A Place For Memories

Time is quickly running out for North Medford High School student Mike Nielson as he rushes to complete his Eagle Scout project at Medford's historic Eastwood Cemetery.

"Our deadline is ... Memorial Day," said Nielson.

That's this Monday, when the Medford Parks and Recreation Department holds its annual open house.

With help from Medford's city arborist Bill Harrington and his crew, Nielson is building a 10-by-10-foot pergola in front of the mausoleum, an area that will soon offer burial sites for cremated remains.

"We want this to be a healing garden, a place where we can hold ceremonies," said Harrington. "If folks want to have a celebration for their loved one, we want to provide a beautiful place for them."

Nielson had been looking for an Eagle Scout project when he was referred to Harrington.

"Someone I know at my church suggested that I call him and ask what kind of projects I might be able to do," he said. "The pergola idea seemed perfect."

A confident Nielson said that building structures isn't really new or difficult for him.

"I used to work for my neighbor and we would rebuild houses and barns all the time," he said.

Nielson said the hardest part of the project was finding the right plan.

"We searched a lot of magazines. They had plans for all kinds of stuff, like gazebos and outdoor structures," he said. "I saw this particular plan and I kind of liked it, so we're building it."

Because the project will be in a public area, it requires city permits, and Harrington wants to make sure everything goes smoothly.

"Mike will first cut all the pieces of the pergola and fit them at our shop," said Harrington. "Once everything is right, it should be pretty easy to bring it out and set it up in the cemetery."

Since Harrington was hired nearly three years ago, he has become passionate about the cemetery and dedicated to its restoration.

"I think that there is so much potential here," he said. "This is a crown jewel for Medford — 20 acres of oak woodland with so much history. If only the people and businesses of the area understood what they have here."

"That's why we have our open house," said Bev Power, customer-service specialist at the Medford Parks and Recreation Department.

She said the Eastwood open house gets bigger every year.

"You can't believe how many people come to visit throughout Memorial Day weekend," she said. "It's really just car to car."

This year, in addition to Nielson's new pergola, visitors will be able to see the new wrought-iron fence and gates designed and shaped by Ashland metal artist Cheryl Garcia.

Funded by a $2,000 grant from the Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries, the fence and gates are attached to the restored original stone bollards at the cemetery's historic entrance, just off Eastwood Drive.

Power said that American flags are already being placed on all the graves for the Memorial Day event, which is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday.

"We bring our computerized database of burials, which has a mapping component attached to it to help people find specific graves," she said.

"If the grave has a headstone, each record will include a photograph of it."

Visitors will also be able to walk through the rarely opened mausoleum doors and look inside.

Harrington and Power said one of the more popular features of the open house is the walking tour they provide. A tour brochure is packed with stories of some of the notable people buried in the cemetery.

"They can just wander around at their leisure and stop wherever they want," said Power.

"Last Memorial Day they told me it would be crowded, but I didn't really believe them," said Harrington. "I was shocked. It was amazing how much activity there was."

"I'm really glad that people are finally realizing that it's a neat place to visit," said Power. "The history here is just amazing."

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com.

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