On 16 August 1940 West Virginia University English professor
Louis Chappell recorded the expressive singing of eighty-four year old farmer
and stonemason Christopher Columbus “Lum” Pack, in a grocery store/tavern in
Atenville at Harts in Lincoln County. In
August 2019, seventy-nine years later, Mr. Pack’s granddaughter, Jewell Pack
Frye, recalled that he had informed Chappell that he often sang with his niece
Sarah Elizabeth Pack Workman, and he urged Chappell to record them
together. So on 22 August the professor
returned to Harts, Lum Pack took him to fetch Sarah, Chappell recorded more of
Pack’s songs for a total of twenty-eight ballads and songs, and Sarah does
indeed sing along with him, rather quietly, on some of them. And then Chappell turned his attention to
Sarah’s vigorous and confident unaccompanied solo singing and recorded a
treasure trove of twenty-two of her songs.
Mr. Pack’s repertoire was a fascinating and varied one. He sang several Child ballads (Little Mathy Groves, Trooper and the Maid, Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor), other quite old songs of British origin, two Civil War songs, a ballad based on an actual 1893 murder in North Carolina, and other American folk songs like In the Pines. Although he was not a fiddler, he seems to have been fond of singing the often humorous floating verse couplets that fiddlers sometimes sing when they’re playing mostly instrumental fiddle tunes; he always chucked at the end, as if recalling the country dances he must have gone to in his younger years.
One of the things that makes Mr. Pack’s singing so
compelling and almost unique is the way that he so often sings of women’s
hardships and those who betray them with such empathy and compassion in his
voice that it almost seems that he is singing from a woman’s point of view. Two
examples of this are his rendition of the American ballad Silver Dagger and his
singing of The Trooper and the Maid. In
the former, the parents of a young couple “strove to part them day and night”
to such an extent that their daughter “pulled out a silver dagger and pierced
it through her own dear heart” and when her lover found her body he picked up the
bloody weapon and inflicted a mortal wound on himself. The Trooper and the Maid narrates the story
of a woman who was seduced by a soldier and then abandoned by him after he took
his pleasure. This ballad is sometimes heard
as an almost humorous bawdy song but Helena Triplett Faust wrote this in the
notes to her album entitled Green Are the Woods, in which she sings Mr. Pack’s
“I have heard this sung with a jaunty rhythm, conveying a
sense of sporting fun, but this particular version, learned from Bob Ratliff
and C.C. Lum [Pack] of the Chappell collection, accentuates the real tragedy of
-Lum and Victoria Lambert Pack. Photo courtesy of John Cuthbert, WV Regional and History Center
Christopher Columbus “Lum” Pack, a son of Samuel Pack and Susannah Nelson Pack, was born in August 1860 in Wayne County, but by 1870 his family was at Harts Creek in Lincoln County where his father, who had enlisted in the Union army when Lum was only a year old, was farming his own land. In 1880 the Pack family was back in the Grant district of Wayne County, engaged in farming. In 1882 Lum Pack married Victoria Lambert in Logan County and was in 1900 still farming in Wayne County and he apparently stayed there until sometime before 1930, when according to the census record he was working as a stone mason at Harts in Lincoln County. Around this time he served as a Lincoln County school board member for a time; he’d travel to the town of Hamlin for the meetings, and stay there for the week according to Jewell Pack Frye. His wife passed away at Harts in 1935 and when he died there on 15 December 1944 at the age of eighty-four, his “usual occupation” was recorded as “farmer” on his death certificate. He was buried at the Mountain Home Cemetery just across the border in Wayne County.
—Gloria Goodwin Raheja, February 2021. With thanks to Brandon Kirk who arranged for us to meet Mr. Pack’s granddaughter at the head of the East Fork of Fourteen Mile Creek in Lincoln County, in August 2019.
research for her forthcoming book Logan County Blues: Frank Hutchison in the
Sonic Landscape of the Appalachian Coalfields, and the Louis Chappell
Collection at West Virginia University’s West Virginia and Regional History
Listen to Lum Pack sing for Louis Watson Chappell in August, 1940
-recordings used with permission from the West Virginia and Regional History Center
The Search for Lum Pack’s Grave
Lum’s grave site, unlike some of the others in this
collection, was easy to find. Brandon
Ray Kirk led Gloria Goodwin Rahaja and me on the trip to the Mountain Home
Cemetery in Wayne County, WV. The
cemetery, situated about 1.25 miles from the Lincoln County line, consists of a
clearing about the size of two football fields, and is surrounded by woods for
a good distance in all directions. A small,
cinderblock structure that is the Mountain Home Church, sits about two-thirds
of the way into the clearing, Lum’s gravesite
is near where one enters the clearing from the road.
After locating Lum’s site, we all wandered around the cemetery looking at other stones of interest, and there were several. Of course, I wanted to go into the church building and play a fiddle tune or two. Brandon assured me it would be unlocked, and it was. Hanging on the wall behind the pulpit was a portrait of a Mr. Gilbert “Gib” Moore, grandfather of one of the singers in this collection—Katherine Bell “Katie” Toney.
-The Reverend Gilbert “Gib” Moore, pastor of Mountain Home Church. Photograph by Chris Haddox, 2019
-The Mountain Home Cemetery and Mountain Home Church. Photograph by Chris Haddox, 2019
As expected, the acoustics in the church building were great for fiddling and singing, so I could not pass up the opportunity to offer up a tune/song that may have been sung in that space at some point over the years.