The Newseum

Washington Travel Blog

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the Berlin wall, West side

            The Smithsonian museums around the Mall are probably DC’s most famous museums.  However, just a short walk away several other museums offer great cultural opportunities.  Behind the National Gallery of Art rises a more modern building: the Newseum.  Its 14 galleries and 15 theaters all explore the world of media.

            Kimberleigh parked in a public garage basically across the street, and we hurried through the cold snow to the front of the Newseum.

more wall grafitti
  Inside we passed through security and approached the ticket counter.  I made sure to mention WTOP and we got tickets for half price.

            We headed down to the Concourse to begin our visit.  At the far end, just beyond the glass elevators we saw eight concrete slabs, each one 12 feet high and covered in bright graphics: remnants of the Berlin Wall.  I had seen a section of the wall before, years ago at West Point, but this collection is the largest in the United States.  As I moved to the other side and saw the plain light grey wall, I realized how well the wall illustrated the difference in the lives of residents in West Berlin and East Berlin.  The tall, stark watch tower in the middle of the gallery definitely helped drive home the point that this territory was not friendly.

the watchtower over the wall
  As throughout the rest of the museum, placards around the walls explained the history.  In the years following the division of Germany to occupying governments with opposing ideologies, the Soviet Union watched East Germans flee to the West sometimes as many as 2000 per day.  To combat this exodus, in 1961 they took extreme measures and built a wall within a matter of days.  Citizens were forbidden to approach the wall.  Guards had orders to shoot, and they did.  200 would-be-escapees died in trying to cross the wall.  The museum highlighted the story of an 18-year old who was shot in his attempt.  The East German guards left him lying on the ground, slowly bleeding to death.  American soldiers could hear his cries for help but were unable to rescue him since their actions could have been the spark to ignite WWIII.
the Berlin wall, East side
  Other dramatic attempts ended more successfully as people crawled through tunnels, flew in hot air balloons, and dangled out of windows (I was amazed by the photo of a 77-year old woman being handed to freedom).  We stepped inside the sterile watchtower and looked above our heads all the way to the top.  Up a few steps we looked at a fallen statue of a Communist leader and the pen used by Gorbachev to sign his final act as the leader of the former Soviet Union.  We also placed our hands on a square of the Berlin wall.

            We then sat down in Orientation Theater 3 to watch an introduction that tackled the question of What is News?  Against a background of many iconic images, the video described the news as a series of opposites: war and peace, love and hate, life and death.

Athlete
  After the lights came up, we headed out of the theater and received a few touring tips from a docent (we saw a lot of them in the museum throughout the day).

            We walked down a short ramp into the Athlete photo collection.  Shot by Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss, these huge pictures captured both our most famous athletes and complete unknowns.  Michael Jordan slam dunks over a blue court.  Johnny Unitas slowly walks across a football field, his once mighty hands now unable to even hold a cup.  Serena Williams stands strong and tall in a white bathing suit.  Michelle Kwan poses in her skates, her stance pure grace.  On the edge of a diving board, Michael Phelps hovers, his arms stretched backwards.  Cuban children play stickball in the streets, their actions completely unposed, completely caught up the joy of childhood games.

looking down from level six
  Back up the ramp we slipped into the Sports Theater where “Press Box: The History of Sports Reporting” had begun.  This 25-minute film highlighted some of the top sporting moments in modern history as well as the men and women that reported those moments to us.  We saw images of Muhammad Ali (known as Cassius Clay at that time) taking down his boxing opponents, Cal Ripken breaking the record for consecutive baseball games played, the US men’s hockey team capturing unexpected gold, and the lighting of the Olympic flame at opening ceremonies.  The footage also paid attention to the reporters especially their relationship with the athletes.  While most of the shots focused on the positive memories, the video did not forget darker issues such as the question of equality for women and minorities and the terror attack at the Munich Olympic games.

            In a glass elevator we journeyed up six levels to the top floor of exhibits.

Argentinian headline
  Stepping onto a wide landing, we walked over the edge and peeked all the way down to the bottom, the view displaying the Escher-like design.  We then walked towards the Pennsylvania Avenue Terrace which was already coated in a light layer of snow.  On a clear day, the terrace provides a unique perspective of the museums and monuments around the Mall.  However, this morning Kimberleigh and I contented ourselves with glances from inside the warm and dry gallery since the falling snow obscured the sights.  We then turned our attention to Today’s Front Pages.  Here the display cases contained the front pages of at least 80 newspapers, one from each state and a selection from around the world.  Periodicals from Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Turkey, Russia, Lebanon, Australia, China, Denmark, Hungary, Greece, South Korea and more excited me with their mix of languages.
Ohioan headline
  I was a little disappointed to see that the newspaper from Ohio hailed from the opposite side of the state; however, the interactive kiosk with 700 virtual front pages brought up the major paper from my home area.  It was neat to realize that I was looking at the same headlines and photos in the exact layout as my parents.

