrofoam lining the road and littering the yard. They are the raw material for Foamhenge, awaiting the master's chisel.
"About 15 years ago I walked into a place called Insulated Business Systems where they make these huge 16-foot-tall blocks," Mark tells us. "As soon as I saw them I immediately thought of the idea: 'Foamhenge.' It took a while for the opportunity to present itself, of course."
Fifteen years later, after Mark became a vortex of creative chaos in Virginia with attractions such as House Of The Living Dead (Natural Bridge), the Scare Witch Experience (Lexington), and Professor Cline's Time Machine (Virginia Beach), he struck up a working partnership with the owners of Natural Bridge -- a wonder-of-nature attraction -- and the last megalith fell into place. "They let me do just about anything," Mark tells us gleefully. "They know that I bring people in."
On the site now occupied by Foamhenge, Mark originally wanted to build what he calls "Hayride Through The Civil War," an attraction that somehow would involve fiberglass molds of reenactors' faces. Mark hasn't the time to explain its details or its appeal beyond the broad, "This is Civil War country." The plan was dropped in place of Foamhenge because "this was cheaper and faster to build first."
Mark waves a hand over a tiny model of Stonehenge that is resting atop one of the giant blocks. "It took the Druids 1500 years to build Stonehenge. I can do it in ten days."
Mark heaves a fiberglass dinosaur into the back of his pickup truck, full-throttles it down Hwy 11, and we follow as fast as we dare to the site where Foamhenge is taking shape. When complete it will be the most photogenic Stonehenge in the world, even more striking than the original, as this one stands on a bluff amid the pretty Blue Ridge Mountains.
It is, Mark points out, the only American Stonehenge that really is an exact replica of the time-worn original. "I went to great pains to shape each 'stone' to its original shape," he tells us, fact-checking his designs and measurements with the man who gives tours of Stonehenge in England. Mark has even consulted a local "psychic detective" named Tom who has advised him on how to position Foamhenge so that it is astronomically correct. As if on cue, Tom pulls into the parking lot and huffs his way up the steep, windswept hillside to talk business with Mark. Tom wears an oversized t-shirt whose front is filled with a giant head of a space alien.
Mark, always the entertainer, climbs atop what he calls the "altar stone" and tells us of his plans to celebrate the summer solstice. "One of the guys suggested that we sacrifice a virgin, but we couldn't find any around here," he wisecracks. Then he launches into an improvised Mick Jagger dance and tells us that he met his current wife when he performed this same routine in a local bar. "She was the only woman who didn't try to grab my ass."
Mark says that he can create four or five Foamhenge megaliths in a day, properly shaped and painted. The reason, of course, is that foam is much more easily worked than rock. That is also its Achilles heel. Foamhenge is, after all, really Styrofoamhenge. A sign at the base of the hill cautions: "Please be gentle. It is foam, not stone," yet how long, honestly, can a monument survive that is made of the same stuff as packing peanuts?
Mark explains that each block is set into a hole in the ground and anchored with cement. "I put a 2.5 inch pipe all the way through each one down into the ground, like a nail holding it to the concrete," the same technique, on a larger scale, that a dentist uses to anchor a false tooth into a jaw. And, Mark adds hopefully, "It's non-biodegradable so it might last longer than the original."
Still, the rural setting of Foamhenge and the busted beer bottles at the site hint that this particular spot is attractive to more than Druids and tourists. What happens when some good ol' boy decides to take a hunting knife to Foamhenge, or some hater of pagan landmarks attacks it with a righteous chainsaw? Mark is optimistic. "At some point we'll cover it with stucco," he says. "Until then I'm only five minutes down the road with a paintbrush and sandpaper. I'm here to baby sit it."