Feeling My Age at the Newseum

by Gray Cargill on December 17, 2014

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The Newseum’s tagline is “There’s More to Every Story.” As an English Lit major, writer, and story-lover, I really, really like this tagline. The longer I live, the more I realize how true it is–in fiction, in nonfiction, and in our own lives. No matter how objective a newspaper or news show might try to be, every story that is told has been edited by someone for multiple reasons–for length, for clarity, sometimes even to fit a certain political agenda.

At the Newseum, you quickly realize that “there’s more to every story” is about so much more than whether or not what we’re seeing in the news is reality, propaganda, or just a means for some corporation to make money. You wouldn’t know it by watching a certain news network (that shall remain nameless because I don’t need the legal hassle), but there are still journalists who go into the field not because they want to spew hate and fear and whip the public into a divisive frenzy, but because they care about the truth and are willing to risk their lives to expose the truth to the public. Check out the Journalists Memorial at the Newseum, where you can read the stories of journalists who were killed by snipers, kidnapped and murdered, bludgeoned and left to die outside their own homes–all in pursuit of a story. The truth often comes at a terrible cost.

Newseum Atrium

The New York Times–Ochs-Sulzberger Family Great Hall of News from above

I really wish I’d visited the Newseum on a day when there were no school groups. There’s so much powerful information here, I just wanted some peace and quiet to absorb it all. But there were a lot of hyperactive, chatty middle schoolers running around, so it was a little hard to concentrate. I may try visiting on a weekend next time. Despite the lack of peace and quiet, the Newseum quickly became one of my all-time favorite museums in the world.

I took the elevator to the 6th floor to start my tour at the very top and worked my way down floor by floor. There’s a terrace up here named after Hank Greenspun, the late publisher of the Las Vegas Sun. It has excellent views of the most famous street in Washington, Pennsylvania Avenue. The Capitol, off in the distance at one end of the Avenue, makes a great photo opp, even with the scaffolding currently surrounding the dome during renovations.

Pennsylvania Avenue

Pennsylvania Avenue from the Newseum Terrace

Current exhibits at the Newseum include:

  • an excellent 50th anniversary exhibit of a pivotal year in the Civil Rights movement, 1964–the year the Civil Rights Act was passed, also known as “Freedom Summer”;
  • an FBI exhibit featuring major news stories the FBI was involved in, such as the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the Unabomber, and Mississippi Burning; and
  • a Baby Boomer exhibit featuring photographs of famous Boomers (like Billy Joel, John Leguizano, Amy Tan, Samuel L. Jackson, and Rosie O’Donnell) taken by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, one for each year of that generation (1946-64). I just about had a stroke when I realized bad-ass action star Samuel L. Jackson is 66 years old. Dude, how is that even possible? And Billy Joel is 65. I have a hard time wrapping my brain around that.
Berlin Wall

West Berlin side of the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall Gallery is definitely one of the highlights here. It includes an East Germany guard tower and a large section of the actual Berlin Wall. The Western side of the wall has graffiti all over it, while the Eastern side is plain white. It was explained that the Eastern side was plain white to make it easier for the guards to see if someone was trying to escape over the wall. There were also bullet holes on that side of the wall. Very sobering.

Berlin Wall

East Berlin side of the Berlin Wall

My favorite part of the museum was the News Corporation News History Gallery on the 5th floor. It has actual old newspapers under glass (to protect them) featuring major news headlines from the past 500 years. (You can also pull them up on electronic screens.) I was like a kid in a candy store here, pulling out drawer after drawer to see what treasures lay inside in the headlines. It was pretty mind-blowing to see the actual newspapers with headlines about things like the fall of the Alamo and John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Before my trip, I expected the US Holocaust Museum would make me cry; it didn’t. Instead, it was the Comcast 9/11 exhibit at the Newseum: The timeline of events, the news headlines covering the wall, the twisted TV antenna from the World Trade Center, the movie interviewing journalists who had been on the ground that day, trying to report what was happening when they felt like curling up in a ball and crying themselves. It brought back such vivid memories for me of that day–the horror of seeing all those people jumping to their deaths, the towers crumbling, seeing the second plane slam into the tower, all unfolding on TV and Internet. As I toured the exhibit, all those feelings resurfaced like it was yesterday.

September 11th Exhibit

September 11th Exhibit

That’s when I had an epiphany that hit me hard: To all those middle-schoolers milling about the Newseum, what we were looking at was history, the same way Lincoln’s assassination is history or the Revolutionary War is history.  But to me, they were memories. The Vietnam War, the Berlin Wall coming down, The Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy, Princess Diana’s death, The Oklahoma City bombing, September 11–those aren’t just abstract events to me. I’ve lived through them all. Visiting the Newseum was like having my entire life flash before my eyes. And looking around at all those chattering kids who were just happy to be outside of their classroom for a day, I really started to feel my age.

I can’t recommend this museum highly enough. Sure, it’s not one of the free museums in Washington, DC, but it is more than worth the price of admission. (Even if it does make you feel old.) The best part about your ticket to the Newseum is that it’s good for a 2-day period. So if you don’t get to see everything in one day, you can go back the next day.

FBI Exhibit

Artifacts in the FBI Exhibit include more debris from Ground Zero.

What You Need to Know

Hours: 9am-5pm daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Location: 555 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC
Admission: $22.95 + tax ($18.95 + tax for seniors); there are discounts for AAA, military, etc.
Photography is allowed.
Food: There is an inexpensive food court in the basement, but there are also some great restaurants in the neighborhood. I’d recommend eating off-site.

Craig December 29, 2014 at 11:18 am

I would probably spend all day looking at the old newspapers and magazines. I wonder how they managed to keep papers that are 500 years old, I would definitely like to check those out. Great post, I’ll have make a stop here on my next trip to DC

Gray Cargill December 30, 2014 at 6:31 am

Yeah, I’m not sure what the process is for keeping historic documents preserved, Craig. But it’s definitely cool to see them.

Lisa @chickybus December 22, 2014 at 12:09 am

Billy Joel is 65? No way! 🙂

It really does look like a great museum!

Gray Cargill December 23, 2014 at 5:35 pm

I know, makes you feel old, doesn’t it? 🙂 Yes, it’s a great museum. Definitely check it out if you’re in DC, Lisa.

Kirstin December 21, 2014 at 4:52 pm
Gray Cargill December 21, 2014 at 5:46 pm

I didn’t know that, Kirstin. That’s nice to see. Thanks for sharing!

De'Jav December 18, 2014 at 4:43 am

I think the reason there is sloppy journalism out there is because the majority of the population follows it. If it was hearing people from the other side, people would be disinterested. That’s my take but definitely would like to get the real deal story.

Gray Cargill December 18, 2014 at 9:20 pm

You have a point there, De’Jav. Some people only want to read “news” that reaffirms their already held beliefs, so they’re not looking too closely at the facts.

Kirstin December 17, 2014 at 5:53 pm

“There’s More to Every Story.”
It frustrates me when I am reading an article and I see fact mixed with opinion as if they are the same thing. I want to hear from the people on the other side of the fence as well. Why do they think that? Has this happened before? Where are they getting their facts and figures from? It feels like sloppy journalism, but as you say – someone else may have edited article.

Gray Cargill December 17, 2014 at 6:27 pm

I agree, there is a lot of sloppy journalism out there these days, Kirstin. Look at this Rolling Stone fiasco regarding the UVA rape allegations. I’m sure there are lots of time pressures placed on journalists to meet deadlines, but that’s really no excuse. And once you factor in personal bias, it’s really a wonder we can believe anything we read these days.

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