The Finish Line: A (Faux) Monument for the Ages
August 24, 2011
Everyone’s heard of Stonehenge in England-the weird stone blocks in the middle of a field. But who has heard of Foamhenge in Virginia? It is a full size replica of the real Stonehenge made of EIFS. Who could dream up a cooler name?
How This Tale Evolved
A friend and I take a road trip every year to see the various beautiful areas of America. Whenever we go on a road trip, one of our criteria is always go to someplace quirky or full of strange people-like Roswell, N.M., Area 51 in Nevada or Washington D.C. I had never heard of Foamhenge but she spotted it in some travel magazine and it was located en route to where we were headed in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We had to go see it. Blessed by GPS, we found it out in the boondocks.
Where is Stonehenge and Foamhenge?
The real Stonehenge is in southern England on a flat area known as the Salisbury Plain. To say the least, the first modern people that stumbled upon it probably wondered, “What the devil is this?” It is about 2,500 years old.
Foamhenge is on unoccupied farm land on a small hilltop. There is no admission fee or security. The place has an odd vibe, especially when we were there (a summer thunderstorm was approaching). It was eerie. It’s a great place to take a break while driving on the boring nearby interstate highway.
The Day of the Visit
Foamhenge is just off of Interstate 81 near a town called Natural Bridge. It is in the middle of nowhere in Virginia, on a knoll. God knows what weird sort of odd behavior by the local kids goes on at Foamhenge, especially during the equinox and Halloween.
When we were there, there was an old political-sticker-encrusted VW van parked next to us and some aging hippies were sitting up on the knoll.
For the curious, the term “henge” comes from a type of circular ring of earth (a sort of reverse moat) used as a form of fortification during the Iron Age.
Camera in hand, I struggled to get up the hillside to see this henge. It was steep. There were more bugs than troops in the Chinese Army and I was nearly eaten alive. I got soaked by the storm but made it. The storm passed, and the bugs returned.
The Real Stonehenge
The real archeological treasure of Stonehenge has been the source of much study regarding its purpose and how it was built-how do you move and then tilt up these massive stone slabs without heavy machinery?
It appears to have been built by an odd group, known as Druids. The Druids apparently had strange tendencies and curious ceremonies-such a human sacrifice and fun times without clothing. The Romans, when they first came upon Stonehenge, pronounced the Druids weird and suppressed them.
The American who designed and built this replica, Mark Cline, is-by all accounts-eccentric and has done many curious and creative works of art. As evidence, he was really into those post World War II Japanese monster sci-/fi movies-the ones with some guy in a wetsuit and a blow torch in his mouth-tromping around a model train layout. Godzilla is the classic example.
How Was Foamhenge Made?
Foamhenge is made of huge blocks of EPS and is coated with EIFS coatings and then painted to look like stone. It was built in six weeks by the designer and a team of plasterers.
My friend made the astute comment that she didn’t realize that EPS blocks could be made so big. This made me think that perhaps smaller blocks were spliced together. Looking at the photos of yours truly, do any readers know how big EPS blocks can be made? A plaque at the site said the foam blocks came from a molder in eastern Virginia.
What Can You Not do with EIFS?
EIFS is amazingly versatile and is often used to mimic other materials, such as statues and pottery and all manner of stone-like things. But Foamhenge takes the cake for weird uses of an architectural material.
Just for the record, there are numerous Stonehenge-like attractions scattered around the Earth but this is the only EIFS one I’ve found. No joke: there are henges made of old cars, abandoned refrigerators, ice sculptures and so on.
You will note in the photos that the Foamhenge slabs are sculpted to look like real stone (with imperfections, etc.). Apparently, the designer went to the United Kingdom and photographed the real slabs from many angles, and then had the foam slabs in the U.S. sculpted to look the same.
The EIFS Aspects of Foamhenge
The coatings are like standard EIFS finish coatings in some places and then in some places not. In some areas you can see the reinforcing mesh but in other places the coatings are a weird, soft-spongy material. In any event, this piece of work has been out in the weather for more than 10 years and appears to be holding up fine. Strangely, I didn’t even spot any graffiti.
I looked carefully at the base of the slabs and could not tell how they were anchored to the earth. Given the exposed location of Foamhenge (on a knoll, windy, etc.), I suspect there’s a slab just below grade and rebar that anchor the faux stone (EPS) blocks to the slab. I thought of writing to the designer, Mark Cline, and asking him how it was built but the hippies told me he‘d died. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Mark Cline, owner of Enchanted Castle Studios, is alive and well, living in Virginia).
Raising the Slabs
At Foamhenge, there’s a small plaque explaining how scholars theorize that the real solid stone slabs were raised. It shows timbers and other props. The theory is that a series of wedges and levers were used to stand up the huge slabs-very slowly and in tiny increments-without the use of then non-existent cranes and forklifts. It begs the question: How did they get the horizontal slabs on top? Scholars say that cranes were not in the budget and the French refused to loan theirs.
The Foam Finish Line
If you are passing through this area, this place is really worth a stop. Foamhenge is a good example of what can be done with EIFS and imagination. If you are handy with a trowel and want cars to stop in front of your home at Christmas to look at your decorations, make yourself a Foamhenge II.
Your neighbors will no doubt talk about you. I am not sure if your local perplexed building department will require some permit.