No time for tears: the lonesome death of William Zantzinger

William Zantzinger, a prominent Maryland tobacco farmer then aged 24,whose six-month sentence for the fatal caning of black barmaid Hattie Carroll at a Baltimore charity ball moved Bob Dylan to write ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’ in 1963 has died. He was 69.

The incident occurred on 8 February 1963.  Zantzinger and his wife had stopped with friends at a restaurant on their way to Baltimore’s annual Spinsters’ Ball, a white-tie affair. He 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, where, as the evening progressed, he hit several hotel employees with the cane and used racist abuse. At the bar he ordered a drink from Hattie Carroll, aged 51. But she was too slow, he said, and began criticising her. Then he struck her repeatedly with the cane. Fleeing to the kitchen, she told co-workers that she felt “deathly ill.” An ambulance was called.

Above: William Zantzinger (right) accompanied outside a Maryland police station by his wife and attorney.

Mr. Zantzinger was charged with disorderly conduct and released on $600 bail. But later that night Hattie Carroll died of a stroke. Zantzinger was charged with murder.

In the trial, 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. The court agreed that the caning alone could not have caused the death and reduced the charge to manslaughter. Zantzinger was convicted in June, and in August he was sentenced to six months in prison.

On August 29, The New York Times published a report on the sentencing. A friend of  Dylan showed him 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 California.

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.” 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. In the song was Hattie Carroll has 10 children; in fact she had 11.

After prison, 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 Zantzinger had been collecting rent from black families living in shanties that he no longer owned – they had been seized for unpaid taxes. The shanties lacked running water, toilets or outhouses. Not only had Zantzinger collected rent for properties he did not own, he also went to court to demand past rent, and won. He pleaded guilty to 50 counts of deceptive trade practices, paid $62,000 in penalties and, under an 18-month sentence, spent only a few nights in jail.

“[Dylan] is a no-account son of a bitch,” Zantzinger told Dylan biographer Howard Sounes in 2001. “He’s just like a scum bag of the earth. I should have sued him and put him in jail. [The song is] a total lie.”

Source of information: New York Times

The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll by Bob Dylan

Hattie Carroll
Hattie Carroll

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’.
And the cops were called in and his weapon took from him
As they rode him in custody down to the station
And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder.
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

William Zanzinger, who at twenty-four years
Owns a tobacco farm of six hundred acres
With rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him
And high office relations in the politics of Maryland,
Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders
And swear words and sneering, and his tongue it was snarling,
In a matter of minutes on bail was out walking.
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

Hattie Carroll was a maid of the kitchen.
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn’t even talk to the people at the table
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table
And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level,
Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
That sailed through the air and came down through the room,
Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle.
And she never done nothing to William Zanzinger.
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain’t pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught ’em
And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom,
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin’ that way without warnin’.
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished,
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance,
William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence.
Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears.


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