Posted in History, Nature, Northeastern Ohio, Park review

Malabar Farm

Malabar Farm State Park was once the home of Louis Bromfield (1896 – 1956). He was a novelist and screenplay writer. His very first novel (The Green Bay Tree) was a critical and commercial success. His third novel (Early Autumn) won Bromfield a Pulitzer Prize. He was good friends with movie star, Humphrey Bogart (deemed to be the greatest, male film star of all time by the American Film Institute). When Bogart and Lauren Bacall were making their wedding plans, Bromfield offered them the use of his farm.

Public domain photo of Bacall and Bogart from the trailer for the film, “Dark Passage”.

Using these old phones you couldn’t just dial the person whom you wanted to call. Instead you depended on a human telephone operator to connect you to your party. Unfortunately if the operator was nosy, she could listen in on your conversation.

Perhaps Bogart and Bacall had wanted to begin their wedded life out of the lime light. Their romance had set tongues a wagging, both due to their age difference (25 years) and the fact that it had begun while Bogart was still married to his third wife. However the wedding didn’t end up being the private affair that the couple had envisioned. While the residents of Malabar Farm were using the telephone to make wedding arrangements, a nosy telephone operator was eavesdropping, and she spilled the beans to the press. Since the wedding was being held on private property, I didn’t think that the press could just sashay in, but apparently that’s exactly what they did.

The couple had planned on having an outdoor wedding, but since a crowd of wedding crashers had gathered on the lawn, they decided to hold the wedding indoors near the base of the stairs below.

Site of the Humphrey Bogart / Lauren Bacall wedding

After the ceremony the couple posed on the lawn for photographers, then apparently invited the press in. While searching for images, I found many that had originally been published by Life magazine, including a cute photo of Lauren Bacall feeding Humphrey Bogart a piece of wedding cake (as seen here). Now that the home is basically a museum, the park officials have placed a cake facsimile where their wedding cake had been on a table in the breakfast nook.

Where Bacall fed Bogart a piece of their wedding cake

The newlyweds honeymooned in the guest room pictured below. Lauren Bacall was asked later in life about the twin beds (which apparently were popular for guest rooms of that era); she explained that the beds had wheels and could be easily pushed together.

Honeymoon bedroom for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall

The room was decorated with a number of photos taken of the couple at Malabar Farm, but the walls were also hung with a number of original Audubon paintings of birds and mammals.

Bogart and Bacall at Malabar Farm (This is a photograph I took of the photo hanging above the far bed).

Now I would like to turn my attention back to the owner of Malabar Farm, Louis Bromfield. As I mentioned earlier, Louis Bromfield was a successful author; however, I hadn’t even heard of his Pulitzer-prize winning novel, Early Autumn. According to Goodreads it’s about a rich family in New England; the novel explores the tension between desires and responsibilities, and it also examines characters who hold to tradition, but in a way that just becomes hypocritical. Although reviewers at Goodreads gave it 3.42 stars out of 5, it’s not exactly my cup of tea. Nonetheless I find Bromfield himself to be interesting, and I think that some of his non-fiction works might appeal to me more, such as Animals and Other People.

Portrait of Louis and Mary Bromfield in France.

Bromfield was born and raised in Mansfield, Ohio. He began his post-secondary education at Cornell University in agriculture, but then transferred to Columbia University where he intended on majoring in journalism. However after a short time at Columbia he quit to support the allies in WWI by driving an ambulance in Europe. After serving with distinction (he was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor), he returned to New York City where he found work as a reporter. In 1921 he married New York socialite, Mary Appleton Wood. Three years later he had a smashing success with his first novel. A year after that he moved his family to Paris. During the 1920s a number of artistic, American expats were living there. However after 13 years in France he believed that another world war was approaching, and he wanted to get his family out of Europe to a safer environment.

He did end up coming back to Ohio, but it wasn’t an easy decision for him. Two of his most famous novels were set in India (A Night in Bombay and The Rains Came) The Rains Came had been made into a movie twice (1937 and 1955). Bromfield was on location while the 1937 release of the movie was being filmed on the Malabar Coast of India. He loved it there, and he had been seriously considering relocating his family to the Malabar Coast. But in the end he moved to Ohio and named his farm, “Malabar.” I’m told that “Malabar” means “gently rolling hills and valleys.” This is a an apt description of the region in Ohio where he put down roots.

