CLERMONT — Talk about forward thinking …
It was the day after Thanksgiving, the White House in Miniature (all 60 feet of it) was decked out in Christmas finery, and the two gentlemen studying it were conferring about plans for the nation’s tricentennial celebration, due in 2076.
John Zweifel and his family created the replica White House in 1976 as a bicentennial gift to the nation, and have been working on it ever since. Rex Scouten, curator emeritus of the White House (the real one), worked in the White House for 10 presidents before finally retiring.
As Zweifel says, “Rex knows the White House better than anybody.”
The White House in Miniature is in residence at the Presidents Hall of Fame in Clermont, and that is at least part of the draw for Scouten, who is one of the few people that Zweifel can talk to about such things as how the layout of dining tables in the State Dining Room changed from administration to administration.
Scouten has assisted the Zweifels for years in their efforts to make sure that the “Miniature” (scaled one inch to one foot) changes its decor routinely, just as the decor of the White House in Washington is changed — including a replication of White House Christmas decorations.
Right now, it’s Christmas at the White House — at least, it’s Christmas at the Miniature.
According to Zweifel, Christmas decorations at the White House — including lit trees — would typically be launched around Dec. 10. So Christmas opened at the Miniature several weeks early, on Nov. 17, to be exact, on the same day that Clermont Mayor pro-tem Ray Goodgame presented Zweifel with an official proclamation about his little museum.
Nov. 16, 2011 was officially named Presidents Hall of Fame Day in Clermont, in recognition of the museum’s 50 years of operation, and in honor of the return of the Miniature to Clermont.
The museum, originally known as the House of Presidents, started life as a wax museum in 1961. The Zweifels obtained it in the early 1990s to provide a permanent home for their replica, and for some of their extensive collection of presidential memorabilia.
Not too long after opening in Clermont, the Miniature went on the road and stayed on the road for about 15 years. In particular, it has been a popular attraction at the various presidential libraries. The Miniature returned to Clermont earlier this year.
So if you’ve always wanted to visit the White House and figure Christmas is the perfect time to go – you may want to visit Clermont instead.
The Presidents Hall of Fame is at 123 N. U.S. 27 in Clermont, and can be reached by calling 352-394-2836. Wax dummies are present, along with a tray of cookies from the Bush White House and other odd Presidential ephemera. Admission is $9.95 for adults and $4.95 for children. The museum hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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