Presidents Hall of Fame
Special Report by Melanie Archibald
Much like anything ever written by Shakespeare, there are a million different ways to interpret the President's Hall of Fame. Is it an aging Florida tourist trap, or a surprising collection in the shape of a museum?
Well, can't it be both?
On our visit, we were welcomed by a building that seemed to be a model version of the White House, though this one trumps the original by including a giant mural of Ronald Reagan on the side. After passing a replica of the Lincoln Memorial statue and heaving open the disturbingly heavy front door, we were greeted with a gift shop of wonderfully random items. Nowhere else can you buy a GW Bush action figure, a miniature chest of drawers, and a replica (the Presidents Hall of Fame has a lot of replicas) of an old tin toy... and all at the same time!
Ms. Carol Howe, manager of the Hall for the last 12 years, was kind enough to answer a few questions. According to Howe, the President's Hall of Fame was adapted in 1960 from the House of Presidents, a wax museum located here, in order to house owner John Zweifel's famous miniature White House replica (Unfortunately, when we visited, the White House was on loan elsewhere).
Howe has an obvious love for the Hall, and it's easy to see why. The museum has a certain charm to it. There are wax figurines all around the place of Presidents standing next to milky white glamor mannequins in their wives' dresses. The Presidents are done well enough to be identifiable, and stand sort of drooping, but I'm not sure if that was the effect of time on wax, or simply because most presidents are old men. Aside from the life-size figures, there are knee-high President statuettes, and doll and miniature scale versions. So enjoy your Presidents at your preferred size.
You can view replicas of White House china, collectible election memorabilia, and even a replica of a replica of Lincoln's face. There are some notable "next-to-famous" authentic artifacts, such as Seat H-7 from the Ford Theater, "where Lincoln was assassinated." There's even a protected-by-glass tray of cookies in animal and gingerbread people shapes, acquired from an actual 2007 White House Holiday Reception.
My favorite displays were the miniature versions of the White House rooms, though. The level of detail on them was really great. They all seemed to be picture perfect, judging by adjacent photos of the real rooms posted for comparison, with each placard giving a specific date for what administration it was taken from. Even the tiny documents mounted on the walls appeared to be exactly the same as their real life counterparts.
The Hall has a lot in it that seems out of place for a President's museum, though -- which can be viewed either as a digression, or a bonus attraction.
Zweifel's true specialty was in the realm of miniature replicas, which is obvious from the moment you set eyes on a miniature winter wonderland in the beginning of the museum. Towards the end of the museum you'll find an even broader variety of non-Presidential items, such as a puppet show that looks like it was taken directly out of the Sound of Music, and an electrically animated miniature circus.
Other notables include the wax head of Mark Twain (which I guess was included because he was American) and an absolutely terrifying cardboard photo cutout of Hillary Clinton. True, Senator Clinton has definitely played a part in past and present Presidential happenings, but that's no reason to put up a giant image of her looking like she's trying to figure out the best way to eat your brain.
In the end, I'd have to say that the Presidents Hall of Fame is a neat way to spend an afternoon, though I can probably hold out for my next visit until 2017 -- to see how they treat the 45th President.
Field Report by Melanie Archibald, a Florida high school sophomore studying journalism and developing an appreciation of her state's roadside attractions.