Monday, January 12, 2009

William Zantzinger--dead at last

A Southern US racist who killed a Black barmaid for serving his drink "too slow" (it cost him six months in jail, to be served after he had harvested his tobacco crop) has finally done something right in his miserable life. He died.

William Devereux "Billy" Zantzinger was the "William Zanzinger" of Bob Dylan's immortal "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll." He was a Southern plantation owner in 1963, a loutish, rich 24-year-old out on the town. By the time he got around to beating the 51-year-old mother of eleven children, Hattie Carroll, he had already drunkenly assaulted several other "n-----rs" with the toy cane that killed her.

He shrugged off his sentence by saying, "I'll just miss a lot of snow." His wife at the time protested that "Nobody treats his n-----rs as well as Billy does around here." It has been suggested that his light sentence was to keep him in the county lockup and out of state prison where there were too many Blacks who might have turned on him.

After the notoriety had died down, Zantzinger went on to become a tax delinquent, and to charge high rents to Blacks for properties he didn't even own.

Even when he had owned them, prior to their confiscation by the county, the poorly-maintained properties in Patuxent Woods and Indian Head were in violation of county habitability codes, lacking water and sewer connections. Lacking even outhouses, the human waste dumped on the ground contaminated the water in the shallow wells. He was charging as much as $200 a month for these buildings, which also lacked modern heat. In one example, a four-room shanty contained at least six people.

But the times they were a changin'. He was packed off to jail immediately to serve a 19-month sentence, and fined $50,000. He was fined a further $2000 in 1992 by the Maryland Real Estate Commission, which called his former properties "ramshackle, primitive structures reminiscent of slave quarters." Ah, nostalgia.

Dylan's unauthorized biographer, Clinton Heylin, thinks "poor Zantzinger" got a bum rap. (Heylin's critical genius is evident from his stated biographical theme: "a constant, unresolvable conflict between man and artist." Deep.) Zantzinger didn't like Dylan either: "He’s a no-account son of a bitch, he’s just like a scum of a scum bag of the earth, I should have sued him and put him in jail."

Oooh, temper, temper. Off you go now, Billy-Bob, and don't forget the marshmallows.

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