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Hattie Carroll: continued

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Murder Ballads
Secret London

The story's next incarnation came at Baltimore's Center Stage Theatre, where Lester Franklin's play A Scaffold for Marionettes was given its world premiere in July 1966. Described as “a myth based on the Hattie Carroll murder case”, the play drew a packed audience in Baltimore, and soon won a transfer to Philadelphia's Theatre of The Living Arts. The managers there liked it enough to put it in a rep season with Harold Pinter's The Caretaker and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.
Franklin, who'd been jailed for robbery as a teenager, wrote the play in prison as his 15-year term drew to a close, and began working at Center Stage on his release. “Mr Franklin, who was born in Baltimore, heard the song and wrote the first draft of his play in ten days,” The New York Times reports. “Its first one-night-only performance at Center Stage was a great success.” (32)
Sadly, it wasn't that Baltimore performance that Times theatre critic Julius Novick reviewed for the paper. Instead, he saw the play in Philadelphia, where it left him decidedly unimpressed. “It's all a perfect example of what the residential theatres ought to be doing more of,” he writes, “except for the pretentious, obstinate, unregenerate badness of the play itself.”
Novick allows that Dylan Green's performance as Billy Loudemilk, Franklin's stand in for William Zantzinger, had some merits, but clearly this was not enough to salvage his evening. “This play employs all the expressionistic devices that have been familiar ever since the twenties,” he writes. “A stage bare except for a few constructivist trappings, stylised movement, frozen poses, menacing words coming over the loudspeakers, choral speech, a caricatured trial scene, you name it.”
For all its faults, Marionettes does at least have the virtue of circling Dylan's composition neatly back to the Brechtian theatre that had helped to inspire it. In his 2004 memoir Chronicles, Dylan recalls seeing a 1961 evening of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil's songs at New York's Theatre de Lys with Lotte Lenya in the cast. Inspired by the pair's dark wit and the unflinching gaze they directed at sexual violence, Dylan began to see that a new type of folk song was possible - and one which his idol Woody Guthrie had never envisaged. “I began fooling around with things,” he says “Took a story out of the Police Gazette, a tawdry incident about a hooker in Cleveland who killed one of her customers in a grotesque and ugly way.”
Of all the songs he heard at Theatre de Lys that night, it was Pirate Jenny from Brecht and Weil's Threepenny Opera that impressed him most. In the opera, this song's sung by a downtrodden prostitute who fantasises that a spectral pirate ship will one day come to slaughter all the men and women who treat her like dirt. When all her tormentors are dead, Jenny decides, she'll sail off on the pirates' black freighter as its beautiful new captain.
“This is a wild song,“ Dylan writes. “Big medicine in the lyrics. Heavy action spread out. Each phrase comes at you from a ten-foot drop, scuttles across the road and then another one comes like a punch on the chin. And then there's always that ghost chorus about the black ship that steps in, fences it all off and locks it up tighter than a drum.”
Substitute the word “tears” for “black ship” in that paragraph, and Dylan could be talking about Hattie Carroll itself. “This piece left you flat on your back and demanded to be taken seriously,” he concludes. “Woody never wrote a song like that.” (33)

After a spell running the family farm, Zantzinger switched into real estate, moving first to Waldorf and then to Port Tobacco, but never leaving Charles County. He had three children, then divorced Jane and married again. By 1991, he owned a nightclub in La Plata, an antiques shop and a White Plains auctioneer's business called W&Z Realty. He drove a Mercedes with the vanity plate “SOLD2U” and cultivated his reputation as a fun-loving good ol' boy with an annual pig and oyster roast. In October 1983, the Internal Revenue Service took the income stream he was receiving from his mother's trust to clear a little over $78,000 in unpaid federal taxes.

The six shacks Zantzinger illegally rented out had no running water, sewers or heating

Every now and again, one reporter or another would notice the anniversary of Hattie Carroll's death had come around again, and approach Zantzinger for an interview, but he always refused. It's a tribute to Simon's skills as a journalist that he persuaded Zantzinger to see him at all in 1988, but his first impression was less dramatic than the reporter might have hoped.
“I found Zantzinger a disappointing lump of a man, with small dark eyes and black hair thinning from behind,” Simon writes. “The eyes followed me angrily as I offered up my two-sides-to-every-story patter, trying to get him to talk. ‘There was a girl come down here from Baltimore five years ago,’ he said. ‘I didn't talk to her. And one before that. I got nothing to say.’”
Simon pressed on, encouraging Zantzinger to list all the ways he believed Dylan's song had wronged him. “Zantzinger ran through all of this,” Simon says. “He knew the song and its equivocations. He knew precisely the historical role to which it had consigned him. [...] ‘I know that I caused that woman's death,’ he said. ‘I'm responsible. Me talking does nothing for that woman or her family. Just put this in your article: I admire and respect the Carroll family for their decision not to talk publicly. Like them, I think the best thing to do is let it rest.’” (28)
Simon also raised the question of the $25,000 which Zantzinger gave the Carroll family back in 1963. Heylin describes this sum as “damages”, but Simon hints at a different explanation.
“I told him that the Carroll children would not talk,” Simon writes. “He acknowledged that he had paid them money in an out-of-court settlement.” This suggests that one condition of the payment was a ban on the Carroll family talking, and if that's the case, then Zantzinger could hardly cite their reluctance to speak as support for his own silence. It's possible also that he meant “settlement” in a stricter legal sense, and that the payment was made to stave off the threat of a civil case from the bereaved Carroll family. Until they feel free to speak, we simply won't know.
Zantzinger returned to the headlines in April 1991, when the Maryland Independent carried a front-page story saying he'd been collecting rents of $200 a month on “some beat-up old wooden shacks” in Patuxent Woods which he hadn't actually owned since 1986. Charles County had confiscated the shacks that year because Zantzinger owed it over $18,000 in unpaid property taxes.
The six shacks, which had no running water, no sewers, no outhouses and no heating, were occupied by poor black families, who had to empty their chamber pots in the woods near the shallow wells they relied on for drinking water. The Washington Post calculated that Zantzinger had illegally collected from $600 to $10,364 per household on these shacks after they were confiscated by the county, the sums reaching over $64,000 in total.