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The Spinsters’ Ball – The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll

“He beats me up, but I love him!”

– Jane Zantzinger

We’ve already written about bob Dylan’s amazing song The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll in the context of the recent death of her killer, racist scumbag William Zantzinger.

Hattie Carroll, a 51 year old black waitress and mother of eleven, was killed on February 9, 1963, at a white tie Ball at the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland.

Here’s a fascinating early account of the incident from Time Magazine just 13 days later.

Reading the article, it’s strange to see what surreal and fucked up lives these landed racist gentry used to lead! Guess some still do to a lesser extent today.

Also, using modern standards, it’s strange to see the more overt and open racism then at play, reflected in Time’s many usages of the word Negro here!

The Spinsters’ Ball

Friday, Feb. 22, 1963

Holly trees arch gracefully over the neat white fences that line the dirt road leading to the brick mansion at West Hatton, the 630-acre Zantzinger farm-estate in southern Maryland. The mansion’s colonnaded porch faces the somnolent Wicomico River, which flows past a placid pond and a white summerhouse. Also on the estate is an austere farmhouse from which William Devereux Zantzinger, 24, runs one of the most prosperous tobacco operations in Charles County.

The setting befits William Zantzinger’s status as a rural aristocrat. His father, a former member of the Maryland house of delegates and the state planning commission, still lives in the mansion, where he and his wife entertain in convivial country style. William and his attractive wife, Jane, 24, organized the Wicomico Hunt Club, love to halloo after hounds across their fields. William is unlike many a gentleman farmer. His farming success is due not to the efficiency of hired supervisors, but to the long hours of gritty, grubby work he himself does afield. But by last week it was apparent that he can play even harder than he plows.

Whacks, But No Tips. The Zantzingers set out for a gay social evening of dancing at Baltimore’s annual Spinsters’ Ball, a white-tie affair in which passed-over postdebutantes in their late 20s take another try at meeting the right sort of men. With another couple, the Zantzingers stopped off for preball dinner at downtown Baltimore’s Eager House.

As witnesses tell it, Zantzinger downed two fast drinks at the bar, then whacked the restaurant’s hostess and its elderly sommelier with a wooden carnival cane that he had picked up somewhere. Coaxed into checking the cane, he lunged at the wine steward’s cordial tray, then his neck chain, caught a sharp elbow in the stomach in return. Zantzinger had two double bourbons with his steak; Jane Zantzinger, four double Cutty Sarks with her prime ribs. When the head barman refused to serve more, Jane hopped to another table, sipped from the glasses of its surprised occupants. Zantzinger left no tip for the waitress.

At the ball in the Emerson Hotel, the pace picked up. Zantzinger stung a Negro bellhop’s rear with his cane. After a few bourbons and ginger at the open bar, he asked a Negro waitress, Mrs. Ethel Hill, 30, something about a firemen’s fund. She said she did not know what he meant. “Don’t say no to me, you nigger, say no, sir,” said Zantzinger. He flailed her with the cane. She fled to the kitchen.

Too Slow. Minutes later, Zantzinger strode to the bar for another drink. Mrs. Hattie Carroll, 51, a Negro barmaid, did not move fast enough for him. “What’s the matter with you, you black son of a bitch, serving my drinks so slow?” he railed. He beat her with his cane. She collapsed and an ambulance was called.

Through it all, the orchestra of Howard Lanin* played on, many of the spinsters missing the commotion—even when Zantzinger turned on his 125-lb. wife, who fell to the floor. More blows flew as two men struggled to calm Zantzinger. A physician felt Mrs. Zantzinger’s pulse, decided she would be all right.

“I Love Him.” Two policemen arrived to lead Zantzinger away. Jane Zantzinger. much revived, cried: “He beats me up, but I love him!” She jumped down five stairs, knocking both her husband and Patrolman Warren Tood to the floor. Both of the Zantzingers were taken to jail, later released on bail.

The whole wild night could have wound up as just another bender, something with which the Zantzingers might later wow their guests (“What a night!”) after riding to hounds. Even the disorderly-conduct and assault charges lodged against Mrs. Zantzinger would only add zest to the tale. But one thing changed all of that. Mrs. Carroll, a mother of eleven and president of a Negro social club, died eight hours after the caning. A medical examiner found that the cause of her death was a brain hemorrhage. The charge against Zantzinger: homicide.

*Brother of Lester Lanin. whose orchestra sometimes entertains at the White House.

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January 23, 2009 Posted by | Mason Jennings, Music_Folk, William Zantzinger, _BOB DYLAN, _MUSIC, _PHOTOGRAPHY, _POETRY, _VIDEO | Leave a comment

The Lonesome Death of William Zantzinger

And she never done nothing to William Zantzinger

-Bob Dylan

Dylan)‘s a no-account son of a bitch, he’s just like a scum of a scum bag of the earth, I should have sued him and put him in jail.”

-William Zantzinger
from Howard Sounes”Down the Highway, the Life of Bob Dylan”

In the momentous week when, in a few days, Barack Obama will make magnificent history and be inaugurated as the first black President of the United States, it’s shocking to consider that only a few decades back – within Obama’s lifetime! – an ingrained racist and wealthy estate owner from a renowned landlord family, William Zantzinger could casually kill a black waitress he’d just met- the hard working mother of ten children – just a stone’s throw away from New York and Washington DC, in Baltimore and receive essentially no punishment!

With assistance from the racist status quo, racist authorities, racist systems and ‘good ole boys’ networks, the charge was knocked down by the Courts from Murder to Manslaughter.

Worse, Zantzinger served only 6 months for this most heinous evil crime – the same term as he might have served had he committed a negligible crime such as letting some speeding tickets go unpaid!

