By Allen Henry
A 74-foot-high marble engraving of the First Amendment towers over Pennsylvania Avenue as you approach the massive Newseum building. Surrounding the Newseum is a display of that day’s newspaper front pages, one from every state and a few international papers. The Newseum’s website greatly expands on this display, featuring 824 front pages from 88 countries.
Tornados had ripped through the Oklahoma City area the day before our visit. They were less deadly than the tornado that hit Moore, Okla., a week earlier, but still killed 14. It was fascinating to see the different coverage each newspaper gave to the storm, if they even put it on the front page at all, and to compare the leads of each story.
I saw many amazing pieces of news history inside the Newseum, including sections of the Berlin Wall, the first satellite truck and a special exhibit showcasing Pulitzer Prize winning photographs.
The 9/11 gallery features the 31-foot antenna that was on top of the North Tower of the World Trade Center when it was attacked. The twisted, metal spire sits next to a wall displaying dozens of newspapers’ front pages the day after the attack.
My favorite part of the Newseum, however, is a fascinating, multi-part exhibit simply called “JFK,” designed to mark the 50th anniversary of his assassination. The first part of the exhibit, “Capturing Camelot,” showcases the work of Jacques Lowe, a photographer who traveled with the Kennedys from his beginnings in the U.S. Senate to the early days of his presidency. The photographs show a young senator enjoying time with his family while also campaigning for the presidency.
“Three Shots Were Fired” is the second part of the exhibit, covering the fateful day in Dallas when Kennedy was shot. Viewers can watch the live TV news break-ins announcing that the president had been shot, leading up to the historic moment when Walter Cronkite emotionally announced to the nation that the president was dead.
The JFK exhibit ends with a 16-minute film, “A Thousand Days.” The film, shown on the Newseum’s 100-foot-wide screen, almost literally immerses the audience in the triumph and tragedy of the Kennedy administration caught on film during the rise of television news.
Although I’m not a member of the generation that lived through the Kennedy presidency and “Camelot,” and I knew the story ended in tragedy, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with sadness by the end.
There’s a reason tickets for the Newseum are good for two consecutive days. I spent at least five hours exploring the six floors of exhibits and still feel as though I had just begun to scratch the surface of what the Newseum had to offer.