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Hattie Carroll: continued

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Even listening to Dylan himself, you can hear the song tearing itself free of its roots. The bootleg recordings I've heard from his 2005 and 2006 gigs use an arrangement much like the one Alex Ross described in Portland, but with Dylan delivering the lyrics in a very mannered, distancing way. The tune's pretty enough, but Dylan seems entirely removed from Carroll's plight, injecting the same fake pout into his voice we use to mock a small child's complaints. It's as though he's already begun letting go of the song's history, handing its more earnest aspects over to the younger singers who've adopted it for themselves.

Eight months after his death, Zantzinger continues to raise strong emotions on folk music message boards. One of the most striking posts came in May this year, when Talya Carroll joined a William Zantzinger thread on Mudcat's forum:

“I would like for you all to know that the Carroll family did not get the justice we deserved in that trial. I am the great grand-daughter of Hattie Carroll, and I witness fallout between members of our family, and also her children are dying by the years. During that time, many of her 13 children moved out of the Baltimore area and have not been in contact with the others, leaving our family broken. I would honestly love to meet William Zantzinger, granted that he's still alive. If not, I would like to spit on his grave and hope he does not get eternal peace!” (44)

‘I would like for you all to know that the Carroll family did not get the justice we deserved’

We have to inject a slight note of caution here, because Mudcat's board allows any guest to post with no membership or proof of identity. As we'll see in a moment, though, the post does match how Hattie Carroll's old friends recall the family's fate. If we assume that really is Hattie's great grand-daughter talking, then her remarks are potent testimony that the pain Zantzinger caused her family has barely begun to heal.
In closing, let's return to that 2004 Mother Jones article. Frazier went to Carroll's old church in Baltimore, where he found two parishioners who still remembered her. Dorothy Johnson and Mildred Jessup described Carroll as a quiet, well-dressed woman who took a very active role in Gillis Memorial's life.
“I remember Hattie went to work at the hotel that day, and later word came back that she'd been struck with a cane,” Johnson said. “And right after that, we heard that she had died. Everybody in the church was very upset, It was a terrible blow. [...] Hattie's family suffered so after she died. They don't go to this church anymore. Four of them, I think became Muslims. One daughter ended up in a mental institution. But whatever you cause by word or by deed, it's all coming back to you.”
Frazier closed the conversation by asking both women if they, personally, could ever forgive Zantzinger for what he'd done. Johnson thought she could, but Jessup hesitated. “For myself, I don't know,” she said. “Things may be possible for God that are not possible for me. But I will tell you one thing: because of what happened to Hattie Carroll, I have a phobia about canes to this day.”

Special thanks to Michael Stevens at Baltimore County Public Library for supplying clippings from The Afro-American's 1963 coverage of Zantzinger's trial.

For more on The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, please go to this Amazon Kindle page (US / UK). The version of my essay there adds an exclusive interview with Billy Bragg, who discusses how first hearing the song helped to change his life and his later borrowing of its structure for a Rachel Corrie song. The price is just 1.49 ($1.85 in US). Amazon has a free app allowing its Kindle titles to also be read on smartphones, tablets and computers.

1) The Afro-American, July 6, 1963.
2) Broadside, July 20, 1964.
3) Revolution in the Air, by Clinton Heylin (Constable & Robinson, 2009)
4) Behind The Shades: Take Two, by Clinton Heylin (Penguin, 2001)
5) Time, February 22, 1963.
6) The Afro-American, June 29, 1963.
7) The Afro-American, March 23, 1963.
8) Mudcat thread:
9) The Afro-American, December 14, 1963.
10) The Afro-American, February 16, 1963.
11) The Baltimore Sun, February 10, 1963.
12) The Afro-American, February 23, 1963.
14) US Dept. of Veterans' Affairs (
15) The Afro-American, March 16, 1963.
16) The Afro-American, March 23, 1953.
17) Broadside 20-23, February and March 1963 (
18) Broadside 23, March 1963.
19) Washington Post, April 9, 1949.
20) Hearings Regarding Communism in The District of Columbia, Harvard College Library (
21) Before The Hurricane Begins: Bob Dylan 1963, by Olof Bjorner (
22) New York Times, June 28, 1963.
23) The Afro-American, September 7, 1963.
24) A Regular Old Southern Maryland Boy, by Peter Carlson. (Washington Post magazine, August 4, 1991.
25) The Afro-American, October 26, 1963.
26) Down The Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan, by Howard Sounes (Doubleday 2001).
27) The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, by Bob Dylan.
28) The New Yorker, January 26 2009.
29) Broadside 48, July 1964.
30) Bob Dylan's Dalliance With Mafia Chic, by Lester Bangs. Available in Mainlines, Blood Feasts and Bad Taste (Serpent's Tail, 2003).
31) The Afro-American, October 31, 1964.
32) New York Times, March 24, 1968.
33) Chronicles, by Bob Dylan (Simon & Schuster, 2004).
34) Wikipedia (
35) Washington Post, June 7, 1991.
36) Legacy of a Lonesome Death, by Ian Frazier (Mother Jones, November/December 2004).
37) Washington Post, January 4, 1992.
38) Washington Post, August 7, 1992.
39) The Times, January 12, 2009.
40) St Mary's Today (
41) Three Panel Soul, November 15, 2006 (
42) Guitar World Acoustic, February 2006.
43) The 20 Greatest Dylan Songs, Mojo. (
44) Whatever Happened top William Zantzinger, Mudcat Cafe forum (

Blood Ties: continued

of the hotel” after Carroll's death. I've found no other reports of this vigil, so I don't know if it's invention of Simon's or not.
    As the investigation proceeds, we discover that Felix's son Hal had been in love with Melia, and then discovered his father was having an affair with her. In a rage, he'd threatened to have her sent back to Haiti, and she'd followed him to that evening's Belvedere dinner to beg him to change his mind.
    Hal confesses to Pembleton that he was the one who dragged Melia into the Belvedere's bathroom and killed her there. “She had hurt me,” he says. “I wanted to hurt her.”
    The circumstances of Hal's confession make it inadmissible as evidence, however, and district attorney Ed Danvers confirms that there is no point in bringing charges against him. Felix makes it clear he'll do whatever it takes to keep his son out of jail.
    Disgusted at this outcome, Pembleton visits the Wilsons' home as they prepare to leave Baltimore for good. “I came to understand,” Pembleton tells Felix, who replies by quoting a few lines from Dylan's final verse. “What is that?” the detective asks.
    “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” Felix replies. “Bob Dylan. Two hotels, two black servants and two privileged young men raised to believe that the world has no right to deny them anything.”
    “Two senseless deaths,” says Pembleton. “Zantzinger got off because of wealth and influence. Are you going to make sure the same's true for Hal?”
    “I guess I am.”
    The story's a salutary reminder that we're all hypocrites where our own family's welfare is concerned, and helped the series win its third Peabody Award.