Feb 05, 2013


Photo Caption: The Dec. 4 program is live beginning at 3:30 p.m. at the Columbia campus in the Waymon L. Hickman Building, room 121, and in the interactive classrooms at the Clifton, Lewisburg, Williamson County and Lawrence County campuses. The community is invited to hear this fascinating story told by the one who was there from start to finish. The presentation is free and open to the public.

Columbia State's Claudia Johnson Presents "Finding Private Mason" on Dec. 4

(COLUMBIA, Tenn. - Nov. 16, 2012) - - - The Smithsonian Institution's forensic analysis of a Civil War-era metal coffin and the body of Private Isaac Newton Mason is the subject of a Dec. 4 live presentation, "Finding Private Mason," hosted by Columbia State Community College at all five of its campus locations via interactive television.

"When I began covering relocation of an abandoned cemetery for development of an industrial site, I never imagined the story would take me to the Smithsonian Institution as the remains of a Confederate was examined by a team of experts in forensic anthropology, forensic pathology and historic costuming," said Claudia Johnson, the former journalist who traveled with Mason's coffin to the Smithsonian.

Currently, the director of grants for the Columbia State Office of Advancement, Johnson was a reporter for the Pulaski Citizen in Pulaski, Tenn. when she wrote a series of articles on various aspects of the Mason story, including forensic examination by a world-renowned forensic anthropologist, Dr. Doug Owsley, and forensic pathologist Dr. Larry Cartmell, also known as "the mummy doctor."

Owsley and his scientific team have helped identify the remains of Bosnian war victims, the crew of the Civil War submarine Huntley, bodies of American journalists murdered and burned in Guatemala, the Kennewick man, the remains of David Koresh and other Branch Davidian victims, and Pentagon victims from 9-11. Cartmell is an amateur archeologist who has been testing South American mummies for nicotine and cocaine for more than a decade.

Johnson was the only print journalist allowed to remain in the Smithsonian conservation laboratory throughout the entire examination of the metal burial casket and the autopsy of Mason's body. The Dec. 4 presentation by Johnson will feature photographs of the coffin removal, the autopsy and a Civil War reenactment funeral. Because of her historic research prior to the Smithsonian examination, she was interviewed for the Discovery Channel documentary, "Skeleton Clues," that first aired in 2003. ABC's 20/20 also featured the Mason coffin in a segment called "No Bone Unturned," which will be screened as part of the Dec. 4 presentation.

A 2012 recipient of a Tennessee Historical Commission's Special Commendation for her lifelong work in historic preservation, Johnson is the author of the book, A Page From The Past, published in 2005, which looks at how one community newspaper, the Pulaski Citizen, reported on events and issues during its first 150 years. In 1989, she co-authored "Giles Heirlooms: Historic Recipes and Places" and has since co-authored or edited numerous other historic publications. Johnson is the former president of the Giles County Historical Society, an active member of the Campbellsville Area Association and a member of the William Branch Giles Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. An avid genealogist, she is also an outspoken advocate of preservation of historical resources, especially architecture and paper ephemera. A 1976 graduate of Giles County High, she earned her bachelor's degree in English-journalism from Union University in 1980 and has spent her career in community development, public relations, marketing or news reporting. In 1984, Johnson was appointed one of nine coordinators statewide for Tennessee Homecoming '86. She is the former editor-in-chief of the Cumberland Business Journal, which covers a 15-county region in Tennessee's Upper Cumberland. She served for two years as executive director of the Sgt. York Patriotic Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to carrying forth the educational legacy of World War I hero Alvin C. York.

For additional information on the Mason project, visit www.claudiajohnson.blogspot.com.

Columbia State is a two-year college, serving a nine-county area in southern Middle Tennessee with locations in Columbia, Franklin, Lawrenceburg, Lewisburg and Clifton. As Tennessee's first community college, Columbia State is committed to increasing access and enhancing diversity at all five campuses. Columbia State is a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents, the sixth largest higher education system in the nation. For more information, please visit www.columbiastate.edu.