The piney woods of the Bible Belt are about the last place you’d expect to find a pagan landmark, but there’s not many Alabamians like George Barber. Thanks to the dairy business magnate and a Virginia sculptor, such an oddity peeks through the trees near land’s end in Baldwin County.
Bamahenge is a full-scale reproduction of England’s Stonehenge, but cast in fiberglass rather than carved from granite. It was a price paid for efficiency.
“I made them all up here in the shop and it took four tractor-trailer loads to bring the ‘henge to Josephine,” artist Mark Cline said. “I had to engineer those things so that they would all fit. Some of them I had to put inside of others.”
Cline had practice. He built a similar attraction in Natural Bridge, Va., near his Enchanted Castle Studios where he fashions all manner of oddities for amusement parks.
“That first one was made from foam and it was just an April Fool’s prank,” Cline said. “The Foamhenge became an answer on ‘Jeopardy!’ and it became a very famous landmark in a short period of time. It’s been on TV channels, Discovery channel. It’s visible, up on a hill and all but after a while it started to deteriorate.”
George Barber of Barber’s Dairy fame caught wind of the unusual structure. He had something similar in mind for his new motorsports park east of Birmingham, already home to a collection of unusual sculptures. He then changed plans and redirected Cline’s work to his new marina just southeast of Elberta, Ala., in tiny Josephine.
Rolling down the winding access road to the marina, more of Cline’s work comes into view. A handful of dinosaurs are scattered through the woods, part of an earlier Cline project that came to rest near the Gulf.
Other odds and ends – a classical statue surrounded by columns, an ornate Italian fountain topped by Neptune, medieval knights in a thicket, a massive steel spider – litter the area but they aren’t by Cline’s hand.
One mobile piece of Cline’s craft is a gargantuan Lady of the Lake, a floating work that once out in the marina appears to be the bent knees and partially submerged head of a bathing woman. It made a brief appearance at the motorsports park before finishing her journey to the beach.
The reproduction of the prehistoric worship site seems to capture the most attention. It’s hard to grasp the scale of the faux stones until you leave your car and walk the 200 yards or so up a path to its site.
“The outer (stones) are 13 and a half feet tall,” Cline said. “The inner ones are over 18 feet tall. The lentils on top of that makes it about 21 feet tall. The diameter is 104 feet.”
He explained the care taken to make sure it aligned properly with the June 21 summer solstice, despite the change in latitude and longitude. The point of sunrise is over the center of three lentils on the outer markers.
“I’ve never been down to test it (for the solstice) but that’s how we lined it up,” Cline said. “Any druids that want to get up that damn early, they’re more than welcome to go test it for themselves.”
The first question that naturally sprang to mind was the resilience of the Bamahenge to tropical force winds. Since being erected in spring of 2013, it’s only had to endure one mild storm season.
Cline described an anchoring process that involved a pit beneath each stone, slightly smaller than its footprint. An auger then drilled holes 4 feet deeper into each and wooden poles were sunk that extended 8 feet up into the hollow body of each “stone.” The pit and bottom portion of each “stone” were then filled with concrete.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 21. I’ve learned a lot about how to make these things theft proof. I’ve learned a lot about how to make things to keep from blowing over,” Cline said. “It’s a lot more than making a fiberglass statue and sticking it out in the yard. There’s a lot that goes into the engineering of these things.”
Barber has told Cline he might want another ‘henge for the Birmingham park but Cline isn’t champing at the bit to get started. While he’d certainly welcome the income, the novelty is gone now.
“I’m kind of hoping he’ll tell me to build the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China or Easter Island; anything but another Stonehenge,” Cline laughed. “If he has the money, I’ll build a pyramid for him.”
He hasn’t completely lost his sense of play about it, though. Cline added one benefit of all these additional Stonehenge replicas across the landscape.
“It’s going to confuse the hell out of the aliens when they come, because they’re not going to know where to start the invasion,” Cline cracked.