The town of Clermont is located west of the City of Orlando. Central Florida is mostly flatland and you cannot go too far without running into a lake somewhere. But, as you to head west, you find rolling hills that change the landscape. The main road out there is US-27 that runs north and south. This is how people normally get across to towns like Leesburg and Haines City.
Somewhere just north of State Road 50 is a replica of the Statute of Liberty, hard to miss. That was the last thing I expected to see there. And, right behind lady liberty is a building that houses a gift to a nation. This is the Presidents Hall of Fame and inside is the White House Miniature. The Owner and Curator, John Zweifel and his wife Jan, started work on it in 1962 with the support of the real White House. Several hundreds of thousands of hours have past since. But, the work will never end for Mr. & Mrs. Zweifel as they continue to perfect this masterpiece. Rooms are updated with each administration and, every Christmas, the lights, the miniature pine trees and ornaments make this model a magical thing to witness.
John Zweifel is originally from Monroe, Wisconsin. He is a relative of Art Young who is known for his work as a Political Cartoonist in the early 20th Century and was a contributor to "Masses," a publication that addressed the racial and sexual discrimination and the injustices of a capitalist system. Art Young and "Masses" would have serious legal problems with the Federal Government, facing charges like conspiracy to obstruct enlistment during World War I, under the Espionage Act.
As a child, John Zweifel was isolated from his uncle. He grew up in time of strong patriotism. Art Young and John Zweifel would have different ideals. Still, young John was inclined for specific use of the Arts, not as a cartoonist, but for displays and carving techniques. The two also shared an uncompromising spirit. Since the age of 4, he was also interested in collecting items of Americana and, until he was (18) years old, would travel with Ringling Brothers Circus in the summers. By the age of (14), he recreated the 1913 Barnum & Bailey "Greatest Show on Earth" in a 14,000 piece model at a one half inch to one foot scale. When he was (16) years old he also started to keep files on the White House.
His father moved to the north side of Chicago and became the biggest car dealer in the Midwest for the Ford Motor Company. The business included the only dealership in Cuba. His Family would eventually buy a home in Evanston, Illinois on the shore of Lake Michigan. The house was big enough for him to keep his passion for collecting and creating on an exponential growth. He had a place for storage and an attic to work in.
In 1956, John Zweifel first toured the White house when he was (20) years old. That only fueled his curiosity for a complete knowledge of all the rooms. For him, it was the most important symbol of America. At about the same time, he registered in the Art Institute of Chicago to further study his craft. Three years later, he dropped out and married Jan Cleary who was just beginning her career as an interior decorator. Needless to say, they found many things in common.
John Zweifel is a self declared flag waiving American who grew frustrated during the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and Watergate. It all gave the symbol he so much admired a bad rap. This would further propel his desire to recreate the White House as a gift to the American People. It was a quest to heal the wounds of his country, caused by ideological and political conflicts, with a display of something that all Americans are curious about. Few people ever get the chance to visit the White House in person. And, when they do, its limited to a few rooms. This would allow all Americans to access what is actually in all the rooms.
Its been a long journey for the Zweifels to get this show on the road. From 1975 to 2011, this White House Miniature, measuring (60) feet by (20) feet, traveled all (50) states, including several Presidential Libraries, the Smithsonian Institute, as well as overseas. Over (43) million people have seen this model.
Mr. Zweifel is now in his late 70's. And, the vision he shares with his wife is still as bright and inspiring as ever. It is a gift to listen to him, after all he has been through. He's resentful of comments on the internet that his attraction is dusty and falling apart. To me, that says more about "We the People" than it does about Mr. & Mrs. Zweifel. To learn more about this display, read "The White House Miniature" written by Gail Buckland.