Song of the Day #2,669: ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’ – Bob Dylan

timestheyareachanging‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’ is a traditional protest song typical of Bob Dylan’s first few albums. This one appears on The Times They Are A-Changin’, Dylan’s most socially and politically charged record, which he released when he was just 22.

The song chronicles the true story of racist tobacco farm heir William Zantzinger (Dylan changed the spelling) who assaulted a 51-year-old black maid with a cane, after which she died. Zantzinger was charged with first-degree murder but ended up serving only six months. This was in early 1963.

It’s a tragic and infuriating story any way you look at it, but the facts of the case complicate things a bit.

Hattie Carroll was in poor health already and it wasn’t the blow itself but rather the stress from the incident that ultimately led to her death hours later. Zantzinger was ultimately responsible for her demise, but the song’s first lines suggest he beat her to death on the spot.

Of course, he probably would have gotten a light sentence even if he’d shot her dead. Things haven’t changed all that much in 50 years.

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’
And the cops were called in and his weapon took from him
As they rode him in custody down to the station
And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears

William Zanzinger, who at twenty-four years
Owns a tobacco farm of six hundred acres
With rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him
And high office relations in the politics of Maryland
Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders
And swear words and sneering, and his tongue it was snarling
In a matter of minutes on bail was out walking
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears

Hattie Carroll was a maid of the kitchen
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn’t even talk to the people at the table
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table
And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level
Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
That sailed through the air and came down through the room
Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle
And she never done nothing to William Zanzinger
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears

In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain’t pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught ’em
And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin’ that way without warnin’
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence
Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears

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2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #2,669: ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Dana says:

    I’m frankly surprised the guy got any jail time at all. Must be because it was Maryland. In the Deep South, he would have been given a parade.

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