The last thing you expect to see when you drive though a cemetery is a bird perched on the branch of a concrete tree.
That tree, which stands alongside a concrete bench in Medford's Eastwood Cemetery, marks the grave of Emma Jansen.
Henry Jansen left more than Emma's cemetery marker for us to admire. Most of his work we will probably never know, but there may be no more memorable example than the gray and white stonework of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, located at W. 5th Street and N. Oakdale Avenue in Medford. Completed in 1916, Jansen was the project's contractor.
The concrete tree marking Emma Jansen's grave is on your left, near the end of the main entrance road to Eastwood Cemetery. From Interstate 5, Exit 27, follow the signs to Barnett Road. At the stoplight, continue straight across onto Highland Drive. When you reach the roundabout, exit left onto Siskiyou Blvd. Be alert. The cemetery entrance is a narrow graveled road almost immediately on your right.
We know almost nothing about Emma, but wondering how and why someone would so uniquely commemorate her life and death has revealed a few fragments of the story.
Emma Hansher was born in Aurora, Ill., June 24, 1867. She married Henry Jansen in 1888, and the couple lived on the south side of Chicago in Hyde Park with their only child, Florence.
Henry Jansen, son of a bricklayer, was a mason and stone carver born in Watertown, Wisc., in 1862. Although he was still working in the masonry trade, for some reason, early in the last century, he moved his family to Mount Pleasant, Texas.
While Emma took care of the house, daughter Florence was Henry's company stenographer and bookkeeper.
Perhaps Henry read some of the glamorous newspaper stories touting the opportunities available in Oregon, and in particular, Southern Oregon.
In February 1912, the family stepped off a train in Medford. They were "making a tour of the Pacific Coast country," said a Mail Tribune reporter, "with a view to locating somewhere."
Just three months later, Henry and Emma had decided on Medford. Henry set up a cement brick and block factory at the corner of 10th and Fir streets, and although he would find success, he had managed to arrive just in time to see the Valley's booming economy begin to bust.
By fall, he agreed to a partnership with the Schrump brothers from Minneapolis, who brought in a much-needed infusion of cash and allowed Henry to stay on as treasurer and manager of the entire operation.
Less than a year later, Henry had his company back. The Schrumps were moving on to the much more lucrative Portland-Beaver Cement Co. in Gold Hill, which was about to build one of Oregon's largest cement plants.
By the end of 1915, Henry was alone. Florence had married a California machinist and moved to Los Angeles. In May, Emma's health had begun to fail and on Sept. 25, at age 49, she died.
With his artistic skill, Henry fashioned a concrete tree and bench and placed it on Emma's grave. Attached to the tree is a concrete book with the dates of her birth and death recorded and a single word that expressed his loss — "Broken."
Henry stayed a few more years in Medford and then he left for good. In 1919 he left a simple advertisement in a concrete trade journal, offering his cement block factory for sale at a "sacrifice" on "account of death."
At least the last 15 years of his life were spent near his daughter in Alameda, Calif. He died there in 1945.
We may never know much more about his life, but one thing's for sure. Henry Jansen left us with a concrete and indestructible marker of his love and memories.
Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at email@example.com.