The Newseum, Washington D.C.
UPDATE: sadly, this museum closed down at the end of 2019. I would not have thought that possible given the high acclaim it was generally given, but there we are. Apparently it was for financial pressures, and I suppose the piece of real estate it was on, right on Pennsylvania Avenue, must have been very expensive indeed, and competing with all those free museums that Washington offers must indeed have been a challenge too.
HOWEVER: the exhibition, currently mostly in storage (except for items that had been on loan and have been returned to the lender), may be opened to the public again, if a suitable new location can be found. That will take time, though. But for that reason I’ll let the text below stand here a little longer. Just bear in mind that at the moment all of it is outdated …
A big, sleek, modern museum in Washington D.C.
about journalism, especially news reporting in general. It is of special interest to dark tourists too in particular for its 9/11
Gallery and Berlin Wall
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info:
The current Newseum at its present location is the second incarnation of a museum project that was started back in 1991 as the "Freedom Forum". At its previous location in Arlington, which served as a kind of pilot project, the Berlin Wall
segments and the watchtower
used to stand in the open air as part of a "Freedom Park" – which is why they needed some restoration when they were moved to the new indoor location at the new Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue.
The story of how the Newseum came to acquire the Berlin Wall exhibits is also quite interesting: the founder of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum
, Rainer Hildebrandt, had been trying to save the watchtower from demolition but when the plot of land it was standing on was up for sale he in turn offered the tower for free to anyone provided that it would be used in a charitable way for the public good. The only condition attached to this offer was that the new owners had to pay the dismantling, transport and reassembly costs themselves.
Chris Wells, vice president of the Freedom Forum, grabbed the opportunity and obtained the tower – and at the same time also acquired 12 graffitied segments of the Berlin Wall that were being auctioned off. The price paid for these pieces of the Wall was 36,000 USD. It turned out that the transport costs for the future exhibits even exceeded that sum. Still, the ensemble has since been the "Freedom Park's" and now the Newseum's prime exhibit!
The museum is constantly trying to augment its collection – and recent acquisitions include the Gorbachev pen (see below) and a cell phone camera used for recordings at the Virginia Tech shootings of April 2007 (!).
It's partly because of the reliance on objects such as these, but partly also because of a perceived glorifying slant on presenting the world of journalism that the Newseum has also attracted a good deal of criticism. So have the museum's various links with the media industry itself – as the sponsors' names incorporated into some of the Newseum's sections' names even bear testimony to.
But none of this need deter the dark tourist from visiting the Newseum. The few star pieces alone are so unmissable that they make every other aspect of this place tolerable even if you may at times find them taxing (e.g. the noise levels from all the multi-media stuff …).
What there is to see:
lots!!! But for the dark tourist the main reasons for coming here are: the Berlin Wall and the 9/11
The former is located on the lower concourse level and on display are eight segments of the original Berlin Wall
(out of the original 12 the museum received in 1994) and, even more impressively, a whole original Berlin Wall watchtower! This is the most comprehensive Berlin Wall ensemble anywhere outside of Germany. In Berlin
itself the few surviving watchtowers
are in locations separate from any wall relics
and are of different types, so this Newseum exhibits cluster is, in this form, actually unique in the world!
Other exhibits in this part of the museum include a headless Lenin
statue and the Montblanc pen with which Mikhail Gorbachev signed his last document as leader of the Soviet Union
as it was being dissolved. So this section of the museum is a more general end-of-the-Cold-War
gallery on level 4, in contrast, marks the beginning of a new era. The centrepiece here is a section of the original antenna that stood on top of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York
. It was salvaged from the "Ground Zero
" rubble, on top of which it had landed like a lance, mangled but still discernible. Panels detail a timeline of the 9/11 attacks around the antenna relic.
A high wall next to this ensemble is plastered with hundreds of world press front pages from the morning of 12 September 2001 – most showing the fireball of the second plane hitting the South Tower, though some are interestingly different in their approach.
Behind a wall, next to the antenna piece are more 9/11-related relics, including a block of limestone that was part of the cornice of the Pentagon
that was also hit on that day, as well as fragments of the fourth hijacked plane, United flight 93, that was brought down near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
A particularly touching ensemble of exhibits is the photo equipment, bag and half-burnt press pass of Bill Biggart, the photographer who was on the ground as the Twin Towers collapsed. His photos captured a scene that was only visible for about half an hour between the collapse of the South and the North Tower. His very last shot shows the Marriott Hotel at the WTC sliced in two by the collapsed South Tower. Moments later the North Tower came crashing down, killing Biggart. Miraculously, his equipment was later salvaged and the images could be extracted.
In an adjacent film theatre, a video about the events of that day and the rescue efforts after the collapse of the towers is screened. It too contains some incredible footage. It's tough viewing, though, and the museum even warns that it's not suitable for everyone ...
