Crying at the Newseum

I wasn’t sure how long it would take to walk to the Newseum, so I flew out the door and past the religious revival on the Mall. Arrived in about ten minutes and glanced at the front pages of newspapers from all over the world that are displayed on the front windows. Decided to take a closer look afterward, if I had enough time. I spent another ten wandering around to get my bearings. The place is not well organized. Not sure why the directions say to start one level down from the entrance, but I looked at the program and decided to start on Level One with the Pulitzer Prize winning photos, then proceed to the Level Six exhibit “Covering Katrina,” make my way down to Level 3 with the Journalists Memorial and Ethics Center and then to the Concourse if there was time.

It was wise to include in italics “Warning: Material may be too intense for children.” It was too intense for me. I wasn’t sure whether to throw up or to cry when I saw the photo of starvation in Sudan. It had been part of an exhibit at Wesleyan, and knocked me out then. Time did not diminish the shock. The photographer killed himself three months later. Other symbols of evil abounded: the naked little girl trying to escape in Vietnam, Kent State with the young woman screaming over a dead student. I was too overwhelmed to look at all the fires and executions. One joyful image stuck out: the Nigerian women’s track team, ablaze in green celebrating a win.

I kind of stumbled out of the exhibit, still crying. After the third volunteer asked if he/she could help me, I said, “Yes. Can you tell me who was elected governor of Connecticut?” When we left Middletown early Friday morning, things were still up in the air, and the idiots in Bridgeport were still fumbling over those copied ballots. After some searching the volunteer found it: AP had declared Malloy the winner. Of course it had done so a couple of days before and then withdrew the declaration. I thanked the ladies kindly and went on my way.

I should have guessed that my mood wouldn’t improve from looking at “Covering Katrina.” Of course it didn’t. I’d seen some of the images before – panicked folks atop roofs, rage and hollow-eyed despair outside the convention center, people “liberating” goods from stores. Seeing it in totality became overwhelming. What struck me for the first time was iron will of the Times Picayune employees. How they managed to publish when many of their own homes were destroyed, their families scattered, is beyond me. I cried some more and left.

Took a break to go into one of the several stores for Deb’s requisite shot glass. Wanted one that said “Got freedom?” like the T-shirts and mugs but they didn’t have any.

On the way out I asked directions to the Journalists Memorial, which was hidden behind a translucent partition. There were stacks and stacks of pictures – more than 2,000 I found out later – of reporters and photographers, TV camera people, and so forth who died in the line of duty. It was all too much. I kind of stared without focusing for a while and then realized that the images were overwhelmingly young men of color. The methods and causes of their deaths were chilling. Some were the intended victims who were shot, stabbed with knives or machetes, tortured, beaten, or hung. Others were “collateral damage.” They drowned, died in car, plane or helicopter crashes, were hit by bomb blasts, or gassed. Among the saddest were a man who died of gangrene and a twenty-three year old woman who died of malaria in 2005.

My mood did not improve when I saw a big display for an Elvis movie. I ran the other way. As I was about to explode from sadness, I changed pace and went to the Ethics Center to try my hand at the questions. I agreed with the majority of journalists in every case. I.e. would you fake mental illness if it was the only way to report on the horrible conditions in the “Women’s Lunatic Asylum”? Answer: Yes by something like 82 percent. Nelly Bly did it in 1887 and changed treatment of the mentally ill.

It was getting late, so I took a quick trip – well not so quick because the elevator took forever and I couldn’t find the stairs – to the Concourse level where I glanced around the Berlin Wall Gallery with a piece of the wall, all graffiti on one side and absolutely blank on the other. I walked into the guard tower and walked right back out – a bit too claustrophobic.

Finally encountered a moment of levity in the ladies room where someone with a great sense of humor had posted the gaffes of earlier years. Sorry I didn’t write any of them down and can’t now remember them.

With that I left and started to look at the front pages from various newspapers but a local denizen stopped nearby, twitching and talking to himself and smelling as though he hadn’t bathed in some time, so I made my way back to the hotel. I wasn’t ready to become victime 2,008.

Tomorrow: Crying at the Tomb of the Unknown.

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