Washington DC

The Best Exhibits to See Before The Newseum Permanently Closes in DC

Before it's too late, make a trip to the Newseum to get inspired yourself.

J.M. Giordano/Thrillist
J.M. Giordano/Thrillist
J.M. Giordano/Thrillist

This past spring, the Newseum in Washington DC — an institution dedicated to journalism and freedom of expression — unveiled an exhibit chronicling the modern LGBTQ rights movement in the United States. A couple of men, who protested at Stonewall Inn 50 years ago, perused the exhibit and noticed a young kid on a field trip that saw an artifact, turned on his heels, and grabbed his classmates to come see.

“The two older men were overcome,” explains Sonya Gavankar, Newseum’s director of PR. “This is what they fought for, so young people could be impassioned about these issues and have these conversations.”

Emotional stories like this stick out to Gavankar, who has been with the museum and its parent organization, The Freedom Forum Institute, for 20 years. And it’s these moments that will be hard to replicate when the Newseum permanently closes its doors due to “financial losses” on December 31, 2019. The building is being sold to Johns Hopkins University, which will use it for graduate school programs. Freedom Forum’s work hosting panel discussions, industry events, and diversity programs will move up the street to 300 New Jersey Avenue.

J.M. Giordano/Thrillist
J.M. Giordano/Thrillist
J.M. Giordano/Thrillist

“At this time, having a brick-and-mortar is too costly,” says Gavankar, standing on the terrace of the Pennsylvania Avenue building that opened in 2008. “When we had the idea to open this, it was pre-recession. It was a different economy. But I would encourage people to not look at the closing as some sort of sign of the death of journalism. The organizations who do the best work, both traditional journalists and ones like ours, have to constantly evolve.”

A majority of the Newseum’s exhibits — including part of the Berlin Wall, the antenna mast from the World Trade Center’s North Tower, and a Bell news helicopter — will be transported to an archives facility in Maryland. Anything on loan will get returned to the lender, and a few temporary exhibits will travel onto other cities. 

“Our curators are unfazed about moving some of the bigger objects, which is why they have the jobs they do,” says Gavankar, who estimates the move will take about six months. “But our collection and educational resources will stay available online. Though we currently have about 850,000 visitors a year, we can reach more using these artifacts in different ways.”

J.M. Giordano/Thrillist
J.M. Giordano/Thrillist
J.M. Giordano/Thrillist

Still, to be in the same room as a Civil Rights lunch counter or the Unabomber’s cabin is a surreal experience. This 643,000-square-foot building with sprawling views of the Capitol Building was visited several times by former President Barack Obama, and has played host to many others including comedian Jon Stewart, the Parkland shooting survivors, and nearly half-a-million school kids a year. 

“I want people to leave here thinking of the first amendment as a muscle they can exercise,” Gavankar says. “If they are touched by investigative journalism, they should invest in their local news outlet. If they are inspired by the Civil Rights movement, they should champion a cause important to them. A building is a building, but the personal work can go on.”

Before it’s too late, make a trip to the Newseum to get inspired yourself. Be warned that it’s a huge place, so there’s a two-day ticket for a reason. But don’t leave the building without checking out these memorable exhibits, artifacts, and experiences.

J.M. Giordano/Thrillist
J.M. Giordano/Thrillist
J.M. Giordano/Thrillist

Rise Up

Level 6
On display since March, this traveling exhibit explores the gay rights movement in the US and marks the 50th anniversary of the police raid on Stonewall Inn. Powerful artifacts bring to light historical moments like the 1978 assassination of Harvey Milk, the AIDS crisis, Rep. Barney Frank’s public coming out, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and the fight for marriage equality. This exhibit will tour nationally after its run at the Newseum, including stops in Memphis and Seattle, through 2022.

News History Gallery

Level 5
As the largest permanent exhibit in the Newseum, this gallery covers news as far back as 1492. There are nearly 400 historic newspaper front pages, cases that explore war reporting and sensationalism, and a 25-seat theater for video productions. “This is where my favorite artifact is, the Watergate break-in door,” Gavankar says. “Funnily enough, after the police investigation, this was just sitting in the Watergate garage manager’s home basement for decades. He reached out to us when we opened and asked if we’d like it. Of course, we said yes.”

Make Some Noise

Level 4
This exhibit profiles student leaders in the 1960s Civil Rights movement. The centerpiece is a section of the original F.W. Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, where four African-American college students launched the revolutionary sit-in movement. Also on view are several African-American newspaper reproductions and a bronze casting of the Birmingham, Alabama jail cell door that confined Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963.

Jess Mayhugh/Thrillist
Jess Mayhugh/Thrillist
Jess Mayhugh/Thrillist

9/11 Gallery

Level 4
It’s impossible to view the mangled, 360-foot antenna mast from the World Trade Center’s North Tower without getting emotional. Thankfully, the museum provides tissue boxes at each of the gallery’s four corners. In addition, newspaper front pages from September 12, 2001 line the walls, there is a film of first-person accounts from reporters who covered 9/11, and a glass case includes a tribute to photojournalist William Biggart, who died covering the story. “This is easily one of the most moving galleries for people,” Gavankar says. “And one that inspires a lot of ‘where were you when’ conversations.” 

