Hattie Carroll was a 51-year-old mother of eleven children who worked on the kitchen staff at the Emerson Hotel.
Late on the night of February 9, 1963, Carroll was working the white-tie Spinster’s Ball when William Devereux “Billy” Zantzinger arrived to the soiree already drunken and boisterous. The 24-year-old Zantzinger was a scion of a wealthy Charles County tobacco-farming family.
By all accounts, Zantzinger assaulted at least three workers at the Emerson Hotel and the Eager House restaurant with a toy cane. At the Spinster’s Ball, Zantzinger struck a 30-year-old waitress with the cane and called her “nigger,” causing her to flee in tears.
Moments later, angry that Carroll did not serve his bourbon quickly enough, Zantzinger struck her across the shoulder and head with his cane, calling her “nigger” and “black son of a bitch.” Zantzinger then attacked his then-wife, Jane, knocking her to the ground.
Carroll told co-workers, “I feel deathly ill, that man has upset me so,” and collapsed. She was rushed to the hospital and died eight hours later. Her autopsy showed hardening of the arteries, an enlarged heart and high blood pressure. The cause of death was identified as brain hemorrhage.
Zantzinger was arrested for disorderly conduct after the ball, and charged with murder after Carroll’s death the next day. A team of pricey lawyers were hired, who won a change of venue to move the trial to Hagerstown. A three-judge panel reduced the charge from murder to manslaughter.
After a three-day trial in August, Zantzinger was found guilty and fined $125 for assaulting hotel employees and sentenced to six months in jail and fined $500 for the death of Carroll. The court deferred Zantzinger’s jail sentence until September 15 to allow him to harvest his tobacco crop.
The Herald Tribune quoted Zantzinger on his sentence: “I’ll just miss a lot of snow.” Jane was quoted as saying, “Nobody treats his niggers as well as Billy does around here.”
Bob Dylan recorded “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” on Oct. 23, 1963, which is included on his 1964 album, The Times They Are A-Changin’. The song cemented Carrol’s role — and Zantzinger’s notoriety — in American popular culture. Here, Dylan sings the ballad on the Steve Allen show in 1964:
After his jail sentence, Zantzinger returned to his Carroll County farm. Eventually, he turned to real estate, and in the early 1990s was charged with fraud and deceptive practices, accused of renting run-down shacks with no running water. He died on January 3, 2009
Hattie Carroll is buried at Baltimore National Cemetery along with her husband, James, in lot 40 of Section K.
GPS: 39° 16.641’, W 076° 42.473’