On Saturday, June 28, a funeral ceremony took place in Giles County to honor a man long lost to time and circumstance. Isaac Newton Mason was a Tennessee Calvaryman during the Civil War, who died in 1862. Originally buried in the old Mason Cemetery, the marker on his grave did not survive through the century. When all the graves were moved last year in anticipation of the new Industrial Park, he became a man without an identity. As recently chronicled in your paper by reporter Claudia Johnson, the rare cast-iron casket and the man inside embarked on a journey to the Smithsonian Institution this past May, where renowned forensic anthropologist Doug Owsley was able to confirm that he was, indeed, Isaac Newton Mason.
As a producer for NBC News Productions, I had the privilege of filming the identification effort for an upcoming Discovery Channel documentary. While the forensic side of the story was fascinating, it was important to me that I.N. Mason not be reduced to mere bones on a table. When I was told by Claudia Johnson that a ceremony for him was planned at the new cemetery sometime in the Fall, I was disappointed that I would not be able to include it in the documentary, since it would be a wonderful nod to his life and humanity. I was surprised and delighted when she told me that many folks in the community would be happy to put something together sooner.
In only a few short weeks, members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Sons of the Confederate Veterans and many Civil War re-enactors were able to do something truly extraordinary – plan a funeral appropriate for the man and the era. In the heat of that June morning, wearing heavy mid-1800 mourning clothes and uniforms, these dedicated people honored I.N. Mason with a ceremony befitting a Civil War solider and a son of Giles County. I was touched not only by the lovely proceedings, but by the incredible effort by all those involved. I would especially like to thank Tony Townsend of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, who not only researched funerals of that time period for historical accuracy, but arranged to have a path cut to the cemetery to accommodate the horses ridden by the participants. And thanks to Cathy Wood, president of the local United Daughters of the Confederacy, who organized the women’s roles. The laying of Queen Anne’s lace and tiger lilies were touching moments during the ceremony. Although I could not attend myself, I am told that the procession over the hill and the 21-gun salute left few dry eyes at the grave site.
My deepest gratitude to everyone who participated. The ceremony is a beautiful ending not only to my documentary, but to a search for identity, and the acknowledgement of a life lived and lost in Giles County.
Producer, NBC News Productions