Furthermore, the Courts allowed Zantzinger to serve his time in a local cell where there would be no black co-habitees intent on payback and making his time rather unpleasant!

There’s even more! Yes, the racist Courts even allowed deferral of the start of his jail sentence to give Zantzinger time to harvest his tobacco crop!

This craziness is sickeningly incomprehensible!

The message sent out by the authorities was that, since Hattie Carroll was poor, and more importantly, black, her life was worthless. The taking away of that life was therefore nothing important and merited no proper sanction.

The abhorrent crime took place on February 9, 1963, at a white tie Ball at the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland when one William Zantzinger casually – for no reason at all – killed a totally innocent black woman, Ms Hattie Carroll with two blows to the head from a cane. And thereby suddenly left 11 children without a mother.

Earlier that evening, Zantzinger had also casually assaulted another black waitress with his cane at the same event!

Zantzinger and his first wife Jane were attending the charity ball in Baltimore. Zantzinger was drunk when he arrived, decked out in top hat, white tie and tails, and grew even drunker as the evening wore on. After collapsing on top of his wife during a dance, he went to the bar demanding yet another drink. When it failed to materialise at once, he swore at the barmaid. “I’m hurrying as fast as I can,” press accounts quoted Carroll as replying – to which Zantzinger declared, “I don’t have to take that kind of shit off a nigger,” and hit her with a cane he was carrying.

The vile name of William Zantzinger and his vile crime were forever made infamous by Bob Dylan in his magnificent “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll“. This song was recorded a few months after the murder, on 23 October 1963, and released on Dylan’s 1964 album The Times They Are A-Changin’.

This event has come into the public domain again in the past week with the death of the murdering scumbag Zantzinger who kicked the bucket last week aged 69, having lived a full 46 years longer than he would have, had he slain a white person in 1963. Years during which this abhorrent cretin continued to commit a litany of crimes and abuse.

His further crimes included federal tax delinquencies and landlord related crimes pursuant to “properties” rented to poor black people – properties described by the Maryland Real Estate Commission as “ramshackle, primitive structures reminiscent of slave quarters.”

Zantzinger had for years been exploiting poor black people as a landlord and charging exorbitant rent to live in shacks which were in violation of county habitability codes and lacking water and sewer connections. He, at one stage, was even charging rent on certain shacks he no longer owned.

Ironically for the various illegal rent crimes, Zantzinger in 1991 was fined $50,000 and sentenced to a 19 months in prison – over 3 times the sentence he received for murder!

Unlike the judge in the Hattie Carroll case, the judge in 1991 refused his request to delay the start of his sentence to get his affairs in order. However, some of his prison sentence was served in a work release program.

The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” is a momentous work, in more ways than one, and ranks amongst Dylan’s finest.

In this song, Dylan firmly upholds one of the main pillars of the folk music tradition from it’s Irish / Scots homeland where for hundreds of years, going back to the Gaelic tradition, folk music was used as a tool to document historic events – especially atrocities and other significant crimes – and to inform as many people as possible about the facts of an event, thereby keeping the event alive in the public consciousness.

Aside from the magnificence of the song itself in terms of structure, lyrics and melody, the most notable Dylan achievement was the fact that he was able to properly damn the appalling Zantzinger and his appalling crime to the annals of infamy and to spread knowledge of the specific atrocity – and by extension the abhorrent racist structures which enabled the crime and later allowed it go unpunished – not only far and wide at that time, but also across many generations of music fans down the decades.

A truly remarkable and commendable achievement, probably unique in modern music.

Were it not for Dylan, the sick story of Zantzinger would have been lost to the annals of history and oblivion soon after he served his sentence.

The proper blackening of Zantzinger’s name achieved via “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” was in many ways greater punishment than the Courts gave him!

Aside from that phenomenal achievement, the song itself is a magnificent work – beautifully structured, with simple yet poetic lyrics which wonderful express rightful indignation while managing to avoid bombast.

There are a few factual changes though; Zantzinger’s name is rendered as “Zanzinger”, probably to avoid a libel charge – while Dylan says Hattie had 10 children, not the true number of 11 – as eleven, it was said, did not fit the meter!

Starting with stark powerful and factual line “William Zantzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll” the song continues by simply setting out the shocking factual details of this shocking crime. It also contrasts the social status and wealth of Hattie against that of Zantzinger and his ilk as well as subtly describing the clear racial divide and protocols which lay between them.

We particularly like the line “Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane” which, aside from factually describing what happened, can of course also can be read as an allusion to the first ever murderer, as set out in the Bible!

“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” is a sublime timeless work which will still haunt Zantzinger as he wallows in Hell!

A few good links on the Hattie and Zantzinger story, here;

Zantzinger (left)

Dylan continues to perform “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” to this day. His live-audience renditions of it appear on the albums Live 1975 (2002) and Live 1964 (2004).

Below is;

  • a video of a fine Dylan TV performance of this great song from 1964
  • the original LP version
  • another Dylan live version from a London show in 1965
  • a nice, suitably understated cover version by Mason Jennings from last year’s I’m Not There OST.

Note: Audio files available for a limited time only. Not in breach of copyright as in accompaniment to a legitimate review of the song.

The Lonesome Death of 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.

Bob Dylan – The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Steve Allen TV show

Bob Dylan – The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll

Original version

Bob Dylan – The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll

Live – 5/10/65, London


Mason Jennings – The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll

I’m Not There OST


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January 15, 2009 Posted by | Mason Jennings, Music_Folk, William Zantzinger, _BOB DYLAN, _MUSIC, _PHOTOGRAPHY, _POETRY, _VIDEO | 1 Comment