Mason Bishop a True Renaissance Man

Mason Bishop playing one of the basses that he built himself.
Mason Bishop playing one of the basses that he built himself.

By Sue Moore

[Editor’s Note: It has been the policy of this newspaper to celebrate the lives of illustrious members of the community while they are still alive. With the death of Mason Bishop, who would have been 99 in less than a month, we felt it necessary to tell the community about his accomplishments and contributions over his long life span.]

Those who had an interest in Vicksburg history could always get the straight scoop from Mason Bishop, who had a sharp memory of events and told stories about the old days right up until the day he passed away August 16. He made miniature replicas of long-gone buildings in the village that live as they existed in their prime on to grace the walls of the Depot Museum.

He was a voracious reader of books, preferably history books. He would discourse on almost any topic, especially the Civil war. What he loved most, from his earliest days, was making things. For Mason, making something was as much fun as using it. But Mason was frugal and used scraps whenever possible. He built his own toys as a child, according to his son, Steve. He loved to scavenge local dumps for usable items such as rubber inner tubes. He made sling shots out of them and wheels for go carts that he and his friends pushed downhill. He made the first electric lawn mower in town, terrifying the neighbors and stopping traffic when he had it out to cut the grass in the early 50s.

Some of the many items he built include three different boats, beginning with a rowboat that he docked on the southwest corner of Indian Lake. He graduated from the rowboat to a catamaran and finally to a Newfoundland fishing boat, called Noah’s Ark by the neighbors, which he intended to launch on the inland waterway.

Unfortunately, his wife Celene developed Meniere’s disease, an inner ear problem that caused her to easily lose her balance. So he chopped up the big boat, mostly built from scrap, for more scrap, saying it was useless sitting in his garage. The ice fishing boat got him into a bit of trouble with the police. He sailed it off the ice and onto open water on Indian Lake, barely surviving but failing to notify the police, who thought perhaps someone had drowned. Instead he swam to land, knocked on the door of a resident and went on home to warm up.

He rebuilt a 1914 Maxwell as he had a love for antique cars. He drove it in several parades and sold it eventually–only to buy two Triumph TR-3 sports cars. He had a great time with those since he loved autos, according to Steve.

He started playing golf at the age of 12, almost always on State’s golf course. His father, Byron, helped to build it by turning a field into the VixCraft golf course, later to be State’s between VW and W Avenue toward Schoolcraft. For 9 holes his score was usually in the low 30’s and he was one of the founding members of the Monday night golf league at State’s, playing until his late 80s.

His musical endeavors were a important part of his life. He had learned to play the trumpet without lessons and was first chair in the Vicksburg high school band. He was good enough to earn a spot in a U.S. Army band upon enlistment, and toured throughout the United States. He wanted to make a living through his music, but upon getting married to a young lady from Rockford, Ill., decided instead to settle down back in Vicksburg and become a printer. The life of a musician on the road was not something he wanted to subject his new bride to, especially with their first child on the way.

He joined the Bobby Davidson band in Kalamazoo and played trumpet until his teeth gave out. This was a big disappointment to him, but not to be denied, he switched to trombone and kept his music career alive another 20 years. When the trombone became too hard to play, he didn’t give up, and switched to the double bass. This meant he needed to build his own instrument. He built four basses, one a traveling bass to fit in his car, a plywood bass, and two regular stand up basses, largely from salvaged wood.

During his retirement, he built a lot of miniatures including three shops with large windows with tiny replicas of stringed instruments, brass instruments and a furniture shop. He made porcelain figurines of different music groups that are unique, using magnifying glasses that had a special lens. To do this he had to make a lot of his own tools, said Steve. “He was a very ingenious man, who had as much fun making things, as using them.”

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