Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Researching George Masa

Back in 1999 I began a research and production effort that led to the making of The Mystery of George Masa documentary film. With it's release in 2002 to the PBS system the 86 minute film aired in about 40% of the United States. This year, a one-hour version will be released to the PBS system to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Masa's inclusion in Ken Burns' new film The National Parks: America's Best Idea

My full length film is, to date, the most accurate and extensive collection of research about Masa and his life. While it contains only a fraction of the information that we have on Masa, it does reveals a broad overview of his life, introduces the discoveries that the film made and also poses the most interesting questions that are still unresolved. Bill Hart Jr.'s fine article George Masa: The Best Mountaineer. In May We All Remember Well: A Journal of the History & Cultures of Western North Carolina, vol. 1. Edited by R. S. Brunk, was the starting off point for our film research. It is accurate, informative and vital for anyone doing research on Masa.

With the expectation that many people will hear about George Masa for the first time, I'm making this blog so that people that are interested in researching the story or who come across relevant information about the significant mysteries that exist about Masa have a place to contact me, and post this information for others.

Here is a list of what I consider the most important questions that surround the story of George Masa.

-Proof of his life before he arrived in Asheville, NC in December 1914. Evidence of someone named Masahara Izuka, George Masa, (or a combination of those names)arriving into and/or living and working in the United States between 1900 and 1915. He was known to have traveled from San Francisco to New Orleans to Asheville, NC, and also to have spent time in Washington DC, Sulpher Springs, VA, and Denver, Colorado.

-Photos by George Masa (please see the next post for photo ID clues). Thousands of his photos are missing. Many were sold after his death to a photographer named Elliot Lyman Fisher who lived in Asheville, NC until the mid-1950's and then died in Florida in 1968. There is no trace of a single Masa image from the thousands Fisher bought.

-Connection to, or evidence of any surviving family members in Japan. This will be the topic of a future post, identifying what we know about Masa's family in Japan. Due to the time that has passed, language differences and sheer number of people on the planet, this is perhaps the most unlikely mystery to be solved.

These are just the top 3, I will add more to this soon.

Thanks for reading.


  1. VERY INTERESTED IN YOUR BLOG ON GEORGE MASA. My Dad, GO Shepherd Sr. Worked with George, I have a picture of them at the Cherokee Indian Fair where they were filming for Fox news. Dad was a very prominent citizen. He started WWNC (then ABC) in the backroom of the Asheville Battery Company.He was sent by the Governor to Washington to lobby for the Parkway in 1935, and he was commissioner of Kenilworth Parks under Mayor Childs. If you have an interest I would be glad t6o talk with you. GO Shepherd (Jr.).

  2. I liked the story about George Masa. It showed one of the best attributes of Japanese American culture, Loyalty. His Loyalty to the Park and Kephart, helped preserve for all of US Americans was is rare and precious. In my mind I can draw similarities between him and other Japanese Americans such as the brave men of the 442nd. George is a Hero too. He deserves to be honored. I thought it might be appropriate for Perhaps the Park service and maybe Japanese-American groups to collaborate in dedicating a memorial in his honor, maybe something close to Kephart’s Memorial or in the Park itself. Even if only a marker of some kind. I found it sad that he was cremated and buried alone, the rest of his story is inspirational.

    -Victor Anzalone

  3. I was heartbroken to learn from ken burns' natl park documentary, that george masa wasnt buried beside kephardt as he'd wished. Is there any effort to right this sad story?

    1. Hello, thanks for inquiring. There have been people who have wanted to see George Masa's body moved to Kephart's side in Bryson City. I've looked into it and both physically and legally it would be complicated, but conceivably possible to mount such an effort. While it certainly was his wish, it was tough to facilitate then and remains so today.