On 8 February 1963 a Baltimore socialite struck Hattie Carroll with a lightweight cane. She was a mother of eleven children (not ten, as Dylan sings) and suffered from arteriosclerosis. She collapsed and died the next day of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Her attacker, whose father was active in Maryland politics, was convicted of manslaughter and escaped with a light sentence. Dylan told Robert Shelton that he "converted this drama into a song with...a structure from Francois Villon ("No Direction Home" by Robert Shelton, page 215). In the "Biograph" booklet Dylan says "the set pattern to the song, I think, is based on Brecht, The Ship, The Black Freighter". Of this song Dylan has said [source?] "I wrote Hattie Carroll in a small notebook in a restaurant on 7th Avenue I felt I had a lot in common with this situation and was able to manifest my feelings."
(thanks to Ben Taylor)
Heylin writes in Behind the Shades (p. 92) that Hattie Carroll is based on the traditional "Mary Hamilton". I don't know what he's talking about.
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