World News Gallery / Journalists Memorial

Level 3
A striking visual, this 36-foot-wide map is updated annually and provides a color-coded look at the different levels of press freedoms around the world. Artifacts include James Foley’s notebook from the Libya Civil War and a helmet Stephen Sotloff wore while covering Syria. There’s also a two-story glass memorial with the names of 2,344 reporters, editors, photographers, and broadcasters who lost their lives reporting the news — including the recent victims of the Capital Gazette shooting. “These things happen in our own backyards,” Gavankar says. “We frequently find flowers left here.”

J.M. Giordano/Thrillist
J.M. Giordano/Thrillist
J.M. Giordano/Thrillist

Internet, TV, and Radio Gallery

Level 3
An exhibit that has constantly evolved since the Newseum’s inception (before the iPad was even released), this gallery covers a vast timeline of electronic media using more than 70 radio and TV news clips. Think everything from the coverage of the Hindenburg explosion to the cell phone that captured the Virginia Tech shooting and contrasting former President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fireside chats to President Donald Trump’s tweets. You can also get a good view of the 40-by-22-foot LED BARCO screen that broadcasts breaking news like impeachment hearings and inaugurations. “Sometimes, people don’t know whether to look at the screen or out the window when a motorcade goes by,” Gavankar jokes.

Seriously Funny

Level 2
One of the Newseum’s newest exhibits that debuted this past June explores the intersection between humor and the news. The focal point is Jon Stewart’s desk from The Daily Show, and various artifacts tell the story of how comedians became trusted news sources for the American public. Also on display are props from Saturday Night Live, the suit Trevor Noah wore on his first show in 2015, and a Newseum-produced film that shows behind the scenes of the Comedy Central show.

J.M. Giordano/Thrillist
J.M. Giordano/Thrillist
J.M. Giordano/Thrillist

Pulitzer Prize Photographs

Level 1
A mainstay of the Newseum since its inception, this reverent and dimly lit gallery features every Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph since 1942. Not only that but interactive exhibits include more than 1,000 images and 15 hours of video and audio interviews with the prize-winning photographers telling the stories behind the photos. Iconic images include the Iwo Jima flag planting by Joe Rosenthal that took home the 1945 prize, the historic capture of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald, and the breaking news photography from four-time winner Carol Guzy. Also on display is the camera that Nick Ut used to shoot the heartbreaking image of “Napalm girl” during the Vietnam War. “Ever year, they win the award in New York City and come down to us do the interviews the next day,” Gavankar says. “Understandably, recounting these experiences is always intense.”

Inside Today’s FBI

Concourse
In partnership with the FBI, this exhibit includes rare artifacts on loan from the Bureau. Get up close and personal with the Unabomber’s cabin, the book that documented the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” fugitives, artifacts from the DC sniper investigation, the car that the 9/11 hijackers left at Dulles Airport, and running shoes worn during the Boston Marathon bombing. “There has always been a balance between journalists pushing for information and lawmakers withholding it,” Gavankar explains. “This really tells that story.”

J.M. Giordano/Thrillist
J.M. Giordano/Thrillist
J.M. Giordano/Thrillist

Berlin Wall

Concourse
The museum was essentially built around this infamous piece of concrete. On the Newseum’s bottom floor rises 12-foot-high sections of the original Berlin Wall — the largest outside of Germany — and a three-story East German guard tower that stood near Checkpoint Charlie is also on display. The west side, full of colorful graffiti, stands in contrast to the vacant and blank east side of the wall. “For kids that come through, the Cold War is ancient history to them, so something this visual and tactile really sets the tone,” Gavankar says. “This is when you see plenty of aha moments.”Sign up here for our daily DC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.

Jess Mayhugh is a Cities Editor at Thrillist whose inner-journalism nerd was fully revealed at the Watergate exhibit. Follow her for more nerd stuff on Twitter and Instagram.

Washington DC

15 Totally Free Things to Do in DC

A full itinerary, completely free of charge.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery

Washington DC is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, and for those of us who call the District home, it’s easy to see why. With dozens of world-class museums, murals that transform streets into galleries, and sites brimming with history, DC offers a full agenda-completely free of charge. Whether you want to try a new farmer’s market, explore a new hike, or polish off your roller skating or canoeing skills, here are some of our favourite free things to do in the District.

Flickr/gawnesco
Flickr/gawnesco
Flickr/gawnesco

Hike, bike, or stroll along the C&O Canal

The historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is one of the most accessible nature escapes from the District. Thanks to a multi-year restoration project, the first mile of the canal is an idyllic walk that’s easy to access in Georgetown. Stick to a short stroll there, or grab a bike or lace up your hiking shoes for a longer adventure along the 184.5-mile canal.

Jump on the pickleball craze

Pickleball is working its way up the ladder past kickball and softball as one of America’s favourite games. Jump on the craze and practice your paddling at one of the District’s pickleball courts in Takoma Park, the Palisades, and more. Plus, Washington DC Pickleball invites guests to drop in to beginner sessions to try their hand at the sport before signing up for a $30 annual membership.

