William D. Zantzinger, whose attack on a black barmaid in 1963 made him the subject of one of Bob Dylan’s most enduring folk songs, died Jan. 3 at the age of 69, under far better circumstances than the woman who suffered a fatal stroke after suffering blows from his cane.
This New York Times obituary will fill you in one the details of how this wealthy scumheel blew into a charity ball at a Baltimore hotel, struck, cursed and slurred several hotel employees for being insufficiently prompt with his drinks, then laid into 51-year-old barmaid Hattie Carroll with his stick. Carroll, who suffered from hypertension, took refuge in the hotel kitchen, then had to be hospitalized. She died the next day, and Zantzinger was charged with murder, though the charge was later reduced to manslaughter. Zantzinger served a six-month sentence. As the chorus to Dylan’s song put it, “Now is the time for your tears.”
That song, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” is one of the key tracks on Dylan’s protest-heavy third album, The Times They Are A-Changin’, and it ensured Zantzinger’s name would forever be linked with the barmaid he said he was too drunk to remember hitting. Howard Sounes’ 2001 biography of Dylan, Down the Highway, is nothing special, but he did manage to get Zantzinger to sit for a talk after decades of ducking interviewers. In the book, Zantzinger calls Dylan “a scum of a bag” and says he should have sued over the song. But, as Sounes correctly notes, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” has been one of the most consistently played songs in the Dylan concert repertoire, and he has re-recorded it on a number of live albums. If Zantzinger didn’t want to file a libel suit against Dylan, it wasn’t because Dylan failed to give him plenty of provocation.
Perhaps Zantzinger decided to take his distress out on the black people unfortunate enough to cross his path. The obit notes that only a few years ago, Zantzinger was caught swindling rent money out of tenants in apartment properties he didn’t even own. If Dylan had done nothing more in his career than be a thorn in the side of this creep, then he would have still earned his place in history.