OCALA, Fla., July 2, 2014 — These days, who really cares about America?
John Zweifel does. He knows more about the presidential trappings of our national story than almost any other living person. Despite being in his late 70s, the miniaturist runs what can only be described as a pilgrimage site for patriots: The Presidents Hall of Fame in suburban Orlando.
The museum features, among countless other things, wax replicas of every chief executive and champagne glasses which Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev once drank from. Above all else, though, it is home to an impeccably detailed replica of the White House. Built on a one foot-to-inch ratio, it is so accurate that the Discovery Channel stopped by for a film shoot in 2012.
Interestingly enough, the museum houses but ten percent of Zweifel’s collection. Nonetheless, he made room outside the Hall — located just off U.S. Route 27 — for the limousine used by Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter.
“Knowledge of our American history throughout the years and generations is a great gift for all current Americans,” Zweifel told me roughly two years ago. “The Presidents Hall of Fame is a great reservoir of past, present, and future knowledge of our patriotic history unknown by many today, but so interesting to learn.”
The NPHF, he said, “originally opened in the early ‘60s as a wax museum of all the presidents. After acquiring the attraction in the 1980s, I added collections of presidential memorabilia and sources of American history, including the famous White House model.”
Even for someone who has seen it several times, the Miniature White House is very difficult to describe. Zweifel’s creation is one of those things that must be viewed in person for true understanding.
“Just as the real White House is a treasure to be seen, the model duplicates the exactness, only in a smaller scale,” he mentioned. “It must be seen to be believed. My first tour through the real House made me realize that it was a House that belonged to all the people, and should be seen by all. Thus, the model.”
Zweifel specified that “(k)nowledge came with research. To start, I would study books from the library and was able to figure out the scale. Finally, we were given access to the real White House for our extensive research. Today, we work closely with the curator.”
These days, politics have become extraordinarily divisive. Does learning about our country’s history bring people together, or rather drive them apart?
“The White House has been nonpartisan since the cornerstone was laid,” Zweifel pointed out. “I am nonpartisan and the viewers treat the model as the people’s house; with great respect.”
This respect, he revealed, came from being “born and raised in a small town where people still hold their hand over their heart when the flag passes by. It wasn’t hard to be patriotic and I always will be because it’s an honor and privilege to be an American.”
In our age of media-driven instant celebrities and social networking which seems more anti-social than not, it is no surprise that a man like Zweifel isn’t a household name. The man’s earnest, soft-spoken nature and ethic of quality over quantity harken back to a time when life in his childhood town spoke to American societal norms. This era, sad to say, has long since passed.
Still, so long as John Zweifel and those who share his cause walk the earth, we can have at least some hope for Americanism not merely today, but tomorrow.