Welcome to last post in the series on our travel to the capital of the USA, Washington, DC. In this episode, I’ll take you to the Newseum, the museum that celebrates the First Amendment to the US Constitution that outlines five freedoms for all in this country: religion, speech, the press, assembly, and petition the government.
Originally, the Newseum wasn’t on our to see list when planning our trip to Washington. That was not until a photography friend asked me, when learning of our travel plans, if we were going to the Newseum. He told me that it was scheduled to close the end of 2019. I’d heard from others that this was a great experience so it automatically moved up to near the top of the list! I’m sad this great museum is closing (due to financial problems) because we are at a time in our country when it seems we need daily reminders about the importance of our First Amendment rights. Although tickets are a bit on the pricey side (adults $25 plus tax, seniors $20 plus and youth $15 plus) it was well worth the cost of admission as there is a lot to see and absorb. It’s another museum experience where we needed more time than we allowed to see everything! To be honest, IMHO, attendance should be required for all elected and appointed officials and their staffs, even better all Americans! And if I was in charge, there would be periodic mandatory retraining just to keep these rights in front of of leaders when considering legislation or dealing with constituents. I know that ship has sailed but I can dream big!
First, a little about the backstory of the Newseum. The guy behind the non-profit Freedom Forum that operates the Neweum was Al Neuharth, the founder of the USA Today newspaper. In conducting some research for this article, I found out that Mr. Neuharth was one of my people. He was of German-Russian heritage originally from Eureka, South Dakota very near the border of my home state of North Dakota. The Freedom Forum with the mission to foster “free press, free speech, and free spirit” was founded in 1991 with the Newseum opening in Arlington, Virginia in 1997. The Newseum moved to it’s current location between the US Capitol and White House and about a block from the National Mall at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2008. The building is quite huge with over 600,000 square feet of space on seven levels with several major galleries, theaters, and two broadcast studios. So there is a lot to see and do.
When visitors walk up to the entrance, it’s plain to see that this museum is serious about making a great show of the First Amendment.
As we walk up, the first thing we see is the display of front pages of all of the daily newspapers from around the country. It was interesting to see the different stories and perspectives being emphasized on those front pages. We even got to read the front page of our local paper, the Wisconsin State Journal.
After paying our entry fees and picking up a site map, we were ready to start our exploring. We were directed to take the escalator or walk down the stairs to the Hubbard Broadcasting Concourse where we viewed an orientation film. There are four theaters that show a variety of short films such as the JFK assassination, TV Covers Vietnam, Pulitzer Prizes, Lincoln is Dead, and even one on sports. We watched a few but could have spent more time here.
Nearby was an exhibit of the Berlin Wall, said to be the largest display outside of Germany. In addition to the history of it’s origin and demise, we got to walk around the Wall panels.
Note the stark differences between the West side (top photo) to the East side (bottom).
As we walked to the next exhibit, there was a retired remote broadcasting truck with it’s antennas and dishes pointing towards a satellite. Looked ready to go! The FBI display featured the Unabomber’s cabin, the 9/11 hijackers car and how the FBI fights terrorism and cybercrime every day.
One of my favorite exhibits was the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery. All the winning photos from 1942 to present were on display. I looked at everyone, some twice and found one photo by a photographer I know. In addition to the photos, there were several short videos where photographers described how they got the image. Worth the price of admission by itself!
I should mention that as we traversed the museum, there were video booths where visitors could watch topics such as the power of photography in news, how words sparked the American Revolution and much more. There were recaps from all the big news stories over the past fifty or so years such as the Civil Rights Movement, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., Vietnam War, Watergate, the Gulf War, the Clinton impeachment hearings and votes, space launches and disasters, natural disasters, plane crashes, and etc. But the one that took center stage was the reporting on the 9/11 attack. The projection room where some of the press coverage was shown seated 30-40 people and there was standing room only. In addition, it was quiet, no talking, just folks absorbed and intently watching the presentation just like it happened yesterday. A grim reminder of the past.
Below is the broadcast tower that was atop the World Trade Center.
This is a display of the front pages of newspapers around the world showing and describing the 9/11 attack.
Another exhibit that I really enjoyed was about some of the journalists that have covered the news over the years. Folks like Walter Cronkite, Woodward and Bernstein, David Brinkley, Peter Jennings, Walter Lippmann, and Dan Rather. But one of preeminent journalists in my mind is Edward R. Murrow. He began his career in radio and gained fame by broadcasting from Europe during WWII. After the war, he began working in television and produced several documentaries of common people and social issues. He saved his best for a documentary in 1954 on Senator Joseph McCarthy that helped to expose McCarthy’s words and deeds as threats against First Amendment rights. His focus on democracy and belief that the press was a necessary part of preserving the free press earned him the respect of leaders and more importantly the common person.
As we made way around the museum, we were amazed at the collection of materials and its interesting presentation to the public. Again, it’s a lot to absorb in one day but never fear your ticket is also good for the next day! Splitting your visit between two days is something I would recommend especially if you are a news junky like I am.
On the sixth floor is an outdoor terrace that looks down Pennsylvania Avenue and offers a great view of the Capitol Building
As we come down the stairs here’s a view of the Atrium.
And the silhouette of two persons looking out the large windows.
The special exhibit that was on display was about the fight by the LGBTQ community to gain their rights with the emphasis on the right for gay men and lesbians to marry.
Again, there was a lot to see in this museum both from a historical perspective (we should learn from history!) but also how these freedoms apply to the present day. Travelers to Washington during the remainder of 2019 should plan to visit this treasure before it closes. At this time, there are no announced plans to reopen in a new location.
This ends the Washington, DC series, next up The Trail to New Orleans.
Until then, happy travels!