Looking at the surrounding countryside from a hill on Malabar Farm.
Viewing the big house and barn of Malabar Farm from a hilltop on the property.

While we were at Malabar Farm State Park, we paid $4 per person to go on a guided tour of the interior of the big house. Besides learning more about Louis Bromfield and the famous couple who married there, I have to say I really enjoyed looking over the house. It’s essentially a museum in which an upscale home from the early to mid twentieth century has been frozen in time. The people managing the big house have kept almost all the original decor, plus they’ve accented it with period items, such as old issues of Life magazine. It was fun looking at the antique typewriters, adding machines, shortwave radio receivers, refrigerators, etc. And the home still had a warm, lived-in feel to it. There were also a number of paintings on display, two by Grandma Moses and many by John James Audubon.

Below I have embedded a Flickr slideshow that features images of the home’s interior. By clicking on the right-hand side of the first photo, you can step through all the photos in the album.

Interior of the Big House

There are three relatively short hiking trails and a 5.2 mile bridle trail on the grounds. We only had time for a short hike before our tour. Here’s a bit of what we saw.

A youth hostel
The Sugar Shack — here they reduce sap from maple trees into syrup.
Another connection to Hollywood. Apparently this shed was used in the movie, “Shawshank Redemption”.
Path leading to a slump block cave.
Peering into cave

Louis Bromfield dedicated the latter portion of his life to exploring new agricultural techniques on his farm. He considered it to be a model farm and gave tours and talks where he explained some of the innovations that he was implementing. He continued to have ties to Hollywood due to his involvement in screenplays, and stars and starlets of his era periodically dropped by his house for business reasons. When they did, he apparently put them to work on the farm which amuses me to think about it. He seemed to have been quite the character. For a small fee you can go on tractor-pulled wagon tour of the farm itself and learn a bit about his farming innovations.

The barn across from the big house. There were sheep and a goat pasturing next to it.
A portrait of Louis Bromfield at Malabar Farm with one of his beloved boxers.
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© Deborah Platt, Robert Platt and 2012 to 2021

13 thoughts on “Malabar Farm

  1. when I was in the youth conservation corp one summer (long ago, too long wont tell you my age lol) malabar farms is where we did some work. we painted rocks, we dug out stumps we birdwatched. boy that seems like eons ago. we did work at alot of parks.

    1. That’s really cool, Rose. I was talking about a re-forestation effort that the conservation corp did in Ross County, and one of my guests here thought her uncle had been involved in that effort.

  2. beautiful Deb. I was there one time and would love to go back. Maybe one of my treks in the fall. Have had a set back in my walking got pnemonia and have been stalled on my walking hoping to get back to it really soon. have a good day.

    1. Deb, I’m really sorry to hear about the bout of pneumonia. I wasn’t clear on whether you still had it (in which case I wish you a speedy recovery), or whether you already recovered.

      This was such a hot summer that keeping up a walking routine was much harder than it should have been .At any rate with the cooler days soon approaching walking should be more enjoyable. Autumn is my favorite month to be outside. I love the cooler temperature, the autumn colors, and the absence of mosquitoes and ticks.

  3. Yes, it’s gorgeous in the fall. Thanks for calling attention to the Shawshank Trail sign at Pugh Cabin. It’s there to let folks know that the some of this classic movie was filmed on Malabar’s grounds. Did you know the Oak Tree is across Pleasant Valley Road from the park?

    1. I’m assuming that the Oak Tree you’re referring to appeared in the movie. I haven’t seen “Shawshank Redemption” yet. I should see if I can get the DVD from our local library.

    1. Your welcome, Lee. We had a great time exploring Malabar Farms. I would imagine that it’s a good place to go to take in the fall foliage, so I hope we get a chance to come back then.

      We’ve also done a post on another Richland County attraction, Mohican State Park.

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