Are dead people like ice cream? According to Southern Oregon historian Ben Truwe they are: When asked, he has a hard time picking out his most interesting interred subject at Eastwood Cemetery in Medford.
“It’s like choosing your favorite ice cream,” Truwe says.
And in a sense he’s absolutely right. There are many stories at the cemetery that span generations and even serve as a microcosm to bigger events played out on history’s stage far outside this community. It’s hard to choose which are more important, or colorful.
Veterans of service going back to the American Indian wars? Check. The creators of what has become modern commerce? They’re also buried here, together. A top flier on Doolittle’s famous raid on Tokyo? Yep, safely at home here. A victim of the Last Great Train Robbery, tragically killed a day before his wedding? Here.
And if you think politics are heated today, how about a newspaper publisher who killed the town constable? You’ll find Constable George Prescott here, as well.
These stories all reside at Eastwood Cemetery, in what is a quiet, largely untended repository for loved ones, strangely bucolic and right in the heart of Medford.
The Medford IOOF Cemetery, also known as Eastwood Cemetery, was founded in 1890 by the Medford Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The cemetery is on about 20 acres at Siskiyou Boulevard and Highland Drive and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. It was originally on a hill on the outskirts of town, but as times have changed it finds itself in the middle of a growing city.
This small, unassuming cemetery has ripples that extend far into Oregon and beyond. Here’s a closer look.
For many people, the Rogue Valley is primarily known for its pear orchards and the Rogue River. Pioneer Frederick Barneburg has links to both. He came to the Rogue Valley in 1855. He planted the first Bartlett pear trees in the valley and eventually owned over 1,600 acres of land.
In fact, Eastwood Cemetery is located on part of his property. Barneburg also operated a freight wagon business between Medford and Yreka, California, opening up the tiny settlement to the outside world. Unfortunately, he drowned while fishing in the Rogue River in 1907. He was laid to rest at the highest spot in the cemetery.
The Doolittle Raid
Many veterans are buried here, spanning from the Rogue Indian War through the Spanish-American War to World War II and into more modern times.
Perhaps the most famous veteran here is Colonel Robert G. Emmens, one of the Doolittle Raiders who carried out the daring surprise air strike on Tokyo in 1942. The raid demonstrated that Japan itself was vulnerable to American air attack, served as retaliation for Pearl Harbor, boosted morale in the U.S. and damaged Japanese morale, as its people had been told Japan was invulnerable.
These successes were all in hindsight, however. The pilots and crew who willingly signed up for the raid were told it was an “extremely hazardous” mission. There were no fighter plane escorts. Pilots had to launch from an aircraft carrier. Fuel was at a premium, and the planes themselves had many of their guns removed to lighten their weight and maximize flight time.
As a first lieutenant, Emmens was a co-pilot on one of the 16 B-25 bombers under the command of Col. James H. Doolittle that left the carrier Hornet to carry out the Tokyo raid April 18, 1942.
All of those 16 crews except Lieutenant Emmens' either crashed on the China coast or bailed out. His plane touched down in a large field outside Vladivostok in the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union, which was not then at war with Japan, held the crewmen captive for 13 months, until they escaped to Persia. Colonel Emmens later wrote a book about his experience as a captive, "Guests of the Kremlin."
Unlucky Thirteen: The Last Great Train Robbery
One of the most dramatic events in Oregon history took place Oct. 11, 1923, in a railroad tunnel in Southern Oregon.
The train No. 13 Gold Special was heading from Seattle to San Francisco. It was just cresting the Siskiyou summit and readying to go through Tunnel 13.
The train was required to test its brakes here, providing the opportunity for three young men to climb aboard. These were the d’Autremont brothers: 23-year-old twins Ray and Roy and their teenage brother, Hugh. They carried with them stolen dynamite, sawed-off shotguns and pistols.
The brothers forced the conductor to stop at the end of Tunnel 13, and then used dynamite to attempt to access the mail car. Unfortunately they didn’t know what they were doing, set much too big a charge, and blew up the front end of the car, killing the mail clerk inside and setting the car on fire.
