Bring tissues, and know that you are living and breathing world history.
The next time you’re in our nation’s capitol, find time to explore the halls and galleries of what has now become one of Washington’s most popular attractions: “The Newseum.” What drew me there was The Unabomber’s cabin—what kept me there was—well, everything else.
The Newseum is an interactive museum dedicated to news, history, and journalism. Its theaters and galleries fill seven floors with Pulitzer Prize winning photos, sobering news video, and slices of unforgettable American culture and news events. As a former TV news reporter, I expected to be unmoved. I was wrong.
Artifacts like the fried, twisted, antenna from the fallen World Trade Center remind us of our fragility, (Pic #2) and what we have experienced collectively – often painfully — as a nation. The exhibits also underscore what our parents and grandparents witnessed – and tried to describe to our generation — before television coverage became the way we learned about everything.
The largest section of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany stands 12-feet tall here. (Pic #1) If you didn’t have an opportunity to see it “fall” in 1989, you can get up close and personal here at home. It features eight massive concrete sections, each weighing about three tons. A 3-story East German guard tower that loomed near Checkpoint Charlie — Berlin’s best-known East-West crossing — stands nearby. (Pic #3).
Over the years, artists like Keith Haring and Thierry Noir have described the wall as “the world’s largest canvas that just had to be painted.” Many known and unknown artists contributed to the wall’s storied graphics, and often their work was painted over within days or hours. The Western side was generally colorful, while the Eastern side was white or gray.
I happen to like the abstractions (Pic #6) leftover from decades of layers of cracked, weathered, textured paint, as well as the poignant graffiti art (Pic #4). Some images remind me of the raw, iconic style of Jean-Michel Basquiat. (Pic #5)
To mark the fifth anniversary of the most destructive hurricane in U.S. history, Katrina, the Newseum chronicles the dramatic coverage of the killer storm that shredded Mississippi’s coast, left 80 percent of New Orleans under water, and resulted in the deaths of 1,800 people.
Among other physical reminders, an in-your-face anti-looter sign from a New Orleans rug shop that was used as a backdrop for numerous network news reporters. (Pic #7)
Check out the newsreels from the Lindbergh kidnapping, the death of mob boss John Gotti, and the one-room barren cabin that once housed Unabomber Ted Kaczynski in Lincoln, Montana. (Did you know that Unabomber stands for “University and Airline Bomber?”) The FBI recounts the day they discovered the cabin—packed with chemicals and explosives. It’s an empty shell now, but chilling nonetheless. (Pic #8)
Be prepared to re-live some sentimental and horrifying moments, both of which may jolt you into a more satisfying state of gratitude.