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Now Ain't The Time For Your Tears
January 9, 2009 9:48 AM   Subscribe

William Zantzinger, who inspired the Bob Dylan song "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," died January 3. He was 69 years old.

Zantzinger was a tobacco farmer from a wealthy Maryland family. On February 8, 1963, he attended the white-tie Spinsters' Ball at the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore, where he got drunk and assaulted three hotel workers: a bellboy, a waitress, and a barmaid named Hattie Carroll.

Hattie Carroll was 51 years old and the mother of eleven children (not ten, as the Dylan song claims). Zantzinger struck her with 25-cent toy cane when she didn't bring him his drink quickly enough. Carroll, who suffered from high blood pressure, fell ill shortly after the attack and died eight hours later. Zantzinger was arrested and charged with murder, although this was later reduced to manslaughter and assault. In August, he was found guilty of both charges and sentenced to six months in jail and a fine of $650. Dylan recorded his song by the end of the year, changing Zantzinger's name to Zanzinger but staying true to most of the details of the case. It quickly became a staple of the folk music scene, and led to a number of cover versions.

Zantzinger returned to tobacco farming after his release from jail, but never escaped the infamy the song had brought him. In 1991, he was found guilty of collecting rent from rental properties he had lost in a dispute with the IRS. The properties themselves were run-down shacks with no running water or even outhouses. Almost all of the tenants were black. He even took some of them to court when they couldn't pay. After the Maryland Independent broke the story, it gained national attention. This time Zantzinger pleaded guilty to 50 misdemeanor counts of unfair and deceptive trade practices. He was sentenced to 19 months in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Zantzinger always resented the attention the song had brought him, telling Dylan biographer Howard Sounes, "He's a no-account son of a bitch, he's just like a scum of a scumbag of the earth, I should have sued him and put him in jail."
posted by Rangeboy (25 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 

posted by pyramid termite at 9:55 AM on January 9, 2009


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by RussHy at 9:58 AM on January 9, 2009


Good riddance to bad rubbish, as they say.
posted by JeffK at 10:00 AM on January 9, 2009


I'm going to go out on a limb and say that from the facts here, manslaughter and assault were the right charges, and six months in jail and $650 in 1963 dollars is not out of line with what a person with no record might also get today for hitting someone with a toy cane and indirectly causing their death. Under today's laws an enterprising prosecutor might be able to come up with some kind of hate-crime context, but other than that, seems like Zantzinger's punishment was not out of line.

That said, he sounds like a horrible, horrible person. The notoriety he got via Dylan was probably appropriate.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:01 AM on January 9, 2009


Also, the Guardian article says he was find $25,000, which is pretty damn steep if true.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:04 AM on January 9, 2009


The Lonesome Death indeed.
posted by ageispolis at 10:05 AM on January 9, 2009


I had to read up on him after seeing this comic, and yeah, he was several different kinds of jerk.
posted by mephron at 10:12 AM on January 9, 2009


It nice that he lived to see Obama elected.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:14 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


It nice that he lived to see Obama elected.

Maybe seeing Obama elected raised his blood pressure so he fell ill shortly after and died.
posted by DU at 10:18 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


William Zantzinger died January 3.

Now ain't the time for your tears.
posted by flarbuse at 10:20 AM on January 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


My favourite Dylan song
posted by fire&wings at 10:50 AM on January 9, 2009


I don't wish to speak ill of the dead, so,
posted by orthogonality at 10:53 AM on January 9, 2009


Previously, and further previously.
posted by languagehat at 10:56 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oops, sorry, your first link was the "previously."
posted by languagehat at 10:56 AM on January 9, 2009


Also, the Guardian article says he was find $25,000, which is pretty damn steep if true.

I'm so glad we can put a $25,000 price-tag on a woman's life! Is that the going rate for just black women? Do white women -- maybe, say, white women of affluence -- garner higher prices? Say I accidentally killed, I don't know, a baroness. Should I pay $100,000? Please, friend, I'm dying to know your opinion.
posted by ford and the prefects at 11:07 AM on January 9, 2009


This contemporaneous Time article mentions only the $625 fine; $500 for the death of Hattie Carroll and $125 for assaulting the other employees. I don't know where the $25,000 figure comes from, though I suppose it may have been levied against Zantzinger after the original trial.

I also forgot to mention: the Hattie Carroll case also inspired a few episodes of the always-excellent Homicide: Life on the Streets.
posted by Rangeboy at 11:37 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm going to go out on a limb and say that from the facts here, manslaughter and assault were the right charges, and six months in jail and $650 in 1963 dollars is not out of line with what a person with no record might also get today for hitting someone with a toy cane and indirectly causing their death.

I find that impossible to believe. Maybe for involuntary manslaughter, where you hit someone with a car, or drop something out of a window. But assault that leads to death I'm sure would get you more then six months in prison.

Besides, what do you think would have happened if a black man had done that to a white mother of 11 in 1963? Six months a $650 fine?
posted by delmoi at 11:51 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


baronesses are a cunning prey and actually quite difficult to take down.
posted by camdan at 12:01 PM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Say I accidentally killed, I don't know, a baroness. Should I pay $100,000?

I'm so glad we can put a $100,000 price-tag on a woman's life! Is that the going rate for just baronesses? Do countesses -- maybe, say, viscountesses -- garner higher prices? Say I accidentally killed, I don't know, Nancy Witcher Astor, Viscountess Astor. Should I pay $100,000,000? Please, friend, I'm dying to know your opinion.
posted by ND¢ at 12:02 PM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Let us not forget the tangential inspiration for "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill," from Creepshow.
posted by adipocere at 12:24 PM on January 9, 2009


Couldnt help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land

Where justice is a game.

posted by captainsohler at 1:25 PM on January 9, 2009


How about Bob Dylan's "Percy's Song", in which a driver at the wheel of a car that crashes and killls four, is sentenced to 99 years in Joliet prison? In that case, the singer is protesting a sentence that is too severe -- although he fails to make his case convincingly to the listener, arguing only that "What happened to him could happen to anyone." Is "Percy's Song" based on a true story? Does anybody know?

Some lines:
Tell me the trouble, tell me once to my ears
Turn, turn, turn again
Joliet prison for ninety-nine years
Turn, turn, to the wind and the rain

A crash on the highway
threw a car into a field
Turn, turn, turn again
There were four people killed
And he was at the wheel
Turn, turn, to the wind and the rain
posted by Faze at 2:12 PM on January 9, 2009


Voluntary manslaughter sentences seem to run around three to ten years in most states (and is a felony). The sentence is more like what one might get for reckless endangerment (and is generally a misdemeanor). No, it wasn't murder, but he did get off lightly.

$650 in 1963 would be about $4500 today.

Besides, what do you think would have happened if a black man had done that to a white mother of 11 in 1963?

Emmett Till, by the broadest account, merely whistled at a white woman. The sentence was death.
posted by dhartung at 9:52 PM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


no dot
posted by caddis at 12:46 AM on January 10, 2009


-
posted by camdan at 10:34 PM on January 13, 2009


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