In the confusion the brothers panicked; between the heat, the smoke, and fire they couldn’t get into the mail car. Meanwhile, the car was so damaged the conductor, even at gunpoint, couldn’t get the train out of the tunnel.
Suddenly, the brothers saw a red lantern coming through the smoke and haze. It was carried by brakeman Coyle Johnson, on his way to investigate. The brothers shot him down. Three other crewmen would die that day. The brothers escaped but were eventually tracked down and after a trial that became a national sensation, were given life sentences.
The bungled operation became known as the Last Great Train Robbery. Brakeman Coyle Johnson, who was to be married the following day, is buried at Eastwood Cemetery.
Politics Can Be Murder
We may feel we live in the most divisive time in America’s political history. But historians will tell you that isn’t true, and a prime example occurred in Medford in 1933.
Llewellyn Banks, a wealthy orchardist, owned the Medford Daily News, and used it as a house organ for his political views. Banks and fellow publisher and ally Earl Fehl fed on and egged on the discontent in Depression-era Jackson County, supporting candidates to defeat incumbent officials who Banks characterized as "the gang."
Things came to a head with the elections of the Jackson County judge and sheriff. Banks-backed candidates won both seats, and the incumbent Sheriff Jennings immediately called for a recount. Meanwhile, Fehl, who had won the judgeship, issued warrants for the arrest of outgoing county commissioners, whom Banks-Fehl had previously opposed.
Amidst all this chaos, armed "vigilance committees" roamed the county under Banks' direction, preparing to seize control of the government.
On Feb. 20, 1933, a visiting Circuit Court judge from Lane County was brought in to supervise the election recount request made by Sheriff Jennings. The night before the proposed recount was to occur, the ballots were stolen. Some speculate they ended up in the Rogue River; in any event, they were never found.
Further investigation led up the chain to Banks. On March 16, Constable George Prescott and a state policeman attempted to serve a warrant to Banks stemming from the ballot thefts. Prescott was shot and killed by Banks.
Prescott, age 63, was a much-respected officer in the community. Support for the Banks/Fehr group immediately dried up. Banks was sentenced to life in prison and died there.
As for Prescott, he has numerous markers named after him in the valley, including Prescott Park at Roxy Ann Peak, and a memorial at the new Medford police station. He is buried in Eastwood Cemetery.
Harry & David
Wine of the month club, beer of the month club … today we even have a socks of the month club. But for the original, look to Harry & David, the company — and the two brothers — who devised the Fruit of the Month Club.
Their father, Samuel Rosenberg, purchased Comice pear orchards in 1910 and began what he called Bear Creek Orchards. In 1914, Rosenberg's sons Harry and David Holmes took over the management of the property and began innovations that would revolutionize packing and shipping.
The brothers built a packinghouse and a pre-cooling factory that would allow pears to be shipped long distances and instituted a mail-order campaign, which they advertised in national publications such as Fortune and National Geographic.
In 1937, the company introduced its "Box of the Month" plan. This was eventually renamed the "Fruit of the Month" club that many consumers know and love today.
Brothers Harry and David are buried together in the same crypt in the cemetery’s Mausoleum.
All of the people above have names on their headstones that tie them to their lives and stories, but there is one part of Eastwood Cemetery where the dead are anonymous. This is the section called Potters Field, referencing the Bible, and is where indigents and strangers were buried. Who knows what stories they could tell that have been lost to time and memory?
The recognition of the IOOF Eastwood Cemetery by the National Register is further proof of the valuable role cemeteries play in urban settings. They provide open space and are oases within cities, and they serve, literally, as outdoor museums. Wise planners have always known that cemeteries are for the living as well as the dead.
If you are a history buff, a curious traveler, or just interested in colorful characters, consider a visit. On any given day at Eastwood Cemetery, as you stroll among the gravestones, you may see people walking their dogs, jogging, putting flowers on a grave, or just sitting on a bench in reflection. Feel free to join in — in fact, bring your favorite ice cream.