William Zantzinger, the subject of Bob Dylan's 1963 protest song "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," has died at age 69 according to a local paper in Maryland. In 1963, a 24-year-old Zantzinger was at a Baltimore hotel when he struck Hattie Carroll - a 51-year-old black barmaid - in the head and shoulders with a toy cane. Details of the attack vary, but most claim he was enraged she wasn't serving him quickly enough. A distraught Carroll, who suffered from high blood pressure and an enlarged heart, returned to the kitchen where she complained to a co-worker about Zantzinger - and quickly collapsed and died. An autopsy stated she died of a brain hemorrhage and there was no mark on her head from the cane. Zantzinger was eventually charged with involuntary manslaughter due to the "tremendous emotional upsurge" caused by his attack. He paid a $25,000 fine and served a six-month prison sentence.
Bob Dylan, at the height of his protest period, read about the incident and turned it into one of early masterpieces (click above for footage of the singer performing the tune on the Steve Allen Show). The facts of the song have been disputed over the years, largely due to the fact that it implies Carroll was beaten to death or "slain by a cane."After getting out of jail, Zantzinger got involved in real estate. In 1986 the government took possession of some of his low-income houses due to unpaid taxes. Zantzinger continued to charge rent on property he no longer owned — even suing people who fell behind in payments. The con caught up to him, and by 1991 he was arrested, fined $62,000 and served 2,400 hours of community service.
The Dylan song followed him around his whole life, though he steadfastly refused to talk about it with reporters. In 2001 Bob Dylan biographical Howard Sounes actually got a quote out of him. "[Dylan] is a no-account son a bitch," Zantzinger said. "He's just like a scum bag of the earth. I should have sued him and put him in jail. [The song is] a total lie." Clinton Heylin — perhaps the world's authority on all things Dylan — seems to agree. "Dylan's concern was not the fact themselves but how they might fit with his preconceived notions of injustice and corruption," he wrote in Behind The Shades. "That the song itself is a masterpiece of drama and wordplay does not excuse Dylan's distortions, and 36 years on he continues to misrepresent poor William Zantzinger in concert."