Flickr/mcfeelion
Flickr/mcfeelion
Flickr/mcfeelion

Bike the Mount Vernon Trail

DC is incredibly bike-friendly, and luckily that applies to the land immediately outside of the city as well. Start in the city and bike along the Mount Vernon Trail, a scenic route that hugs the water and cuts through the woods. It’s about a 10-mile trip from DC to Mount Vernon, but you can cut the trip slightly short and end at the Old Town Alexandria waterfront-just make sure to factor in time for ice cream before pedalling home.

Explore a sculpture park

While not located in the District proper, Glenstone, an expansive sculpture park in Maryland, is worth the 45-minute drive. Tickets to the park are free (just be sure to reserve several weeks in advance), and the 300-acre space offers stunning art, architecture, and open land. In addition to its indoor gallery spaces, you can spend hours walking on paths that wind through sculptures, meadows, and forests.

Flickr/Geoff Livingston
Flickr/Geoff Livingston
Flickr/Geoff Livingston

See the monuments at night

When the sun goes down-and the summer humidity somewhat dissipates-head to the National Mall for the rare chance to see the monuments without busloads of tourists. Moonlight will give you a different perspective as you traverse the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial or gaze up at the Washington Monument set aglow with lights.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery

Museum hop the day away

One of DC’s greatest strengths is its world-class Smithsonian museums that are open to the public free of charge. There is no shortage of options, from the intimate Renwick Gallery, to the sprawling National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonians offer something for everyone. Pro tip: Some of the museums are open late in the evenings, making for an ideal date night.

muralsdc
muralsdc
muralsdc

Explore the city’s murals

Washington is home to hundreds of murals that are becoming as much a part of the city’s landscape as the monuments on the National Mall. Take a self-guided tour of these colourful creations no matter which neighbourhood you happen to be in. MuralsDC, the organization behind 150 of the District’s public artworks, is a great resource for mapping out a route to explore the city’s street art.

Hotel Washington
Hotel Washington
Hotel Washington

Take in a birds-eye view of the city

Washington looks pretty stunning from up high, and there are few spots within the city that make for phenomenal vantage points. Rooftop bars and restaurants offer epic views for the price of a drink or two, but there’s no more iconic sight than seeing the city from the top of the Washington Monument, which is completely free. Book a ticket ahead of time and ride an elevator all the way to the top of the monument and step out on the 500-foot observation deck.

Flickr/Nicolas Raymond
Flickr/Nicolas Raymond
Flickr/Nicolas Raymond

Wander through a garden

DC is home to some of the most beautiful urban gardens in the country, and many of them are open to the public for free. There is nothing like an afternoon spent strolling through, or picnicking, at the expansive 446-acre United States Arboretum or wandering through the Botanic Garden on the edge of the Mall. For something a bit smaller, explore the grounds at Tudor Place or Dumbarton Oaks (free in the winter), both of which are in Georgetown.

Flickr/ehpien
Flickr/ehpien
Flickr/ehpien

Hike the Billy Goat Trail

You can catch one of the District’s most popular hiking trails, the Billy Goat Trail, from the C&O canal. The full trail is 4.7 miles and ranges from easy to strenuous, so hike a section in and back or make the full loop for the variety.

Pay your respect at Arlington National Cemetery

Just across the Potomac from DC, Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 400,000 veterans. The cemetery is an expanse of 639 hallowed acres and the ANC Explorer allows visitors to locate graves, notable sites, and take self-guided walking tours to spots including the tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well as the final resting place of President John F. Kennedy.

Lace up your roller skates

When was the last time you went roller skating? Chances are it’s been too long. So get back into this nostalgic activity at the Anacostia Park roller skating pavilion. You can rent skates for free, just show proof of a government-issued ID, and the skating pavilion is open from 9 to 5 every day.

Help clean up the Anacostia River

We all know there’s a lot of work to be done to keep our waterways clean. Do your part, and have some fun, by participating in the city’s Green Boat initiative. On select weekends, DCers can join a two-hour guided paddle along the Anacostia River to collect trash and monitor the river’s progress.

Eastern Market
Eastern Market
Eastern Market

Stroll your local farmer’s market

DC’s close proximity to the farms of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and beyond mean that the city’s farmers’ markets always have something to offer. Check out the year-round markets like Eastern Market in Capitol Hill and the Sunday market in Dupont Circle or head to seasonal markets like the pop-up in front of the White House that draws vendors like Cucina al Volo and Call Your Mother Deli.

The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress

Play tourist all around the city

It’s easy to forget that all those traditionally touristy activities can be fun for locals too. If you haven’t been on a tour of the White House, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, or the Capitol, this is your sign. All are free with advanced reservations. Plus, tucked in the northern quadrant of NW, the Washington National Cathedral is free and open to all. Tour the cathedral’s impressive architecture, 215 stained glass windows, 112 Gothically-inspired gargoyles, and enormous pipe organ. See if you can spot the sculpture of Darth Vader.

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Madeline Weinfield is a Thrillist contributor.

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