Today is the official grand opening of the Newseum, D.C.'s newest museum which is dedicated to outstanding journalism. The Newseum was formally housed in a smaller space across the Potomac in Arlington, Virginia, but now rubs elbows with the Capitol building and the popular Smithsonian museums on the National Mall in its new and improved location at 555 Pennsylvania Ave.
A few Traveler staffers got the opportunity to visit the Newseum before opening day and came away yearning for another visit.
The first thing that struck me was design of the fantastic glass and metal building, which was planned by the same architecture firm that designed the Holocaust Museum. The vast central atrium, called the Great Hall of News, soars seven levels high and comfortably contains not only a 40' x 22' news screen, but managed to make a Bell 206B Jet Ranger III news helicopter look petite. I have to admit I felt a bit overwhelmed. How was I to see 14 galleries, 15 theaters, and a host of other displays in one day? I promised myself I would return to see whatever I missed and thus calmed, hopped in the elevator for a lift to the top level.
The 9/11 gallery contains a two-story wall of newspaper front pages from around the world announcing the tragedy, a slide show, a video of journalists' reactions, and the camera equipment and last photographs of the one journalist who died that day, William Biggart. The mangled spire of a communications tower that was on one of the World Trade Center buildings sits in the center of the gallery, serving as a reminder of the vast destruction that occurred on that day. Also not to be missed on the top level is the magnificent view of the Capitol building from the balcony.
My favorite exhibit was the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery on the first level, not only because of the many iconic and important images on display, but the added bonus of being able to watch videos showing interviews with the photographers who lived the moments that are now captured in time.
The Newseum calls itself the "World's Most Interactive Museum" and includes a 4-D movie experience, newsrooms where visitors can film themselves as anchors, and over 125 interactive game stations. Of the 15 theaters, the movie with the most draw, and longest lines, was the 4-D movie playing in the Annenberg Theater, "I-Witness: A 4-D Time Travel Adventure." It was quite entertaining, although I have to admit that while jumping in my seat at some of the special effects, I forgot that the film was supposed to be a voyage through journalistic history.
I discovered a few more highlights on my all-too-short visit. The Berlin Wall Gallery contains segments from the actual wall and an East German guard tower. The bare concrete on the East German side of the wall makes a stark contrast to the graffiti-covered West German side. The Today's Front Pages Gallery features over 80 front pages from newspapers from around the world. Even more are available electronically for browsing in the museum and on the website; there's nothing like checking in on the news in Eugene, Oregon and in Madrid, Spain with just a few clicks.
Unlike the Smithsonian museums, which spoil both Washingtonians and visitors with free admission, the Newseum charges $20 for regular adult admission. That is about the equivalent of two adults going to the movies, but the experience of the Newseum is certainly worth the price. All in all I came away with a greater respect for the people, often unseen and unmentioned, who bring us the constant flow of news, and the gravity of their role as responsible newsgatherers. After all, today's news is tomorrow's history.