Wednesday, September 30, 2009

George Masa's story in Ken Burn's film

On September 30th, 2009 George Masa, his story and some of his photos will reach more people at one time than ever before. In the broadcast of Ken Burn's new documentary series America's Best Idea: The National Parks, Masa's role in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be described and his unique story told. For those of you searching for info about Masa please read the first post to this blog back in June, and see the other material on for additional info and a method for purchasing the 90 documentary; The Mystery of George Masa.

This blog is here to field questions, theories or gather additional information about Masa. I'll continue to do whatever I can to solve some of the enduring 'mysteries'.


  1. Hi! Just saw the segment on George Masa in Ken Burn's The National Parks. It seems quite sad that he wasn't buried next to his friend. Has anyone ever proposed moving him? Seems like it would be nice thing to do in thanks for all he did to help save the Great Smokies.

  2. Hi, I watched Ken Burns program tonight and was fascinated about George Masa. I'm of Japanese decent (3rd generation) so I was very interested in him, although I don't have any any personal knowledge of him. But I did just search of the web and came across this and wondered if you already had this in your collection?

    Brian Yamamoto

  3. Sylvia, there is no doubt that Masa made his wishes clear that he wanted to be buried in Bryson City next to his 'buddy' Kep. A number of thing interfered, primarily WW2. Masa's friends were planning to move his body when WW2 broke out, making it financially and politically inopportune. Since my film was made, there have been some folks who suggest it, but no active effort. With no known relatives to approve it I'm not sure if or how it would be done.

  4. Brian, those photos are part of the UNC-Asheville collection. One of the repositories of Masa's known work. Most of these photos made their way to the archive via one of Masa's early business associates, Ewart Ball (and family). There are some scenic images that show his interest in the outdoors but they are a wonderful document mostly of Masa's 'work for hire' efforts in the late 19-teens and early 1920's as he was a hard working photographer. I don't know the exact number of images,but there are hundreds in that collection and they represent probably the most intact collection of his work.

  5. Today the Great Smoky Mountains Association (of which Bill Hart is the Board Chair) received from the Kephart Family for review and scanning a collection of almost 200 original George Masa photographs. The photographs were sent by Mr. Masa to Horace Kephart and passed down 3 generations. Most have the identification numbers in the corner, the studio stamp on the back and many landmarks are identified in Mr. Masa's handwriting. It's an amazing collection that I had the privilege of seeing first hand today.

  6. Lynda,

    I have just heard about this exciting development myself and look forward to seeing the photos and writing a more extensive blog post about it soon. I spoke with Libby Hargrave (Kephart's great granddaughter) and it sure sounds like an important collection of photos, probably including prints of photos that have not been seen in many years. This, combined with the publishing of Kephart's Smoky Mountain Magic novel after 80 years of it being 'lost' is nothing short of phenomenal. I look forward to saying more about both of these soon.

  7. I was wanting to find a book about george masa and his photos for a gift ...does such a book exist?

  8. Hello Anonymous... There is no book, coffee table or otherwise that fully tells the story of Masa or displays his photos. The subject has been suggested to me as a project, but I simply have not had the time to write a book and manage all the details that would go along with it. There is a lot of information that was not included in our film about Masa and it would be a BIG project.

    The best account of his life is an article (with a reasonable number of photos) in a book called: May We All Remember Well – Vol. 1 – A Journal of the History & Culture of Western NC

    See the description below for more info. The article is by William Hart and was written before we made the documentary "The Mystery of George Masa".

    Edited and Published by Robert S. Brunk

    A collection of research and descriptive reports on the history and peoples of Western North Carolina including Native American, European, African American and other cultures from the time of their appearance in Western North Carolina to the present, with a focus on information that is at some risk of being lost. The articles in this journal present a wide range of written and visual information. Narratives, and in some cases secondary sources, are reported because in some settings they are the only information available, and they provide beginning points for later researchers. All of the reports in this journal are part of an ongoing research project into the material and non-material cultures of Western North Carolina.

  9. I enjoyed the documentary of George Masa - it was beautifully done. I've enjoyed his work for years and always felt he was never given the attention and exposure he deserved - your film does a great job to introduce him to those interested in the NC mountains and its history, as well as the Smokey Mountain National Park. It's a DVD everyone should add the their collection - thank you for this gift of art.

    Dana Mathews