            At the end of this gallery, we turned into an alcove titled Manhunt.  This smaller exhibit followed the events surrounding Lincoln’s assassination.  Information placards on the walls traced Booth and Lincoln from the president’s second inauguration to the execution of the assassin’s fellow conspirators.  A few cases held artifacts such as a pole from Lincoln’s funeral procession.

greeting the new century! the 20th century that is
  Since I had seen a couple detailed exhibits on this topic (lower level of Ford’s Theater, gallery at the Museum of American History), I was not too interested in this display.  The half dozen young boys yelling “Manhunt!” probably had something to do with my dampened enthusiasm too.

            Down on level 5 we encountered the overwhelming News History gallery.  I say overwhelming because this amazing gallery had so much to see.  Display cases that explored concerns related to the field of media lined the walls.  Trays in the middle held front pages and other documents proclaiming important events in our history.  Kimberleigh immediately noticed and commented on the low level lighting.

Pearl Harbor
  At her comment we realized that the artifacts before us were not replicas or facsimiles; these were the real deal and needed protection hence the dim light.  Beginning from the times of the Gutenberg press, these documents pushed forward through the ages to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan.  As I perused the older papers, I noticed how tiny the print was compared to the columns of today’s papers.  Kimberleigh and I pulled out tray after tray, their labels mentioning events that we remembered from history classes and then some.  An assassination attempt on Henry IV.  The Declaration of Independence.  The dissolution of the Union.  The shooting of President McKinley.
an old copy of the Constitution
  The sinking of the Titanic.  The fiery end of the Hindenberg.  The peace at the end of World War II.  The desegregation in Little Rock.  The assassination of Kennedy.  The release of hostages in Iraq.  The too-close-to call presidential election results.  The terror bombings in Bali.  The devastation from Hurricane Katrina.  The death of Pope John Paul.  Besides looking at these pages in their tray, a few interactive kiosks allowed visitors to electronically pull up these documents and then zoom in for easier reading.  We only looked at half of the papers (at the most) and barely glanced at the display cases.
a look back at Woodstock
  We didn’t even step into one of the five side theaters with short films on topics such as media bias or the press and its relationship with Hollywood.  That’s how much information was packed into the News History exhibit.  The museum’s guidebook boasts that this gallery has enough artifacts to be a museum in itself and after spending some time there, I have to agree (maybe a small museum but still its own little museum!)

Off to the left we browsed the alcove for Great Books.  This exhibit is much smaller than News History.  It consists of only one long display case which contains a row of books, copies of important documents in our history.  The oldest writing is the Magna Carta from England.  Other examples included Common Sense by Thomas Paine and the Constitution.

wall of front pages
  Another interactive kiosk enabled visitors to electronically flip through several pages of each of the books.  From here we walked into the Big Screen Theater which was showing documentary on the music of Woodstock.  We continued down the steps on the far side and into a low-ceilinged hallway.

            Bright colors matched the theme of the hallway: Woodstock 40 Years Later.  A few informational placards touched on this historic musical event while photos helped bring the days to life.  I always like learning the details such as how the final performer of the festival was dealing with a husband jailed due to his refusal to enlist or how the weather was less than cooperative so the area smelled of wet sleeping bags.  Kimberleigh carefully observed a poster for Woodstock.

twisted antennae
  The cost for all 3 days?  $18.  The message of peace promoted by Woodstock contrasted abruptly with the next exhibit.

            A sophomore in college, I had just finished breakfast and was on my way to chapel when I glanced at the TV in the dorm lobby.  The smoke surrounding the Twin Towers showed immediately that something was wrong, but at the time none of us understood the full significance of that terrible act.  Through newspaper front pages, firsthand video footage, personal accounts, and twisted wreckage, the Newseum pays tribute to the memory of those killed on 9/11.  Kimberleigh and I did not say much here.  We read the signs and watched the movies.

Tim Russert's office
  Looked at the wrecked antennae from the top of one of the towers.  Hunted for the front pages of our areas from the day after.  The tissue box sitting on the white counter kind of summed up the emotion of this exhibit.

            A peek inside Tim Russert’s office around the corner helped to lighten the mood a little despite the sobering fact that this newsman had passed away suddenly.  His offices was definitely the space of a working, family man.  I found a few of the touches quite humorous such as the two cans of beans that each represented one of the major political parties and the bottle with a little Davy Crockett coonskin cap.

