News & Politics

Yes, the Newseum’s First Amendment Tablet Is Coming Down. No, It’s Not Because Democracy Has Failed.

The 50-ton, 74-foot-tall marble tablet is going into storage, and maybe someday, a new home.

Photograph by Flickr user Steve Gardner.

It is time: the 50-ton, 74-foot-tall marble First Amendment tablet on the outside of the former Newseum is coming down.

The Penn Quarter journalism-and-media museum—which had been operated by the nonprofit Freedom Forum—closed at the end of 2019 after suffering financial issues. It had been purchased earlier that same year by Johns Hopkins University for $372.5 million.

Yesterday, photojournalist Megan Smith tweeted out now-viral images of the tablet being disassembled from the building’s facade. Of course, because this is the internet, some folks decided this was an apt metaphor for the state of today’s media, or a reflection of the Biden administration’s approach toward journalists.

In reality, the tablet is coming down because…the museum is closed and the building has been sold. You can still check it out, though: The display hasn’t been fully taken apart, says a Freedom Forum representative. Once it is fully disassembled, it will go into storage, says the representative, with hopes to find it a home where it can be permanently displayed.

But where can such humongous pieces of marble be stored? A gargantuan moving pod? An airplane hangar? Twenty of those Lowe’s backyard sheds assembled to create one giant Lowe’s backyard shed?

“I can’t share exactly where it’ll be stored,” wrote the representative via email when asked, “but yes, it’s large enough.”

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Mimi Montgomery Washingtonian
Associate Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. Her work has appeared in Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Petworth.