An Ordinary Afternoon, And Then…
By Reno Bailey
The date “9/11” will be forever remembered for that sorrowful day in 2001 when the twin towers came down, but we had our own tragedy exactly 54 years prior, on September 11, 1947.
It was a pleasant, late Summer day in Cliffside. A couple of hours after noon, hands of the mill’s second shift began showing up in the downtown area, using their last free moments to relax and congregate on shady steps and walls. Tuning out the loud quarter-hour pealing of the town clock, perhaps they were discussing news of the day, or baseball: the Yankees and the Dodgers looked to be headed to the World Series only days away.
In the mill, the 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. workers, including 17-year old Billie Condrey, were looking forward to the first shift’s end. Billie, a loom cleaner in the weave room, was son of Edgar and Bonnie Simmons Condrey. His current girlfriend was Rachel Packard, a daughter of 43-year-old Lee Packard and his wife Florence.
Loom fixer Lee Packard was among those waiting to go into the mill. He and others were sitting on a cement wall in front of Hamrick’s Grocery, directly across the street from the Memorial Building.
At first, no one paid attention to a large truck rounding the sharp curve just yards away. It was a Duke Power truck, pulling a trailer loaded with a 65-foot power pole. As the trailer made the turn, the heavy wooden pole came loose, swung around, damaged four or five parked automobiles, then knocked down a cement street light a few feet away from where Packard was sitting. The shaft of the street light fell across him, injuring him fatally. Also injured were Mr. and Mrs. Berry Jones and a Negro man who had been riding atop the power pole. Several people nearby had a close call but were uninjured.
Dr. G.O. Moss did what he could for Packard, then had him rushed to Rutherford Hospital, probably in an ambulance from an Avondale funeral home, accompanied by Packard’s brother-in-law, Robert Sparks. Buren Lee Packard died at 4:00 o’clock, from, according to the death certificate, “shock, due to a compound fracture of the pelvis.”
R.D. Hodson, driver of the truck, was taken into custody by Officers Woodrow Roach and Harvey Moore and later released under $2500 bond pending investigation of the accident.
On Saturday, a large crowd attended Lee’s funeral at the Baptist church, where he was a member. He was buried in Cliffside cemetery. He was survived by a large circle of friends and by his wife, Florence Bostic Packard; two daughters, Marjorie and Rachel; seven brothers, Erskine, Furman, Clyde, Hubert, Buster, Howard and Herbert; and two sisters, Mrs. Mary C. Gamble and Mrs. Evalee Baskin.
Billie Condrey and Rachel Packard continued dating and married about a year later. At some point during that year, Billie accompanied the Packards to the courthouse in Rutherfordton, where a settlement was reached with Duke Power, awarding the family $10,000—in cash. Billie remembers taking the money to Cliffside and depositing it in the widow’s account in the Haynes Bank.
Although Florence Packard lived for many years after Lee’s death, she never remarried. When she died in 1985, it was intended that she be buried beside Lee in the Cliffside Cemetery. Adding insult to sorrow, the soil at the burial site was so rocky it was impossible to dig her grave. She had to be interred instead at Cleveland Memorial Park. Lee’s remains were exhumed and moved to the same cemetery.
I needed to confirm some fact or another, so I called Ben Humphries, the man who knows just about everything about everything. After the hellos, I asked if he had his “memory cap” on. “You know,” he replied, “I sit around here so much by myself that, unless somebody calls or comes by and asks me a question, I don’t know whether I’ve even got a memory or not!” Ben is a hoot.
So I asked: Was he near downtown on September 11, 1947, the day Lee Packard was killed?
“No, I had just got on the little county bus and was on the way to Shelby. I didn’t learn about the accident ‘til I got back to Cliffside. But I really admired Lee. I use to shine shoes in Rob Sparks’ barber shop. Rob was Lee’s brother-in-law, you know, Florence Packard and Ebber Sparks were sisters. Lee would come around the shop a lot, and I got to know him and liked him very much.”
Thanks to Billie Condrey for contributing to this article.
This article previously appeared the the Fall 2014 issue of The Cliffside Chimes.