Monday, January 12, 2009

The Lonesome Death of Billy Zanzinger

In case you missed it, William Devereaux Zantzinger died last week at the age of 69. According to his obit in the Washington Post:
"He's a regular old Southern Maryland boy," his friend Mike Sprague, then a delegate to the Maryland legislature, told The Washington Post in 1991. "Nicest guy you'd ever want to meet." The Rev. Arnold Taylor, Mr. Zantzinger's pastor at the time, told the newspaper, "Socially, he's a hale fellow well met."

Baltimore hotel barmaid Hattie Carroll would beg to differ. That is, if she were alive to do so; in a drunken stupor, he bludgeoned her with a cane when she was slow to fetch him a drink, back on Feb. 8, 1963--she died eight hours later.

Zantzinger was a wealthy (white) tobacco farmer from a socially prominent family, who was found guilty of manslaughter in the death of the 51-year-old mother of ten, but released during sentencing to harvest his tobacco crop. He was given a six-month prison term for taking her life.

Bob Dylan recorded "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" on the seminal The Times they Are A-Changin' LP. ObligatoryDisclosureInTheInterestOfHonesty: it's near the end of the B-side, so I've heard it about one-thousandth the number of times I ever listened to the title track or "The Ballad of Hollis Brown". But I always knew it was a true story, because you don't use that many weak rhymes if you're making it up.


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.

Now you might think from the kind words I've quoted up above, including from a minister, no less, that he lived an exemplary life after his release, but Zantzinger had still more sordidness and squalor in his soul. He eventually became a realtor.

But wait, it gets worse. (Only kidding, I'm just joshing my realtor friends--so stop reading this blog and sell my house!) Seriously, in addition to being a killer and a racist (he famously said during the trial, "Hell, you wouldn't want to go to school with Negroes any more than you would with French people"), he was a slumlord who lost his squalid shacks to the county due to tax arrears, but continued to collect rent on them for years and even hid the revenue stream they provided during his divorce from the mother of his children.
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain't the time for your tears.

1 comment:

John said...

Hattie Carrol was not "Bludgeoned" by Billy Zanzinger. While trying to ignore him at the bar judging wisely that he had had enough, she was rudely tapped from behind with a small cane that resembled a magic wand that was a party favor Zanzinger had at his place setting. While hitting her, he demanded, "Give me my drink you black bitch!". Hattie was so upset by the ordeal that she later suffered a stroke and died. I know about these events (which took place at the hight o the Civil Rights Movement)because my mother and other people I know were present at the party. My father, could never stand the man, having seen him beligerent when drunk with white people on other occasions. He even witnessed Zanzinger commandeer a jackhammer and attempt to rip up the porch of a fraternity house on the UVa campus when Zanzinger had come down to visit my mother when she was married with my father who was a student there.