April 11, 2008

First Visitor Queued Up Before Dawn

Mark Pierzchala waited three hours in a line that stretched nearly the length of a football field to be the first visitor through the Newseum doors on April 11. (Get full grand opening coverage.)

When Pierzchala finally entered 555 Pennsylvania Avenue at 9 a.m., he was greeted by CEO Charles L. Overby, who handed him a complimentary annual membership and a giant stuffed News Hound, the museum’s mascot.

“It’s about time this opened,” he told Overby, who laughed. “I’ve been waiting. It’s a great location for it. You are in your proper place.”

The Rockville, Md., resident was so early to the museum that when he first arrived, he was directed to the employee entrance. When he finally started the line out on the Pennsylvania Avenue sidewalk, he waited patiently and watched the opening-day block party unfold.

Pierzchala, 55, said that he’s a longtime news buff and closely watched the Newseum’s construction for the past seven years since he works a half-mile away as a math policy fellow.

“It’s a fundamental pillar of our freedom,” Pierzchala said of the press. “It’s so important to us … the right to know and to keep people honest.”

Despite diminishing news circulations at newspapers across the country, Pierzchala said he subscribes to a daily newspaper.

“The traditional press has a huge challenge with the Internet and blogging. The business model will really have to change,” Pierzchala said.

He plans to come back in two weeks with his parents, with his annual pass in hand.

“I’ll use it all the time,” he said.

The first exhibit he stopped at was an armored truck used by Time magazine journalists in the Balkans. The truck was riddled by shrapnel but kept the reporters safe.

“It was very sobering, very moving, what the reporters go through to cover the news,” he said.

He also visited the 9/11 Gallery, which he said was very moving. Overall, he said his first visit to the new Newseum was impressive.

“I think it’s a wonderful place,” Pierzchala said.

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