All the world knows about Joe McCarthy. But does all the world know what happened to Joe McCarthy? I grew up maybe twenty miles from where he was born, lived, practiced law, and was buried in Wisconsin. I've seen the only bust I'm aware exists of the man (outside William Buckley's heathen shrine, of course). I'm pretty sure I touched it. The famine Irish came to farm Wisconsin, and they did it very well. Outagamie County has long been the largest producer of cabbage in the United States. The fields quite literally stink of it. You used to see tractor-trailers marked "Flanagan Sauerkraut! Flanagan?" rolling down the highway from the Flanagan Bear Creek plant. (Mergers have since changed the name.) Joe McCarthy had three grandparents from Ireland and a grandmother from Bavaria. Interethnic marriage along confessional lines was a common Wisconsin pattern. He was born on the farm. Joe was handsome, smart, a boxer, a good student. He went to Marquette University in Milwaukee, more Jesuit then than it is now. Wisconsin Catholics did not lack confidence. Why would they? He learned poker and sheepshead. He learned the law. As a prank, at his first salaried law practice, someone put a copy of Das Kapital and the Daily Worker in his briefcase. He was an FDR Democrat. It was 1936. Nineteen years later, as Thomas Reeves recounts in The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy, "the press started to give Joe the 'silent treatment.'"
No doubt feeling guilty about their vital role in McCarthy's career, reporters now began to boycott news conferences and ignore press releases, while editors either refused to publish material on the senator or buried stories on back pages. [...] Joe was deeply hurt by this unspoken policy of the journalists. Willard Edwards of the Chicago Tribune thought that more than anything else it led to his death. Joe had thrived on publicity for years; media coverage had been part of his everyday life. Now, it seemed, no one was any longer interested in anything he had to say. [...] Joe's infrequent trips to Wisconsin revealed a serious erosion of his local popularity and political power. A "McCarthy Day" celebration at Boscobel in June 1955 drew 1,500 people, only a fraction of the 50,000 who were anticipated. [...] By the summer of 1956, Joe's alcoholism had become so severe that he began to be hospitalized periodically for detoxification. Jean [his wife of three years -- CY] told reporters in early September that he was in Bethesda Naval Hospital for treatment of a knee injury suffered on Guadalcanal while helping to repair a plane. [...] Privately, Jean pled with friends to help her save Joe's life. Later that month, Joe and Jean flew to Appleton for a visit. One evening, after a full day of drinking, Joe began to experience delirium tremens in front of his wife and friends, crying out that snakes were leaping at him. Jean, in great anguish, soon confided to Urban Van Susteren that Joe's alcohol consumption had damaged his liver. Van Susteren telephoned the senator's physician in Washington and learned that the liver condition was such that Joe would die in a short time unless he abstained from liquor completely. When Van Susteren confronted Joe about the matter the next morning, Joe flew into a rage. "Kiss my ass," he shouted. After a time, Van Susteren angrily shoved a bottle of whiskey in front of his old friend and told him to drink it and end things without further disgracing himself and his family.Yikes. Did this take place at the Van Susteren home? Fox broadcaster Greta Van Susteren would have been two at the time.
For months the McCarthys had been trying to adopt a child. This was undoubtedly another effort by Jean to bring sunlight into Joe's ever-darkening world. [Before his breakdown, McCarthy was great with kids. Honest. -- CY] With the personal assistance of Cardinal Spellman, they were able to bring home a five-week-old girl from the New York Foundling Home in January 1957. A friendly executive loaned them an entire railroad car for the happy journey. The infant was named Tierney Elizabeth, after each of her new grandmothers. Joe doted on the child and at times seemed something of his former self. The exhilaration was temporary, however, and Joe soon found himself again in the grip of the despair that was leading him toward death. [In March he went] to Racine, where he was to give a speech on behalf of Lowell McNeill, a friend and avid partisan. McNeill went to the senator's hotel room at 4:00 PM to extend his greetings. Joe answered the door wearing nothing but jockey shorts. Throughout the 45-minute conversation, he drank from a bottle of cheap brandy. At dinner he ate nothing. Afterward, he returned to the brandy. [...] The chief librarian of the Milwaukee Journal was shocked to observe McCarthy at a meeting of the Wauwatosa school board. A friend had brought the senator to the meeting unannounced to give a speech. Joe stumbled in a cloak room, became hopelessly entangled in coats, and had to be rescued. He was so drunk and sick he could barely speak. The librarian described the incident to Journal editors, who immediately assigned reporter Ed Bayley the task of writing McCarthy's obituary. Back in Washington, Joe ambled into the office of the Secretary of the Senate where two colleagues were having a drink. He filled a drinking glass to the brim with liquor and downed the contents in several uninterrupted gulps. He told his astonished observers that he had been to Bethesda Naval Hospital several times to "dry out" and that on the last occasion his doctor had said he would die if he had one more drop. He then proceeded to refill the glass and drink it dry. Joe was admitted to Bethesda Naval Hospital on April 28. Jean told reporters that his knee had been acting up again. The following day she said he had suffered a virus attack about ten days earlier and had a bad cold. In fact, Joe was hospitalized for a severe liver ailment. At 5:02 PM on Thursday, May 2, 1957, having received the last rites from a priest, he passed away. Jean was at his side.He was 48. I don't know what happened to Tierney McCarthy. I hope she's all right.