John Zweifel on life, history, and the pursuit of all things America

The National Presidents Hall of Fame is one of America's national treasures. Owner and curator John Zweifel explains about his profession and the profound sense of patriotism that makes it worthwhile.  Photo: Joseph Cotto

FLORIDA, October 11, 2012 — America is a special place, needless to say.

Whether or not you agree with our nation’s political climate at any given time, there is always something to be said about the grand experiment through which it was formulated. Indeed, there is no other country quite like ours.

During an election season such as this, it is easy to focus on the issues that drive a wedge between us. This not only prevents our nation from moving forward in any meaningful sense, but fosters a prevailing attitude of bitterness and disdain. Considering that there are so many topics on which we can unite, such narrow-mindedness becomes all the more preposterous.

One of these topics is American history. John Zweifel is the owner and curator of the National Presidents Hall of Fame. I wrote about this spectacular museum last month. Here, one will find perhaps the largest private collection of presidential artifacts, as well as the world famous Miniature White House.

Last time I visited, a parade limousine used during the Nixon, Carter, and Ford administrations was parked out front. 

In a candid discussion with me, Zweifel explains the mission behind his museum, how America’s most notable political figures have related to the Miniature White House, why he is so interested in our country’s history, and much more.               

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Joseph F. Cotto: Today, not too many people know a great deal about American history. The National Presidents Hall of Fame might be described as the perfect antidote to this. Above all else, what is its mission?

John Zweifel: Knowledge of our American history throughout the years and generations is a great gift for all current Americans. 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. 

Cotto: When and why was the NPHF founded? How did you come to own it?

Zweifel: It 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. 

Cotto: Operating a museum, for most of us, is an unimaginable feat. What are the benefits and drawbacks of such a career? Is there anything that you find to be particularly inspiring about it?

Zweifel: Being a historian of all forms of entertainment all my life and a collector of authentic artifacts, it is an honor to have this attraction to share with the viewers. 

Cotto: While the NPHF is quite well known, one of its exhibits gains far more notoriety. The Miniature White House is very difficult to describe. It is one of those things that must be seen to be believed. Where did you get the idea for an undertaking of this magnitude?

Zweifel: Just as the real White House is a treasure to be seen, the model duplicates the exactness, only in a smaller scale. 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.

Cotto: How, in a summary sense, did you gain enough knowledge of the White House in order to replicate it?

Zweifel: Knowledge 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. 

Cotto: Looking back at your accomplishment, what would you say is the greatest reward of having built the Miniature White House?

Zweifel: Giving the White House to the people.

Cotto: Over the last several decades, you have worked with many of America’s most notable political figures. How have they related to the Miniature White House and the NPHF?

Zweifel: The White House and PHOF have always been done in a very positive way, and therefore have always received the admiration of presidents, notable dignitaries, and the viewing audience. 

Cotto: These days, politics have become extraordinarily divisive. Your profession, by its very nature, is nonpartisan. Do you find that learning about our country’s history brings people together, or does it actually drive them apart?

Zweifel: The White House has been nonpartisan since the cornerstone was laid. I am nonpartisan and the viewers treat the model as the people’s house; with great respect. 

Cotto: What served as a catalyst for your love of American history? Was it anything specific, or an interest that developed throughout the years?

Zweifel: I was 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.  

Cotto: Now that our discussion is at its end, many readers are probably wondering how you came to have such an extraordinary life and career. Tell us a bit yourself.

Zweifel: I am an ordinary person who always strived to make the most out of my talents, loves my country, and just wants to give the White House back to the people. 

 


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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