Co-owner of Presidents Hall of Fame dies; she had ‘sawdust and stardust in her heart’
By JOHN CUTTER
ORLANDO SENTINEL |
JUL 03, 2020 AT 5:30 AM
Clermont Presidents Hall of Fame
Jan Zweifel had a six-year plan for the Presidents Hall of Fame, turning an eye toward 2026 when the United States will mark the 250th year since the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Along with her husband, John, she talked about expansion, new exhibits, maybe even a visit from a real president to stand among the wax figures in their attraction in Clermont.
But although she died at age 83 in June, her spirit lives on, especially in the Miniature White House, the attraction’s 10-ton centerpiece.
“She had sawdust and stardust in her heart,” John Zweifel said on Wednesday, which would have been Jan’s 84th birthday. “She was an artist. She made and sewed many of the things here. You should see her work with clay.”
As he talks, John Zweifel sits behind a replica of the Resolute Desk, like the one used by so many presidents, including Donald Trump. His wax figure — hair, uncharacteristically, a bit out of place — stands by the desk in a smiling faceoff against Barack Obama across the aisle.
The Presidents Hall of Fame reopened this week for the first time since closing for the coronavirus pandemic in March. Visitors will now find a cardboard cutout of Jan Zweifel but will see her handiwork tucked into every corner of the building and hear the memories from John Zweifel’s mouth in a stream of loving consciousness.
“I was the luckiest man in the world,” Zweifel said Wednesday. “I was often the one out front, but she was always there.”
The attraction near the Citrus Tower on State Road 27 in South Lake has existed since the 1960s, but the Zweifels bought it in the 1990s and found a home for the Miniature White House.
That labor of love started for the couple in the 1960s and eventually became a sprawling model that is 50 feet long and 15 feet wide. It is filled with tiny furniture, wallpaper, lights and more, all done in a scale where 1 inch equals 1 foot.
“The White House is everybody’s house,” Zweifel says more than once. “This isn’t about politics. I wanted to share my love for America.”
The model gained fame during the nation’s bicentennial in 1976, when it started a tour of all 50 states and several counties.
Jan and John Zweifel had plans to make a big bang in six years, when the nation marks 250 years on July 4, 2026.
“She was an angel,” says attraction worker Tommy Candido. “While we were closed, she would call me often, checking on things.
John Zweifel says his wife died peacefully of natural causes in early June.
“She hugged me the night before,” John Zweifel says, adding again that he is the luckiest man.
Zweifel, who is 83, says he wants to carry on. As he walks among the presidents’ figures, tiny models of the Oval Offices of different presidents and even a wax figure of himself about 30 years younger, Zweifel keeps up an endless patter explaining where the attraction was and where it will be.
“We’re not done here,” he says, standing outside the East Wing, taking a moment to note where the First Lady’s office is. “Not done at all.”