[JPL] W. D. Zantzinger, Subject of Dylan Song, Dies at 69
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Sat Jan 10 14:20:21 EST 2009
January 10, 2009
W. D. Zantzinger, Subject of Dylan Song, Dies at 69
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
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. Zantzinger¹s family had prohibited the release of more
Mr. Dylan took some liberties with the truth in the song, ³The Lonesome
Death of Hattie Carroll,² though there is disagreement over just how many.
He recorded it in 1964 for the Columbia album ³The Times They Are
A-Changin¹,² for some reason dropping the letter ³t² from Mr. Zantzinger¹s
name. It begins:
William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath¹rin¹.
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 Baltimore¹s annual Spinsters¹ Ball, a white-tie
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
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: ³I just flew in from Texas! Gimme a drink!²
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
³deathly ill.² 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. Carroll¹s 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
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 Baez¹s house in Carmel, Calif.
The literary critic Christopher B. Ricks wrote a chapter about the song in
his book, ³Dylan¹s Visions of Sin² (2004), praising Mr. Dylan¹s ³exact
control of each word.²
Clinton Heylin, in his book ³Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited² (2001),
countered that the song ³verges on the libelous² because of ³its tenuous
grasp of the facts of the case.² One criticism was that Mr. Zantzinger¹s
³high office relations,² as Mr. Dylan called them, were overstated: his
father had been a one-term state legislator and a member of the Maryland
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 ³a rural aristocrat,² 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
Information on Mr. Zantzinger¹s survivors was unavailable. Though he long
refused interviews, he did speak to the author Howard Sounes for his book
³Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan² (2001) , telling him of his scorn
for Mr. Dylan.
³I should have sued him and put him in jail,² he said.
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company
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