Those wanting to experience the incongruous spectacle of a statuary park populated by Whitney Houston, Antonin Scalia, and Davey Crockett first-hand are out of luck. The Trump administration’s proposed National Garden of American Heroes was, as anticipated, nixed via executive order late last week by President Joe Biden.
Trump’s last-ditch decree ordering the formation of a special task force to oversee the creation of the sculpture park came on January 18, just two days before his term expired. An earlier executive order that first announced the garden was released several months prior on July 3. Congress never approved funding for the project and a site was never selected, although some Republican governors did enthusiastically offer up their states as potential locations.
What was established was an aggressively random list of 244 American-born noted notables (and a substantial number of naturalized U.S. citizens and outright non-Americans a la Christopher Columbus) that would have graced the garden in statue form. Although the earlier order stated that all statues within the proposed garden had to be “lifelike or realistic” and that “abstract or modernist” likenesses would be forbidden, that language never made it into the final EO.
As previously reported, the finalized January 18 list, decidedly more diverse in nature than the initial list of 31 statues released over the summer (although still predominately male), included a modest handful of dead architects and planners including Frank Lloyd Wright, Cass Gilbert, Henry Hobson Richardson, Pierre Charles L’Enfant, and John Russell Pope. (Frederick Law Olmsted and Louis Sullivan were two notable omissions.) The list, which also included Helen Keller, Miles Davis, Alexander Hamilton, Steve Jobs, Rosa Parks, Shirley Temple, Kobe Bryant, and Emily Dickinson to name just a few, was extensive and extensively bizarre.
Not surprisingly, the grab bag-y nature of the proposed park was met with widespread ridicule by historians and online commenters. As presidential historian Michael Beschloss relayed to Axios: “Many of the people on this list of ‘heroes’ would be embarrassed to be singled out by someone like Donald Trump.”
Said to be curated largely by Trump himself, the garden—“a vast outdoor park that will feature the statues of the greatest Americans to ever live”—was conservative cultural grievance-borne and dreamt up in direct response to the toppling, vandalism, and coordinated removal of numerous problematic statues and monuments across the country last summer as part of the larger, Black Lives Matter-led protests against racial injustice and police brutality. Most of these statues were Jim Crow-era relics of Confederate leaders as well as historical figures associated with bigotry, bondage, and oppression. The order referred to the removal of these racist monuments as “dangerous anti-American extremism;” the National Garden of American Heroes was envisioned by Trump as “America’s answer to this reckless attempt to erase our heroes, values, and entire way of life.”
Along with canceling the two orders from last July and this January related to the National Garden of American Heroes, Biden put the kibosh on another Trump executive order that both directed the Justice Department to prioritize the prosecution of individuals who vandalized Confederate monuments and halted federal funding to local and states governments that the previous administration felt had failed to protect monuments and statues defaced during last summer’s widespread protests. Biden also revoked three non-monument-related Trump-era executive orders last Friday, including one that required immigrants to prove they would be covered by specific health insurance plans within 30 days of entering the country.
In late February, President Biden also abolished Trump’s controversial December 21 “Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture” executive order, which decreed that all new federal buildings constructed in Washington, D.C., along with all federal courthouses and federal agency buildings outside of Washington with costs exceeding $50 million, be designed in the neoclassical style.