Sunday, November 28, 2010

William Zantzinger - Rural Aristocrat

This is a photo of William Zantzinger, in handcuffs, being led from The Emerson Hotel in Baltimore, after having bludgeoned Hattie Carroll into a coma, and subsequently her death, for not moving fast enough when serving him. The date was February 8th, 1963.

I was listening to some old Bob Dylan today when I was reminded of his song, "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", which became a rallying cry in the cause of Civil Rights. This is a link to Bob Dylan performing the song sometime in 1964.

The story behind the song is interesting in 2 ways. Let's start on the bus coming back from Washington DC after the "I Have A Dream Speech" on August 28th, 1963. The assault of Ms. Carroll had taken place in February of that year, but was confined mostly to the local papers. Mr. Dylan, riding the bus back to NY, read about the trial and wrote the song in NY at his apartment, later finishing it at Joan Baez' home in Nyack. He recorded it in October and and began to sing it around the country at protest marches. Although never a monster hit, the song is an important one, in that is is based entirely on fact, although Dylan cleverly omits the "t" in Zantzinger, which was helpful when Mr. Zantzinger tried to sue him for slander.

I was totally unfamilar with this story until I moved to Baltimore in 1981.When I first lived there the Emerson Hotel was in it's last days. The place was enormous and had a fine restaurant on the ground floor. A friend of mine worked there as a waitress until she was fired for being underage. But she was the one who first introduced me to the story behind the song. At the time of the actual event, I was only 10 years old and living in Brooklyn. I have no recollection of the story at the time, and never would have dreamt that I would one day not only be a regular visitor to the hotel, but that I would meet one of the kitchen staff who had been on duty the night Hattie Carroll was beaten by William Zantzinger. These are the agreed upon events and the order in which they unfolded;

Mr. Zantzinger, along with his wife, began to drink early on the afternoon of Friday February 8th, 1963, and continued on into the night. He was a nasty drunk, at times verbally and physically abusive, even to his wife. During his druken spree he struck one of the bellhops with his cane and shouted at a waitress, "Hey, niger, bring me a drink." He was so drunk that at one point he collapsed on top of his wife while they were dancing. He then returned to the bar, demanding another drink from Hattie Carroll, the 51 year old black barmaid. She had a family of 11 children and also had heart problems. Addressing him politely she said, "Just a minute, sir." This enraged the drunken Zantzinger. Blacks did not act that way in his native Charles County, and he was not used to waiting for anything.

He began to verbally abuse Ms. Carroll, while at the same time striking her about the head with his cane. She immediately served him the bourbon that he had demanded and then stepped away from the bar, remarking to her co-workers that "that man has done got me ill."

An ambulance was called but it was already too late. Hattie Carroll would die the next day as the result of a stroke brought on by the indignity of being struck by Mr. Zantzinger.

Zantzinger was a "rural aristocrat", meaning that he was the son of an influential local planter, and as such, was treated with kid gloves during both his trial and sentencing. He was even freed after the sentencing so that he could finish harvesting his crops, which were substantial in value when compared to the life of a mother of 11. He subsequently did six months in jail, where he was treated as a celebrity, and additionally was fined $625.

After his sentence he returned to his home, had 3 kids, divorced, married again and moved to another county where he sold real estate until his death sometime in the 1990's. He died never having expressed remorse for his crime.

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