- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 19, 2002

APPLETON, Wis. — A supporter gave Sen. Joseph McCarthy a brush in the early 1950s not to brush his teeth or to comb his hair but "to brush off the Communists in Washington," as it says on a piece of paper glued to it.

The Outagamie County Museum near Mr. McCarthy's hometown gathered the brush along with dozens of other items including his boxing shoes and three war medals for a two-year exhibit titled, "Joseph McCarthy: A Modern Tragedy." The show opens today.

Mr. McCarthy, a Republican from Grand Chute, Wis., hunted real and imagined communists in the government, Hollywood and elsewhere in the 1950s. McCarthyism and its tactics ripped the nation apart and remain a matter of contention. The Senate censured Mr. McCarthy in 1954. He died of acute hepatitis in 1957, during his second term.

Kim Louagie, a curator at the museum, says she tried to be fair when putting together the $25,000 exhibit. Despite Mr. McCarthy's negative image, many people here liked him, she says.

"I had to be very careful about weighing the evidence in what he was doing and his motives and the results of what he did," she says.

"Over and over again, it seemed to me this was a story of tragedy in the theatrical Greek tragedy sense in which this individual had a central character flaw," Miss Louagie says. "At first, they are really useful and positive, like his sense of independence and his ambition , eventually becoming very negative and damaging to him, eventually taking him down."

Mr. McCarthy was born in Grand Chute in 1908. He spent a year at Little Wolf High School in Manawa, and he graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee in 1935 with a bachelor's degree in law. He served in World War II and became a senator in 1946.

The museum accumulated many items after a local newspaper published an article about the effort. Donations came from a McCarthy family member, community residents and the current owner of McCarthy's childhood home.

Mr. McCarthy's wife, Jean Kerr, gave many items to Marquette. Some pieces are on loan to the museum, including Mr. McCarthy's three World War II medals, the brush and his burial flag.

The exhibit also includes his military footlocker and its contents dress shoes, dress hat, machete, Japanese flag, a decoder and a pair of women's earrings.

About 100 photographs also are part of the display. Some pictures are from the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954, which were held after the Army charged Mr. McCarthy with interfering with operations as he searched for communists. A recorded excerpt from the hearings accompanies the pictures.

The area includes a cork board where visitors can post their opinions of Mr. McCarthy. The museum also plans to hold sessions for students to discuss Mr. McCarthy after they have seen the exhibit.

Miss Louagie says between 35,000 and 40,000 people a year visit the museum in Appleton, a city of about 70,000 in eastern Wisconsin.

The exhibit already has people talking.

"There's no way an exhibit or any responsible person can make Joe McCarthy a hero," says Thomas C. Reeves, author of "The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy: A Biography."

"If it educates a new generation, fine. I just hope they put it in good, confident historical perspective."

Says Mr. McCarthy's 81-year-old cousin, Richard: "It made me feel good that they were writing down the facts, the pros and cons."

Meanwhile, Outagamie County Supervisor Joseph Harvath, who doesn't agree with Mr. McCarthy's tactics, says it's history.

"He was a local boy, and it's part of our history good and bad," Mr. Harvath says.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide