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Since my last class in U. S. History was as a sophomore in high school, it was high time that I refreshed my knowledge.  There were a couple of pressing reasons behind my wanting to remedy this issue.  One reason was that I would be completely embarrassed if someone were to ask me which President came between Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley and I answered “President Uh.”  This would, inevitably, happen in Europe.

The second reason is because I harbor a suspicion that in these tough economic times, employers are using sneaky tactics to weed out the unsuitable.  I fear applying for a job and having the interviewer point to a picture of Rutherford B. Hayes and demand that I identify our 19th and mostly undistinguished President.  An inability to identify a leader of our great nation could peg one as a subversive and I am not willing to risk this when the roof is leaking.

Personal reasons aside, I will recommend the Presidents Hall of Fame in Clermont as an absolute must-see while in the Orlando area.  I am so adamant about this that I am going to ask you to pledge to visit during your lifetime, and not to carp if the cashier charges you five dollars more than the discounted admission price listed on the Web site.

Relatively speaking, the Presidents Hall of Fame is not cheap.  It set us back $14.95 per person, plus tax, but as I listened to an animated waxwork Lincoln deliver a rousing speech just for us (we were the only people there), I turned to Mr. B. and said, I don’t care if this cost us thirty bucks. It is worth every penny.

The truth is, I would have paid twice as much.  The museum is a spectacular of kitschy Americana and Presidents are only part of it.  I had no idea that the museum also covered the circus, leading to the inescapable and delightful conclusion that the museum’s creator realizes that the line between circus and White House is damn near invisible.

Visiting the Hall of Fame is like visiting the overstuffed home of an ancient great aunt who had a great many travels and who never threw anything away.  The art of curating doesn’t come to mind as your eye darts from a glass case containing a grinning Eleanor Roosevelt doll to Tom Thumb’s carriage to an old black-and-white television that plays a scratchy and endless loop of “A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy.”  (Mrs. Kennedy uses the word “grotesque,” which made me like her immediately.)  As for the rest of it, I can only give insufficient examples:  a large diorama of the building of the White House, a complete row of wax Presidents that either look exactly like the President in question (FDR) or like an anonymous insurance agent with an abscessed tooth (Calvin Coolidge), the aforementioned circus diorama, a replica of JFK’s desk complete with a life-size wax John-John peeking through the bottom, and Mark Twain.

In short, I am unable to describe it and can only urge that you cancel whatever plans you have and go immediately. Bora Bora can wait. I will only add that there is a store that features an original poster from the McKinley campaign and hundreds of things related to the dizzy array inside the museum itself.  You can buy a 12″ talking George W. Bush doll (with Western boots accessory) or a circus magazine from 1945 or some giant patriotic pencils or a toy metal zeppelin.

Presidents Hall of Fame:  Without reservations, five stars.  This is the best attraction I have visited in Florida.  Adding to my enjoyment is that they have not updated their bare-bones Web site, which announces that you will be greeted by our current President, George W. Bush.  Who cares?  You can step outside and take a photo with a giant model of the real current President if you so desire.  I overheard the cashier tell another visitor, apologetically, that they hadn’t quite gotten up to speed on their Obama display yet.  The only way the museum could be improved would be by installation of  a diorama of William Howard Taft getting stuck in his bathtub.

If you visit:  The Presidents Hall of Fame is located right next to the Citrus Tower.  What a bonanza! 

Due to the sheer fabulousness of this attraction, I will be posting photos today and tomorrow.  I would be derelict in my duty if I held anything back.

These great men were all immediately recognizable.  This was not always the case with the rest of the line-up.

Oh, Jimmy, if only we’d listened to your views on energy. (Note to makers of wax figures:  Age-appropriate teeth are not visually appealing.)

Doesn’t Ronnie make you nostalgic for those days when you could make twenty bucks an hour selling purses?  It does me.

Remember when people just went out and built stuff without liability insurance and subcontractors?

Some of what is on display is a little ghoulish.  Or maybe a lot of it is.  Get over it, so is the Smithsonian.

The faceless women behind (or in front of)  the men.

Hill and Bill.  Bill who? This is one of the wax figures that looks nothing like its human counterpart.  Also, we must note that every wife except Hillary is wearing a formal gown suitable for state dinners. Hillary, though, is wearing a sensible navy wool suit.

Tom Thumb was only 33″ tall.  What size were the ponies?

Stay tuned.