The best part of growing up in DC (besides having parents who still live in DC) is the depth and breadth of museums. There’s something immersive about a well-presented museum that pulls you away from historical fact and shoves you face-to-face with someone’s story.
We took school field trips to many of the museums, but even after those days I take myself on field trips. Sometimes I invite a friend, but mostly I go alone. In the case of the Newseum, I warned my mom that I would like to spend all day in the museum. If she was interested, she could come. But if not, she would need to stay at home.
She agreed, so we attacked the Newseum between 9:30 and 3:30 on one of the early days of 2013. And honestly, we scarcely scratched the surface.
We started with the Berlin Wall, which fell right around when I was born. No, I don’t remember it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize its impacts. Yet I had never known how one side was covered in rather beautiful graffiti. And the wall was huge and thick; it’s hard to imagine a wall so impenetrable.
We headed into an exhibit on dangerous criminals and the people who caught them. After a quick primer on the Lindbergh kidnapping, we found the Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma City bombing) half of the exhibit. Mom peered cautiously inside of his cabin…
The best thing about the Newseum is that there’s no real telling what to expect. It’s filled with random elements of history throughout time. There’s no way to separate or appreciate the media without appreciating the events they covered. It ends up being the most moving and beautiful history you can imagine.
There’s a few exhibits you would expect – like a hall with a front page covering major events, dating back to the very first newspapers. Whose front page it is varies from event to event. I think the atom bomb front page was from Japan, but I can’t remember for sure. But there were funny events too – like Woodstock: “Hippies Mired in Sea of Mud.” And then my personal favorite: the very first Scientific American.
Perhaps most moving is their coverage of 9/11. Mom and I were both moved to tears. The exhibit includes videos of journalists who ran towards the towers, instead of away from them. It includes memories of journalists who never returned. And the whole exhibit is centered around the broadcast antennae from the North Tower – clearly relevant to communications that day and in journalism both in New York and elsewhere.
The Newseum is filled with both history and insight, from people who are asked to report as objectively as possible. There are silver boxes of tissues placed strategically throughout the museum. Perhaps the designers recognized that this history is more emotional than we knew or care to let on at the time. Yet how does one make emotion objective without losing all the personality and intent and feeling? How can one report on an international affair without those items?
If you’re in DC, visit the Newseum. Yes, it’s expensive. But you can go two days in a row on your one ticket and it’s absolutely worth it.