Apart from these outstanding sections there are also a few other parts that are grim enough to be of interest to the dark tourist. This is probably especially true for the section on level 3 that contains a couple of particularly striking artefacts: a bullet-ridden sign from "sniper alley" in Sarajevo
, and an armoured pick-up truck equally perforated by bullets as it was used by "Time" reporters in the Balkans. In the background is a blow-up of a photo showing a press photographer at work in the midst of some sort of shootout that could be somewhere in Africa. The point that journalism in such war zones is a very dangerous job surely comes across.
Fittingly, as you move on from this, you pass a memorial wall to journalists killed on the job.
Of the remaining parts of this expansive museum, a few other items may also be of dark appeal, certainly some of the photos on display in the Pulitzer Prize Gallery. Possibly also the door of the Watergate break-in, the laptop that belonged to the journalist Daniel Pearl (murdered in Pakistan), and various other smaller-scale items.
The Newseum also features temporary special exhibitions that can from time to time be of interest to dark tourists too. At the time of my visit (in March 2010), for instance, there was a special exhibition about the FBI – but unfortunately I didn't have to the time to go and see this on that occasion. I also missed the "News History" exhibition, which features some of the modern world's most famous/infamous headlines, e.g. regarding the sinking of the Titanic
or the Hindenburg
The remainder of the museum boasts all manner of other, not or not-quite-so dark sections, including various movie theatres, of which one is declared a "4 D" experience (meaning it features a 3-D film "enhanced" by physical special effects – of the shaking seats variety or so).
There's also the option to try out your own skills as a would-be TV journalist in front of a camera, and other such "interactive" gimmicks. Many dark tourists (such as myself) may rather want to skip these elements.
What I found kind of funny, though, was the special exhibition about and voting campaign for America's favourite "first dog", meaning the dogs that various presidents kept (or still keep, in the case of Obama's Bo) as pets in the White House. Somehow I couldn't get the expression "top dog" out of my head as I had a look …
Incidentally … from the outside gallery at the top level (6) of the Newseum you can get one of the best views of the Capitol to be had anywhere in Washington
on Pennsylvania Avenue, on the corner of 6th Street, just behind the National Gallery of Art, about two-thirds of a mile (1 km) north-west of the Capitol, and less than a mile (1.5 km) north-east of the Washington Monument, Washington D.C.
Please NOTE that all this is outdated; the museum closed down in late 2019!
Access and costs: easy to get to; not cheap.
Details: the museum's downtown location is quite convenient: from the National Mall you can walk it. Alternatively, get the metro – the nearest station is National Archives/Marine Memorial/ Penn Quarter (yellow and green lines); Judiciary Square (red line) and Gallery Place/Chinatown (red, yellow and green lines) are not far either.
Opening hours: daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day)
Admission: The regular ticket price is a whopping 21.95 USD plus tax – but it's valid for two consecutive days. If you purchase your ticket online in advance, you get a 10% discount (newseum.org). Seniors, students and military personnel get 4 USD off, children between 7 and 18 pay 12.95 USD and under 7-year-olds enjoy free admission (but probably wouldn't get all that much out of this sort of museum).
Time required: depends: if you only pick out the points that are of special interest to the dark tourist, then you can be out again in just over an hour or so; whereas the general highlights tour recommended by the museum is estimated at two hours. To experience the Newseum to the max you'd indeed need as much as a whole day, but given the ticket is valid for two consecutive days you may then want to split your visit into two separate sessions.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
close by is the Museum of Crime and Punishment
, just a couple of blocks away (500 yards maybe) on 7th Street between E and F Street. The western section of the National Mall is also within easy walking distance – the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
would be about a mile and a half (2.5 km) away. See also under Washington
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
in general see Washington D.C.
- the Newseum is right in the heart of touristic downtown Washington, and the eastern section of the National Mall with its row of world-class museums and art galleries is just a short walk away.
- Newseum 01 - entrance
- Newseum 01b
- Newseum 02 - segments of Berlin Wall
- Newseum 03 - the Berlin Wall explained
- Newseum 04 - Berlin Wall from behind
- Newseum 05 - Berlin Wall watchtower
- Newseum 06 - top of Berlin Wall watchtower with searchlight
- Newseum 07 - interior of watchtower
- Newseum 08 - headless toppled Lenin
- Newseum 09 - 9-11 section with antenna fragment and timeline
- Newseum 10 - WTC antenna fragment
- Newseum 11 - Biggart photo equipment
- Newseum 12 - piece of the Pentagon
- Newseum 13 - plane fragments from Shanksville, PA
- Newseum 14 - wall of 9-11 front pages
- Newseum 15 - evidence of the dangers of journalism
- Newseum 16 - view from the terrace towards the Capitol
- Newseum 17 - atrium