Memphis newspaper executive dies after falling from LondonHouse … – Chicago Tribune
To those who knew Eric Janssen, it seemed only natural that he became a passionate explorer of urban landscapes with his camera.
“He found beauty in unlikely places,” said his sister, Cynthia Vukmer. “Instantly being able to post pictures, I think that really captured his attention and his imagination and his passion.”
Janssen’s family and friends believe that’s what he was doing Monday afternoon when he plunged to his death from a top floor of the LondonHouse hotel in the Loop.
He fell from the 20th floor of the hotel at 85 E. Wacker Drive and landed on a sixth-floor roof around 3:30 p.m., authorities said. The medical examiner said he suffered multiple injuries and ruled his death an accident. He was 44.
“He died doing what he loved,” Vukmer said. “He did that, I do believe he did that.”
Janssen had a long career in journalism and was a vice president for the Sandusky Newspaper Group in Memphis, Tenn. Police say he came here for Open House Chicago, an architectural tour that promises “behind-the-scenes access” to more than 200 buildings.
A friend from Memphis who took photographs with Janssen said he was not staying at the LondonHouse but had been at the hotel’s lounge on the top floor Monday afternoon and stepped away to take some pictures.
Karen Golightly said she didn’t know what happened then, but stressed that Janssen was conscious of safety. “We talked a lot about safety,” she said. “One of his friends fell in Memphis last year, and safety really resonated with him after that. … He wasn’t really a daredevil in that way.”
Janssen was the father of three children who was dedicated to his family and his job, according to relatives and friends. His sister called him a “gentle giant.”
“He was very passionate about life and his friends and family,” Vukmer said. “He was passionate about photography. … He was just a wonderful, wonderful guy. He was very, very, very deeply loved by his family and by so many. He was my hero.”
Vukmer said she last spoke with Janssen last week when he apologized for not getting her a birthday present. But he did get one for her son, the board game Battleship, which they had played as kids, she said, laughing.
The two grew up in suburban Memphis but spent about five years in Oklahoma City when Janssen was about 8 and their father took a job there.
Janssen graduated from the University of Memphis with a degree in journalism. Vukmer said she holds a broadcast journalism degree from the same school. They both got the journalism bug from their mother, who was a writer.
Janssen had been living in the South Main Historic Arts District in Memphis and traveled quite a bit for his job, his sister said. His three children are a 22-year-old daughter who is in college and lives on her own, and a 17-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter who live with their mom in the Memphis area.
Vukmer said she first heard of her older brother’s death through Facebook. “I’ve been overwhelmed with the number of comments and messages from people,” she said, choking up. “It’s comforting.”
As a journalist, Janssen’s motto in life was “live a great story,” said college journalism professor Aimee Edmondson, who attended the University of Memphis with Janssen and later worked with him at the Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis.
Edmondson, an associate professor at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, said Janssen had “quite a career in media.”
“He often photographed from rooftops and had a particular interest in the beauty that comes with urban decay,” Edmondson said.
She added that following Janssen on social media, “you will understand what he was doing on the roof — taking beautiful photos, no doubt.”
In an interview posted on Instagram in 2015, Janssen said he was “a novice urban explorer and only recently caught the urbex bug … I’d say what probably makes a good urban explorer is boldness mixed with incessant curiosity. And I believe it’s important to have a creative eye — seeing an abandoned building as a beautiful canvas instead of neglected blight.”
Later in the interview he said, “I’m just a guy who takes pictures of things that catch my eye in one way or another. … Photography has definitely impacted my life, especially recently. I find that my eyes are now drawn to details that I previously would have ignored or just not thought to behold.”