When the Republican National Convention opened this week, so did the doors to the White House and a presidential limousine -- thanks to a south Lake County museum.
In fact, thousands of pieces of presidential memorabilia, including a 60-by-20-foot White House replica and a 1938 limousine used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, are part of an expansive display at CivicFest at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
The pieces -- all part of the collection from the National Presidents Hall of Fame in Clermont -- have been shipped to the event held in Minneapolis.
Before leaving for the event, the museum owner and curator, John Zweifel, said the display would take up thousands of square feet and is meant to bring visitors closer to American history. It has taken at least three tractor-trailers to haul the pieces to the show.
He said the event isn't about being a Republican or a Democrat.
"We're passionate about America, and we're doing this to instill pride in America," he said. "This is the chance of a lifetime for a person who wants to do a celebration of America."
CivicFest covers the 300,000-square-foot convention center in Minneapolis and is expected to bring in more than 150,000 visitors. The event is billed as a "civic festival celebrating Minnesota and American history, democracy, and the U.S. Presidency," according to its Web site. It is being held in conjunction with the Republican convention this week in St. Paul. The event not only features Zweifel's collection but other collections, multimedia events, a re-created convention floor and a 60,000-square-foot marketplace.
MaxeneFernstrom, director of CivicFest, said that when she started planning the event in 2007, Zweifel was her first call. She knew the miniature White House would be a highlight of the event.
"It's definitely going to be the centerpiece," she said.
She said the Zweifels are dedicated to preserving American history and showing it to the world.
"It's really an opportunity for citizens to see the People's House, as John calls it, in all of its exact details," she said. "This is a remarkable story of his gift to the nation. He's a real patriot and a lover of America."
Zweifel, 71, said event coordinators began transporting pieces of the display several weeks ago. Up to 800 crates were taken, Zweifel said. Just one of the pieces, the miniature White House, weighs more than 6 tons. Zweifel and his wife, Jan, travel to the White House every two months to photograph the rooms to ensure their miniature replica is authentic.
The couple left the Orlando area two weeks ago to help in the event setup. He and an army of volunteers started assembling the display Aug. 22. It took about four days to put it all up.
Other pieces in the collection include White House china, gowns worn by first ladies, letters and displays about the 43 presidents, to name a few. Visitors will get to have their pictures taken in a replica of the Oval Office and glimpse inside a Cadillac used by Roosevelt, the 32nd president.
Zweifel and his wife, 72, also will use the time in St. Paul to be on the convention floor, but he said they are nonpartisan. They typically go to the Republican and Democratic conventions, but this year the Democrats seemed less interested in their displays, he said.
"They decided not to do very much," he said. "The door wasn't open."
Zweifel said he's thrilled about the event. It's a chance to show off American history.
"It's exciting, and it's a world stage," he said. "It's every artist's dream to create things that live longer than he does."
Source: Orlando Sentinel