HAGERSTOWN — There were plenty of contrasts Sunday during a ceremony celebrating the 50th anniversary of the trial of William Zantzinger, who was convicted in Washington County of manslaughter in the beating death of black barmaid Hattie Carroll.
Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown was among the dignitaries who spoke during the ceremony, but 50 years ago, Brown could not have held such a position given the color of his skin, said D. Bruce Poole, whose father was a prosecutor in the case.
Brown recognized the case’s three prosecutors — Charles E. Moylan Jr., Lynn Meyers and David Poole — for pursuing a case on behalf of a black person.
Doing so in 1963 could have been unpopular, or even dangerous, for the three, Brown said.
“Yet they stepped up and sought justice,” Brown told a standing-room-only crowd of an estimated 400 people Sunday afternoon at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.
Local dignitaries and others from across the state turned out in the museum’s atrium to remember the case and the victim who was immortalized by Bob Dylan’s song “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.”
On the night of Feb. 8, 1963, or sometime in the early hours of the next day, Carroll, 51, encountered William “Billy” Devereux Zantzinger, a 24-year-old wealthy white tobacco farmer from Charles County, Md., as she worked during the Spinsters’ Ball at the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore.
Magazine articles chronicling the incident said an inebriated Zantzinger shouted racial slurs at Carroll and struck her with a cane he was carrying because she wasn’t quick enough getting a drink he demanded.
Carroll died after being taken to a hospital.
It was decided that Zantzinger would be tried in Hagerstown after the defendant’s attorneys sought a change of venue.
A number of items related to the case were on display in the atrium Sunday, including the cane that was used as evidence against Zantzinger in his trial.
During the ceremony, Brown presented citations from Gov. Martin O’Malley to the prosecutors for their work in the case. Meyers and Moylan, who is Washington County Circuit Judge Dana Moylan Wright’s uncle, were called to the podium to receive their citations. Because David Poole, a former Washington County state’s attorney, died in 2005, his citation was given posthumously and presented to D. Bruce Poole and his sister, Diane Poole Laughlin.
Moylan talked to the crowd about his work on the case and although he credited Dylan with keeping Carroll’s memory alive, he said Dylan took Zantzinger’s conviction for granted.
“It took a lot of hard work over four to five months,” said Moylan, who recalled the “hours spent at night in the bar library in Baltimore.”
Although Carroll was beaten, her death certificate said Carroll died of natural causes, advanced arteriosclerosis, Moylan said.
“How in the world are we going to prove homicide when the death certificate says died of natural causes?” Moylan asked.
The defense team argued that Carroll in fact died of natural causes, Moylan said.
But Moylan said the hero in the case was assistant medical examiner Charles Petty, who successfully established an important factor for the prosecution.
Petty was able to establish that when Zantzinger struck Carroll, it caused an “emotional surge, a surge in blood pressure, fear, resentment, anger, a combination of all of them. (Carroll’s) blood pressure absolutely shot sky high” and a blood vessel broke in her brain, Moylan said.
The cane and other items will be on display at the museum through April. Then they will be displayed at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture in Baltimore.
A. Skipp Sanders, executive director of the Baltimore museum, spoke positively about how the country has been able to move through abolition and the struggles of the civil rights era to today.
“It took a whole collection of good people, not just one ethnic group struggling on its own, but the whole collection of good people to fight for the rights of all,” Sanders said.
Some humorous moments were sprinkled in during the ceremony, like when Brown said he listened to Dylan’s song with his children.
“My kids wondered what that sound was coming out of my iPhone,” Brown said.