By Frances Figart, Creative Services Director
Today is the anniversary of the death of George Masa, a small Japanese man who, in the early 20th century, made a big impact on those who knew him in the Asheville area and in the Smokies. An episode of GSMA’s new podcast Smoky Mountain Air is dedicated to him and ongoing research into his life to inform a forthcoming biography.
“I do not recall when or why I first became interested in George Masa,” writes William A. Hart, Jr. “Maybe my curiosity was piqued as I passed Masa Knob while on Appalachian Trail outings, or perhaps I was motivated by infrequent references to him in publications about the Great Smokies. I just don't know.”
In the mid-90s, a friend requested that Hart write an article about Masa, and during the ensuing research, Masa’s life came alive for the scholar.
“I marveled at his motivation and capabilities; celebrated his contributions to the successful creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Appalachian Trail; hurt for him when he struggled financially; and felt sympathy when his treasured friend, Horace Kephart, died tragically in an automobile accident.”
Hart wrote an article that appeared along with a selection of Masa's photographs in one of our ‘missing issues’ of Smokies Life, Volume 2, #2. His dedication to researching Masa has also inspired research for a Masa biography by award-winning author Janet McCue and renowned filmmaker Paul Bonesteel, slated for publication in late 2022. Hart is contributing to their research for the book.
“Perhaps most moving to me was Masa's humility and selflessness in dedicating himself to causes in which he believed, putting them before his personal welfare, never seeking acclaim for his contributions,” Hart writes. “I am especially delighted that the Great Smoky Mountains Association has resurrected the ‘missing issue’ of Smokies Life magazine featuring George Masa, with whom I have walked for the past quarter-century. I hope others will appreciate him as I have.”
The missing issues of Smokies Life are no longer in print but are available to view online at SmokiesInformation.org/MissingIssues.
A digitized collection of George Masa’s photographs can be found online in the virtual "North Carolina Room" of Buncombe County Library's website.
To learn more about George Masa and the latest biographical research about this Smokies legend, check out the recently released interview with writer–filmmaker duo Janet McCue (co-author of Back of Beyond) and Paul Bonesteel (creator of The Mystery of George Masa) on GSMA’s brand-new podcast, Smoky Mountain Air.
Photo: Dressed in his typical attire, George Masa sets up for a shot at Shining Rock in 1933. Photo by Juanita WIlson, North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, NC.