Staff Spotlight: Zach Klitzman


A year plus after his big Jeopardy! win, Zach Klitzman sat down with colleague and office mate Jenny Phillips (External Communications Coordinator) to dig deep. (OK let’s be honest, to explain what he spent his Jeopardy! winnings on). Here’s the interview:

In your own words, summarize your role here at the Cottage.

As a colleague brilliantly quipped, I’m a Zach of All Trades here at the Cottage. As the Senior Executive Assistant, I work on everything from finances, to IT, to scheduling meetings, to researching history pieces, to editing award nominations, to posting on social media, to organizing staff retreats. It’s truly a role of many different hats.

Walk us through a typical day of your job. Where are you on a Monday morning or a Friday afternoon?

As alluded to above, I have so many different roles here at the Cottage that there’s no such thing as a “typical” day. But for the most part I’m at my desk, where I start every morning with Iced Tea and a bagel.

How long have you worked here?

Short answer: About eight years. Long answer: I first worked at the Cottage as an Interpreter the summer after we first opened in 2008. I then returned after graduating college, working again as an interpreter for eight months, before serving as the Executive Assistant and now Senior Executive Assistant since March 2011.

What’s your education, other professional experience and background? How has it helped you in your role at the Cottage?

For the most part, working at President Lincoln’s Cottage has been my main professional experience since I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2010. I also have a Masters in History from American University here in Washington D.C., where I studied Public History. Having a public history background is important working at museums, since it’s a great fusion of historical  scholarship with insights into how ordinary people learn about the past. So I feel well equipped to bring Lincoln’s beloved retreat to the wider world.

What originally drew you to Public History, or studying history in general?

Growing up in D.C., there were so many wonderful museums and historic sites, many of them free, that I fell in love with history very early on. That happened when I first walked in the Cottage in March of 2008. So I’ve always been a history buff, and so it naturally was an area of interest when I went to school.

What is one surprising fact that no one knows about you?

I can fall asleep in almost any circumstance such as on a bus. Also, I coached my younger brother’s basketball team when I was in high school.

What’s your proudest moment so far while working at the Cottage?

Attending the signing ceremony that officially created the Cottage as an independent 501(c)3 entity. As part of the team that transitioned the Cottage from a National Trust site to its own organization, it was really special seeing all of the hard work pay off.

What is the funniest or most memorable experience you’ve had at the Cottage? (Besides sharing an office with me)

Having Prince Charles and Camilla come to the site was pretty cool, though I wasn’t able to meet them.

Down to brass tacks: Lincoln. What’s your favorite Lincoln fact, story, or quote? Basically, what do you like about the guy?

It’s not necessary my “favorite” quote, but I think his First Inaugural Speech is underrated. The Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural are perhaps more evocative and legendary. (It’s no coincidence that they both are enshrined in the Lincoln Memorial). But the First Inaugural was given at this unique moment in American history where half the country had left or was on the verge of leaving, and Lincoln utilized all of his best rhetorical powers to persuade the South to stay. Every time I read the last paragraph, I get goosebumps:

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

What’s one question you would ask Abraham Lincoln?

Can you give me a tour of the Cottage?

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, BESIDES Lincoln (he’s already at the table), who would it be and why?

Even though he didn’t really speak much English, I’d love to have dinner with Mozart too. He certainly would provide a lot of funny jokes.

How do you think other people in the office would describe you, using three adjectives. 

Knowledgeable, Gregarious, Passionate.

Ok, we need to know. What did you do with your Jeopardy! money? And, do you have your Jeopardy! recording to pull out at parties?

Well about 85{ec117f0059f8cde3a5e4f5b3c1b486659702d407977a37ffc575d2c0a9b4a69f} of it went to Uncle Sam…via taxes and then paying off my student loans. But of the remainder, I spent some on a trip to Universal Studios to attend the Harry Potter theme park. I’m a big HP fan.

(I ask everyone this) Give me your pitch: why should someone visit the Cottage?

Visiting the Cottage is a unique experience. It’s not an average historic house with just pretty furniture and velvet ropes. Instead, visitors learn about the true Lincoln, while occupying the same spaces he spent writing the Emancipation Proclamation. I also love our innovative and award-winning use of technology on the tours to recreate Lincoln’s incredible words, actions and ideas.

If you have questions about accounting codes, how to fix the copier, or just generally want to chat with a walking Encyclopedia, you can find Zach at his desk eating an untoasted bagel and cream cheese every morning at approximately 9:08 am, or you can email him at zklitzman@lincolncottage.org.

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