            We then crossed the Five Freedoms Walkway which stated the five rights protected by the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, petition, and assembly.

the results of Bart Simpson's attempt at using his rights
  At the end of the walkway, we entered the First Amendment Gallery.  Here each of the five rights received its own display case.  Each case was broken into three parts that looked at the history of the amendment from its early days to the present.  For example, freedom of speech considered the Internet and its spread of information.  I was more interested in the side wall that took a look at the five freedoms within the limits of school walls.  As a teacher, I know just how difficult it can be to balance the rights of individual students and the rights of the group as a whole.  I found the interactive kiosk--a race to answer questions correctly--very useful in giving tangible examples of what rights students had and did not have.

            Level Three began in front of a large map of the world that displayed press freedom throughout all nations.

the rights of the press
  The colors of the stoplights represented three different levels of press freedom with green showing countries where the media experience a high level of freedom and red represented countries that tightly controlled the media through both laws and intimidation methods.  A replica of the Goddess of Democracy that was hoisted up in Tianamen Square during the 1989 protests stands to the left while to the right a sign shows the changes in levels of freedoms in the last year.  For two countries, the press now enjoys greater freedom while for three others journalists face greater restriction and danger.  The greater danger was brought to life by belongings donated from journalists who have looked death in the face while on the job.  A bloody notebook.  A truck with multiple bullet holes.  A laptop from a kidnapped journalist who never came home.
Memorial wall

            Those who died while bringing the truth to the world are honored in the Journalists Memorial.  Against a window, squares of frosted glass curve upward to the ceiling.  The names and countries of each fallen journalist are listed by year.  On another wall are pictures and stories.  Some were targeted and murdered for speaking truths that powerful entities did not want the public hearing.  Others died while en route to a story, the all-too familiar story of the roads taking another life.  Benches here provided time to sit and consider the human cost of the news.

            This level then continued with a look at the media in the forms of Internet, TV, and radio.

the news
  A small theater showed clips from comedians while around the theater displays explored this concept.  I think we were starting to suffer from information overload again since we did not linger over this exhibit.  I did discover some interesting facts about the early days of TV though.  I had not realized just how far back we had been experimenting with TV signal transmission (1927 was listed as a major year in this development).  I also learned that a dollar symbol was one of the first pictures transmitted.  Also, since early TV had difficulty with the color white, producers had to go interesting lengths.  For example, one actress had her face painted green and her lips black to look normal to TV viewers.

            Since the studios (Newseum TV studio and Pennsylvania Avenue Studio) were not open at this time, we were pretty much done with Level Three.

game
  We did pause briefly to look at the Master Control with its many lighted panels and computer screens.  Three technicians were walking around inside.  We also watched a lighting crew outside of the Pennsylvania Avenue Studio.  Filming with Barbara Walters would be taking place the next day, and since the lighting set-up can take four hours, they wanted to get the work done in advance.

            Down a flight of steps and around a corner--pausing to view the news copter--we visited the Interactive Newsroom.  Here visitors have two main attractions.  The first is to sit down at a computer screen and choose from a variety of activities such as playing a game or sending an e-card.  We tried setting up an e-card but the screen was not very responsive.

make your own broadcast
  The second activity was to make a short broadcast which could then be purchased for $5.  Kimberleigh and I did not try this out but we did watch a few other people going.  You got to choose your background--ranging from the Newseum, the Nationals’ stadium, the White House, and the Moon--and then the teleprompter gave the script.  Unlike most museums where an area like this would be mobbed, I found the crowd in this exhibit to be light, maybe we just timed it right.

            From here we stepped into the Ethics Center.  First we played a game where we were trying to file articles for a newspaper.  I thought it was really neat.  You waved your hand over the lighted board to move a little character into your reading space.

Ethics game
  Then you chose yes or no in response to an ethical question.  If you answered right, the article appeared on the newspaper’s front page.  If you were incorrect, you had to try for a new scenario.  Kimberleigh and I worked together to fill our front page although the interactive kiosk is set up for two teams of four to compete against each other.  After winning (pretty easy since we weren’t competing against anyone…), we voted on other questions facing journalists over the years such as disclosing medical secrets of athletes to the public, pretending to be crazy to get a scoop, and posing items for a more powerful photo.  I have to admit that while I answered most of the questions without a lot of deliberation, the one scenario involving the choice between following directives to protect yourself and helping a child in desperate need was especially heartbreaking.
Vote for the favorite!

            We breezed through the Newseum store on this level, not really looking to buy anything, just seeing what they had.  While Kimberleigh fielded a call from her sister wanting to know what the roads into and then in DC were like--getting a bit dicey--I perused the First Dogs exhibit.  I’m a cat person but the pictures of the various presidential pooches were cute.

