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The Wandering White House

June 2024
2min read


In this homeland security era, there may be no tougher ticket than a White House tour. The landmark is now available only for school and youth groups or veterans’ and military organizations, and requests must be submitted through a member of Congress. But if you can’t come to the White House, the White House may come to you—or at least a 60-foot-wide, 10-ton replica of amazing fidelity and detail, which will be touring the country until 2005.

The replica’s home is the National Presidents Hall of Fame and Museum, in Clermont, Florida, which opened in 1962. This is a private, not-for-profit operation created and owned by John and Jan Zweifel, who, along with 50 volunteers, make sure that smoke comes out of the replica’s chimneys and the Oval Office phones really ring. If a desk in the Washington mansion was carved from mahogany, then the miniature version is made of mahogany as well. The sinks work, and the paintings on the wall duplicate those on display in Washington.

When Christmas approaches, museum representatives meet with White House staff and conduct on-site visits (the Hall of Fame has complete access to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue) to make sure of every seasonal detail, including the mini-tree’s evergreen smell. John Zweifel visits Washington half a dozen times a year and routinely gets faxed photographs of, for example, new White House furniture. The level of devotion can get downright obsessive: To re-create the Easter-egg roll, volunteers get the exact color scheme correct for thousands of miniature eggs.

The museum’s White House is not, John Zweifel will tell you, a dollhouse, although he can’t resist adding that it is listed as the world’s largest dollhouse in the Guinness Book of World Records . And even while it tours the country, visitors to the museum in Clermont can see many other popular attractions. Each of the 43 Presidents has a display case that re-creates one or more important rooms from his life. These rooms are built to 1:12 scale, and each is selected to reflect the President’s personal preferences and habits, revealing a hidden facet of his personality.

For Gerald Ford, a former football star at the University of Michigan, there’s a replicated exercise room that he had converted from a guest bedroom. Bill Clinton’s third-floor music room features celebrity photos of performers he admires, such as Quincy Jones. Richard Nixon’s Lincoln Room contains cigar burns that he would smudge the surroundings with. Abigail Adams’s laundry line hangs in her husband’s East Room, spike marks from Dwight Eisenhower’s golf shoes can be seen in the mini-version of his Oval Office, and Amy Carter’s roller-skate tracks appear in her father’s East Room. “Security guards from the White House are our biggest fans,” John Zweifel says. “They say they worked every day in the real building and never, ever got to see how these rooms actually operated.”

The replica will be at the State Fair of Texas, in Dallas, from September 26 through October 19 and at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, in Austin, from November 10 through February 16, 2004. For more information on the tour, call 407-876-3631 or the National Presidents Hall of Fame at 352-394-2836.

—Dennis McCafferty

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