The Newseum, an interactive museum in Washington, D.C., devoted to journalism, is gone, succumbing to financial woes. It closed at the end of 2019.
But while the building on Pennsylvania Avenue has since been sold to Johns Hopkins University, the most distinctive element from its facade — a 50-ton, 74-foot-high slab of gray Tennessee marble incised with the words of the First Amendment — will be trucked to Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center some time in the next few weeks.
The slab will be reconfigured horizontally and installed over the summer on the NCC’s second floor, looking out on Independence Hall.
“What’s so exciting about this space where the First Amendment is going to be is that it is where we hold all of our major indoor events,” said Jeffrey Rosen, NCC president and chief executive.
“The Liberty Medal is held there. President Biden was there as our chair. He spoke there,” Rosen said. “So the First Amendment will be literally the backdrop to all of the most significant events at the Constitution Center, and people will be able to gaze at the First Amendment and then look to the right and see Independence Hall.”
The interior of the NCC has a lot of stone already. Flags ring the arc of the balcony, bringing some color to the space, which largely features many shades of gray.
Rosen called the new addition “beautifully textured stone” whose otherwise hard surface is lightened by “the shining golden words of the First Amendment, which shed light and inspire [people] in the most meaningful ways possible.”
The Newseum, founded and owned by the Freedom Forum, a nonprofit venture of media mogul Al Neuharth, was sold to Johns Hopkins for $372.5 million in a deal that closed last year. Johns Hopkins plans to run its D.C.-based graduate programs from the building.
When the Newseum went on the market, the Freedom Forum declined to sell what it considered the “iconic” First Amendment slab, which ran up the front of the largely glass facade, towering seven stories over Pennsylvania Avenue. Instead, the foundation decided to find its First Amendment another home.
The dismantling of the slab before the move has prompted mordant commentary from news pundits who characterize the disassembly as a commentary on today’s press and political environment.
It is, intoned Tom Jones, senior media writer for poynter.org, “a troubling reminder of how many Americans now view the media and the freedom of the press.”
Jan Neuharth, however, the Freedom Forum’s chair and CEO, said the NCC location was just the ticket. She has just joined the Constitution Center’s board of trustees.
“It was important to us to find a location for the tablet where it could be on public display, and where millions of Americans could continue to expand their understanding of and appreciation for our First Amendment freedoms,” she said. “We are incredibly pleased that the tablet will have a prominent new home at the National Constitution Center where it can be part of their efforts to increase awareness and understanding of the Constitution.”