            Skipping Level One for the moment, we headed to the Annenberg Theater for the 2:30 showing of the 4-D experience I-Witness.  It felt as though we went around in a circle to get to the entrance but once we finally arrived, we realized that the two-story food court made all the ups and downs necessary.  We picked up our 3-D glasses and found seats in the theater following the docents warning: the middle seats are the moving ones.

Pulitzer exhibit
  The theater soon darkened and we were off on a fast-paced adventure through history.  The special effects were fairly basic but I was still entertained (plus this attraction was included in the price of admission, a difference from many museums!).  I think the producers had a little bit too much fun with making 3-D bubbles.  While I took the movie in stride, Kimberleigh did let out a shriek at one scene that was accompanied with a realistic special effect (I have to admit I’d experienced that effect before).  We both definitely enjoyed I-Witness.

            Back up on Level One, we browsed the Pulitzer Prize Photograph Gallery.  As a fan of both photography and journalism, I was definitely interested in this exhibit which held the most comprehensive collection of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs.

every winning photo is here
  Immediately my eyes were drawn to a large photo of two children riding bareback on a horse.  Despite the hardships in their lives, joy just emanated from their faces, troubles momentarily abandoned.  On the opposite wall were the two most recent winning photographs, one of President Obama taken on the campaign trail a week before the 2008 elections, the other of a mud-splattered Haitian boy trying to salvage a baby stroller.  Ahead of us a curved wall displayed small copies of the photographs along a timeline beginning in the 1940’s and continuing to the present.  Behind the curve were more kiosks where you could pull up specific photographs and their stories.  Along the other walls were enlarged copies of the iconic photos.  The firefighter holding the bloodied child after the Oklahoma City bombing.
news copter
  Entire towns fleeing ethnic cleansing in Rwanda.  A women screaming over the body of a young man shot during the protests at Kent State.  A paralyzed veteran watching a parade.  An unconscious electrical worker being rescued from high on a pole.  A family running to meet the returning POW.

            Although we missed a few exhibits, Kimberleigh and I felt pretty good about our visit at this point plus we were hungry.  We exited the museum and started back up the street.  Our first choice for a late lunch COSI was closed on the weekend so we went to cross the street to the Au Bon Pain.  Noticing a large number of police cars blocking off the side streets, we waited to order and just watched out the large glass windows.

Goddess of Freedom replica
  After a short wait, we saw about a half dozen black SUVs drive quickly by, lights all flashing.  We can’t confirm it, but we’re pretty sure President Obama was heading through.  Kimberleigh had a pastry and banana for lunch while I choice the broccoli cheddar soup and an orange scone (for later).  The soup was delicious but hot enough that I had to either wait or burn my tongue.  The meal was a great way to relax before returning home.

vulindlela says:
Wow, great write up!
I'd like to check this out next time in DC...
Posted on: Feb 01, 2010
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the Berlin wall, West side
the Berlin wall, West side
wall grafitti
wall grafitti
more wall grafitti
more wall grafitti
the watchtower over the wall
the watchtower over the wall
the Berlin wall, East side
the Berlin wall, East side
Athlete
Athlete
looking down from level six
looking down from level six
Argentinian headline
Argentinian headline
Ohioan headline
Ohioan headline
greeting the new century!  the 20t…
greeting the new century! the 20…
Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor
an old copy of the Constitution
an old copy of the Constitution
a look back at Woodstock
a look back at Woodstock
wall of front pages
wall of front pages
twisted antennae
twisted antennae
Tim Russerts office
Tim Russert's office
the results of Bart Simpsons atte…
the results of Bart Simpson's att…
the rights of the press
the rights of the press
Memorial wall
Memorial wall
the news
the news
game
game
make your own broadcast
make your own broadcast
Ethics game
Ethics game
Vote for the favorite!
Vote for the favorite!
Pulitzer exhibit
Pulitzer exhibit
every winning photo is here
every winning photo is here
news copter
news copter
Goddess of Freedom replica
Goddess of Freedom replica
the watchtower
the watchtower
warning in four languages
warning in four languages
part of the deterrent system
part of the deterrent system
children of Cuba
children of Cuba
a very snowy view of the Capitol
a very snowy view of the Capitol
Greek headline
Greek headline
South Korean headline
South Korean headline
a replica of ATS 1, used as part o…
a replica of ATS 1, used as part …
humorous newspaper headline; in th…
humorous newspaper headline; in t…
entrance to 9/11 exhibit
entrance to 9/11 exhibit
antennae and the wall
antennae and the wall
quotation from the late broadcaster
quotation from the late broadcaster
one of the five First Amendment fr…
one of the five First Amendment f…
Assembly
Assembly
danger
danger
the beginning of the Internet
the beginning of the Internet
control room
control room
glass elevator
glass elevator
Washington
photo by: b93sp