W. D. Zantzinger, subject of Dylan song, dies at 69
By Douglas Martin / January 9, 2009
As the evening progressed, he hit several hotel employees with the cane and used racial epithets. Time magazine said he pushed his wife to the floor. He later strode to the bar and ordered a drink from Mrs. Carroll, 51. But she was too slow, he said, and began criticizing her. Then he repeatedly struck her with the cane. Fleeing to the kitchen, she told co-workers that she felt “deathly ill.”
William Devereux Zantzinger, whose six-month sentence in the fatal caning of a black barmaid named Hattie Carroll at a Baltimore charity ball moved Bob Dylan to write a dramatic, almost journalistic song in 1963 that became a classic of modern American folk music, died on Jan. 3. He was 69.
His death was confirmed by an employee of the Brinsfield-Echols Funeral Home, who said Mr. Zantzinger’s family had prohibited the release of more details.
Mr. Dylan took some liberties with the truth in the song, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” though there is disagreement over just how many. He recorded it in 1964 for the Columbia album “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” for some reason dropping the letter “t” from Mr. Zantzinger’s name. It begins:
William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’.
The incident occurred on Feb. 8, 1963. Mr. Zantzinger, a 24-year-old Maryland tobacco farmer, and his wife, Jane, had stopped with friends at a restaurant on their way to Baltimore’s annual Spinsters’ Ball, a white-tie affair.
Mr. Zantzinger was wearing a top hat and carrying a toy cane he had picked up at a farm fair. At the restaurant, he became disorderly, hitting employees with the cane, then left with his group after they were refused more drinks.
The party moved on to the ball, at the Emerson Hotel. A recapitulation of the evening in The Washington Post Magazine in 1991 said Mr. Zantzinger had entered bellowing: “I just flew in from Texas! Gimme a drink!”
As the evening progressed, he hit several hotel employees with the cane and used racial epithets. Time magazine said he pushed his wife to the floor. He later strode to the bar and ordered a drink from Mrs. Carroll, 51. But she was too slow, he said, and began criticizing her. Then he repeatedly struck her with the cane. Fleeing to the kitchen, she told co-workers that she felt “deathly ill.” An ambulance was called.
Mr. Zantzinger was charged with disorderly conduct and released on $600 bail. But on the morning of Feb. 9, Mrs. Carroll died of a stroke. Now Mr. Zantzinger was charged with murder.
In the trial, Mr. Zantzinger testified that he could not remember hitting anyone. His lawyers said Mrs. Carroll’s stroke could have been caused by the hypertension she was known to have. A three-judge court agreed that the caning alone could not have caused the death and reduced the charge to manslaughter.
Mr. Zantzinger was convicted in June, and in August he was sentenced to six months in prison.
On Aug. 29, The New York Times published a dispatch by United Press International, reporting on the sentencing. A friend of Mr. Dylan showed the singer the article. Some accounts say he wrote the song at an all-night coffee shop on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, others that he wrote it at the singer Joan Baez’s house in Carmel, Calif.
The literary critic Christopher B. Ricks wrote a chapter about the song in his book, “Dylan’s Visions of Sin” (2004), praising Mr. Dylan’s “exact control of each word.”
Clinton Heylin, in his book “Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited” (2001), countered that the song “verges on the libelous” because of “its tenuous grasp of the facts of the case.” One criticism was that Mr. Zantzinger’s “high office relations,” as Mr. Dylan called them, were overstated: his father had been a one-term state legislator and a member of the Maryland planning commission.
The song did not mention that Mrs. Carroll was black, although listeners made that correct assumption. It also did not refer to the reduced charge of manslaughter, only the six-month sentence.
One error of fact in the song was that Mrs. Carroll had 10 children; she had 11. Critics suggested that 11 did not fit the meter.
Time magazine called Mr. Zantzinger “a rural aristocrat,” who enjoyed fox-hunting. He attended Sidwell Friends School in Washington and the University of Maryland. The magazine Mother Jones reported in 2004 that he had worked alongside his farm employees, including blacks.
After prison, Mr. Zantzinger left the farm and went into real estate. He sold antiques, became an auctioneer and owned a night club.
In 1991, The Maryland Independent disclosed that Mr. Zantzinger had been collecting rent from black families living in shanties that he no longer owned; Charles County, Md., had foreclosed on them for unpaid taxes. The shanties lacked running water, toilets or outhouses. Not only had Mr. Zantzinger collected rent for properties he did not own, he also went to court to demand past-due rent, and won.
He pleaded guilty to 50 misdemeanor counts of deceptive trade practices, paid $62,000 in penalties and, under an 18-month sentence, spent only nights in jail.
Information on Mr. Zantzinger’s survivors was unavailable. Though he long refused interviews, he did speak to the author Howard Sounes for his book “Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan” (2001), telling him of his scorn for Mr. Dylan.
“I should have sued him and put him in jail,” he said.
Source / The New York Times
Thanks to Harry Edwards / The Rag Blog