Whodunit sheds light on McCarthy-era witch hunts

Washington Twp. students recreate history for play
2010-01-23T00:00:00Z Whodunit sheds light on McCarthy-era witch huntsBy Brian Williams - brian.williams@nwi.com, (219) 548-4348 nwitimes.com

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP | Who killed communist-baiting U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy?

Was it actress Marilyn Monroe or her husband, playwright Arthur Miller?

The fact hepatitis killed the 1950s Wisconsin lawmaker was beside the point Friday for two classes of Washington Township High School students role-playing the excesses of McCarthy-era suspicion and accusation.

Jennifer Kwiatkowski's English class wrote and acted a play in which celebrities of the day accused of un-American activities denied a role in the fabricated murder of McCarthy.

Students in Greg Simms's American history class listened to the testimony and tried to determine who done it.

The goal of the interdisciplinary project, Simms said, was engaging students with the material.

"The more interactive they are, the more they retain," he said.

In the end, Miller and Monroe received the most votes as culprit, beating out actor Orson Welles and State Department official Alger Hiss.

But the "guilty" party turned out to be film star Charlie Chaplin.

"I had to do it," Jacob Wyckoff, as Chaplin, said. "McCarthy ruined so many lives and I wasn't going to let him ruin one more."

Students gained insights big and small from the exercise.

"No one was safe," junior Zack Roll said he learned.

One student said she learned actor and singer Paul Robeson was also a star college athlete.

David Cannon, who played folk singer Pete Seeger, was surprised that jazz musician Artie Shaw, suspected of leftist activities, was also a highly ranked marksman. Several students did not know of the color red's association with communism.

Even the teacher learned something.

Kwiatkowski said she didn't know a key witness against Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, executed as spies in 1953, was Ethel's own brother.

Kwiatkowski also found the accused heroic for not "naming names" in an attempt to be spared investigation.

Simms said wrongly accusing others has repeated itself from the Salem witch trials to the McCarthy era.

"Hopefully, this will never happen again," Simms said.

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