Newseum Celebrates Its First Anniversary

Posted April 9, 2009 at 12:58pm

Even though the five freedoms listed by the First Amendment grace its outside wall, the Newseum — which celebrates its one-year anniversary this Saturday — also has ample evidence that many Americans have little sense of these rights.

In fact, the museum’s First Amendment Gallery showcases a film in which Americans are asked to name the five freedoms.

The film, shot at the National Mall, shows people struggling with the answers and more easily naming the five characters of “The Simpsons— television show than the freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.

That may be one reason for the anniversary theme, which is “a celebration of the First Amendment,— said Susan Bennett, director at the Newseum.

The first year of the Newseum has been “amazingly exciting,— Bennett said, adding that people have shown great interest in the exhibits and spend an average of three to four hours at the museum.

Saturday’s anniversary celebration will be about “family fun,— Bennett said. For instance, “Where the Wild Things Are— is one of the books the curators will discuss in the Banned Book Nook temporary display. Other activities will include games, such as the News Hound Scavenger Hunt and Newsmania.

“Also, we’ll have gallery talks— for the older audience, Bennett said. “The idea is to deepen your thoughts about the First Amendment and about the First Amendment in the media.—

The museum’s newest exhibit, “Manhunt: Chasing Lincoln’s Killer,— follows the story of Lincoln’s presidency and death as the press reported it at the time. In honor of the Newseum’s anniversary, two additional artifacts will be on display — a bloodstained dress from an actress who was at Ford’s Theatre the night Lincoln was assassinated, and a lock of Lincoln’s hair, framed with dried flowers from his coffin, said Bennett.

In addition, visitors can tour some of the permanent exhibits, starting in the basement with the piece of the Berlin Wall, which together with the 9/11 exhibit are the most popular, said Jonathan Thompson, a media relations assistant at the Newseum.

“G-men and Journalists— is another popular exhibit, showing criminal cases covered by media and the balance of power between journalists and the FBI and police. After the FBI museum in Washington closed, the FBI donated artifacts such as John Dillinger’s bullet-proof vest and heiress Patty Hearst’s gun and the coat she wore in her bank robberies.

Visitors usually start by taking the glass elevator to the Pennsylvania Avenue terrace, where there is a great view of the Capitol, Thompson said. The level below is dedicated to the history of news, followed by an exhibit on White House pets.

In addition to visitor turnout, Bennett said she is pleased that the Newseum has had well-known guests. President Barack Obama has participated in three interviews held at the Newseum. It is also, said Bennett, “the first Washington museum Sasha and Malia came to.—