Hattie Carroll's attacker dies

William Devereux Zantzinger

Civil rights death chronicled by Dylan

January 10, 2009|By Jacques Kelly and Frederick N. Rasmussen | Jacques Kelly and Frederick N. Rasmussen,jacques.kelly@baltsun.com and fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

William Devereux Zantzinger, the white Southern Maryland tobacco farmer who became infamous because of a Bob Dylan song about his fatal assault on a black Baltimore barmaid in 1963, has died.

Zantzinger, 69, died Saturday and was buried yesterday, according to the Brinsfield-Echols Funeral Home in Charlotte Hall. No cause of death was reported.

The Southern Maryland aristocrat was convicted of manslaughter in the death of 51-year-old Hattie Carroll. His crime never escaped memory after Dylan recorded "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," released in a 1964 album. Dylan changed the name to "Zanzinger" by dropping the T.

Dylan described "Zanzinger" hitting the woman while twirling his cane "around his diamond ring finger."

Zantzinger, dressed in tails and wearing a carnation in his lapel, had complained that Carroll, a barmaid at Baltimore's old Emerson Hotel, was slow in bringing a drink he had ordered at the Spinsters Ball, an invitation-only social event.

"Give me a bourbon," the 24-year-old was quoted as saying in court testimony as he approached the bar. He later upbraided Carroll and struck her with a 26-cent, lightweight carnival-style cane.

After she was struck, Carroll, the mother of 11 children, leaned against the bar and told her fellow workers: "This man has upset me so, I feel deathly ill." She died hours later at Mercy Medical Center.

Zantzinger was also charged with striking another waitress, Ethel Hill, who suffered arm injuries, and a bellman, George N. Gesell.

"Isn't it amazing that Zantzinger is going out as the nation's first African-American president is about to take office," David Bruce Poole, a Hagerstown lawyer whose father was the Washington County state's attorney who assisted Baltimore prosecutors, said yesterday.

"What happened then was a seminal moment in Maryland's civil rights history," said Poole, who has the white cane Zantzinger used in the attack. Poole said he is planning to donate the cane to a museum.

Poole added: "The shame of Zantzinger is that he never mended his ways."

Reached last night, a member of the Zantzinger family declined to comment.

Poole's father, David K. Poole Jr., was the Washington County state's attorney who assisted Baltimore prosecutors, who were trying the case in Hagerstown at the height of the 1960s civil rights movement.

Carroll had a medical history that included an enlarged heart and hypertension. The medical examiner testified she died of brain hemorrhage eight hours after the attack.

Zantzinger was convicted of manslaughter, fined $500 and given a six-month sentence. He was allowed to start his sentence with a two-week delay so he could harvest his tobacco crop. He served his sentence in the Washington County jail, working in its kitchen, and was released in March 1964.

The death of the hotel worker reverberated around Baltimore's black community.

"There is something wrong with this city," said the Rev. Thomas C. Jackson in his sermon at Gillis Memorial Church the Sunday after Carroll's death. "There is something wrong with this city when a white man can beat a colored woman to death and no one raises a hand to stop him."

Some 800 mourners filled her church for a funeral held later that month.

News accounts of the period said that Zantzinger had been seen drinking with his wife, Jane Duvall Zantzinger, at a pre-ball dinner at the Eager House restaurant in Mount Vernon. They said he had two double bourbons and a steak dinner.

While dining at the Eager House before going to the Emerson, Zantzinger began striking waitresses with his cane.

"I'd been smacking - tapping - waitresses on the tail, and they didn't say anything. I was just playing," Zantzinger told the jury in Hagerstown.

"I had no other purpose than to have a good time," he said. "The last thing I intended was to harm or injure anyone. I never even thought about it."

Baltimore State's Attorney William J. O'Donnell asked Zantzinger if he had been drinking heavily and said, "You wouldn't know whether you hit anyone or not."

"No sir," Zantzinger replied.

Poole said his father, who died in 2005, was "terribly upset with the sentence" because of "Zantzinger's cavalier attitude" throughout the trial.

Zantzinger made news again in 1991 when he charged rent for ramshackle properties he no longer owned. Charles County State's Attorney Leonard Collins charged him with one count of unfair and deceptive trade practices, accusing Zantzinger of making "false and misleading oral and written statements" in his rental arrangement with a couple who formerly lived in Patuxent Woods, a community of houses without indoor plumbing.

Zantzinger owned Patuxent Woods properties until May 1986, when the county foreclosed on the half-dozen houses because of his failure to pay more than $18,000 in property taxes and penalties. Court documents said he continued to charge residents rent, sometimes taking them to court when payments were overdue, according to court records.

In 1992, he was sentenced to 18 months in the Charles County jail and fined $50,000 for collecting rent on the shacks he no longer owned. He was also sentenced to 2,400 hours of community service to local low-income housing groups.

"Each can benefit from your expertise and your abilities," Judge Steven I. Platt said in 1992.

For years, Zantzinger declined to answer questions about Dylan's song, but he told Dylan biographer Howard Sounes in 2001: "He's just a scum bag of the earth. I should have sued him and put him in jail. [The song is] a total lie."

Reached at her Baltimore home yesterday, Margaret C. Turner, Hattie Carroll's sister and a poet, declined to comment.

"It's been a long journey since that terrible evening, and hopefully that sort of thing will never, ever happen again," the Rev. Marion C. Bascom, a civil rights activist and retired pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church, said yesterday.

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