Christmas at the Big House outside

An outside shot of the Big House at Malabar Farm State Park from a previous open house

Writer’s note: From a cottage to a farm, this is the third installment of “There’s No Place Like Richland County For the Holidays.” This article features a glimpse into the candlelight tours that were held at Malabar Farm State Park for the past two weekends.

Christmas at the Big House

Dulcimer group plays in the formal living area of the Big House at Malabar Farm during a Candlelight Tour on Dec. 12, 2021

Legends like Louis Bromfield, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall have all roamed the enormous halls of the “Big House'' at Malabar Farm State Park. In fact, “Bogey and Bacall,”  as they were known in certain celebrity circles in Hollywood, were married on the famous farm during a ceremony in May, 1945.  

This past Sunday (Dec. 12th), groups of visitors, including a few families with babies, toured the elegant, French-inspired historic home (also known as the “Big House”) nestled near Lucas at 4050 Bromfield Road.

Christmas at the big house 3

Visitors are greeted to music provided by the Mansfield Dulcimer Club 

Those who purchased tickets to tour the house decked in its Christmas finery on Sunday afternoon were free to check out the 32 rooms (along with a basement and attic) inside of the 22,000 square foot home at their leisure.  

Visitors were also treated to an afternoon of entertainment as well. Musicians from the Mansfield Dulcimer club played softly in the formal living room. 

There were also plenty of friendly and knowledgeable tour guides on hand such as the lively Linda Michelle (also known as Micki) to provide some additional historical and fun facts about the sprawling estate of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist that has been turned into a state park. 

From Mary Bromfield's bedroom to an adjacent bathroom (there are approximately 11 bathrooms in the house) featuring the French influences and trappings that the Broomfield’s had become accustomed to while living in France for 13 years, there were plenty of symbols pointing to their life abroad. 

In addition to the vibrant red room with its rich hues, there were also plenty of  reminders of the Bromfields, the Bogarts and George Hawkins, (Bromfield's trusted Business Manager and editor), spread throughout the spacious house.

It was actually Mary Bromfield, who had embroidered the bedspreads for  "Honeymoon Suite" with its blue and white decor and roosters (which are symbolic of  the country of  France), where actors Bogart and Bacall had stayed after they had gotten married. Reportedly, their cake had been made by Buckeye Bakery.

Anna Ball of Mansfield questioned if the newlywed couple had truly stayed together in a room with twin beds? The tour guide who greeted visitors assured her they did. They put the beds together, she  replied. 

Christmas at the Big House bed

A bed in the Honeymoon Suite without Christmas decorations

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A chair featuring photos of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in the Honeymoon Suite at the Big House

Ball along with her mother and aunt Stephanie attended the tour as an outing to celebrate her upcoming birthday. She had a lot of great things to say about the tour of the Big House and other attractions in Richland County.

Ball explained that the attraction was something to do in the area that they found interesting.

"There's so much history here," she said explaining when she was in college at Akron University, one of the first question she was asked about herself by her team, was, "tell us about your hometown?"

She pointed out, that it's not until your asked questions like that, you realize  how much there is to do in Mansfield including Snow Trails and several other attractions she named.

Ball, who had attended Discovery School in her formative years, said the school had taken she and classmates on all kinds of field trips to the farm.

"We did maple syrup stuff out there and all kinds of stuff out there," she added.

Slightly before the Honeymoon Suite was Hawkins' room with towels in his  former bathroom marked by his signature G's and H's.

Hawkins' room was also filled with a bright Christmas Tree and a picture of grandma Moses, given to Bromfield, who had written the foreword  to her autobiography in 1947, as a gift. 

Malabar Farm, which has been listed on the National Historic Register since 1973, according to the Ohio Department of National Resources (ODNR), offered the candlelight tours for the past two weekends.

They were held from 3-8 p.m. on Fridays (Dec 3rd and 10th) and Saturdays  (Dec. 4th and 11th) and from noon- 4 p.m. on Sundays,  (Dec. 5th and 12th.

The tours weren’t held last year due to the pandemic. 

However, this year, they were averaging approximately 300 people per week, according to one of the tour guides, who also pointed out the lack of snow could have potentially changed the minds of people who might have attended the event.  

Prior to the weekend, Matt Rogers, Interim Manager at Malabar Farm, described the event as more of an open house. 

He said it is (just) an open tour where people are just free to walk throughout the house which will be very well decorated for Christmas. 

“The house is always a popular attraction because of the decorations and vast history,” he added. 

It's true, the history and rich legacy of Malabar Farm State Park, which Bromfield purchased in 1938, is huge and filled with lots of connections to prominent  people.

The background is filled with links to Hollywood celebrities such as the Bogarts, who were called friends to Bromfield, the conservationist and award-winning author of The Green Bay Tree as well as to a high school that would later be named after the farm (1963-1989). 

In addition to acquaintances with other acclaimed authors such as short-story writer,  Journalist  and sportsman Ernest Hemingway, there is much to learn about the farm and the man who previously owned it. 

Because of his great connections and the farm's vast history, the legacy of Bromfield, an Ohio native, and his 900-plus acres lives on. 

The Farm continues to be remembered and written about in popular culture years after the heralded novelist death. 

There are excerpts featured from Bacall’s book where she chronicled meeting Bromfield for the first time as well as her first time stepping foot on the massive land. She was described as being agog when she first met Bromfield, whom Bacall described as “tall.” 

Additional wedding pictures and articles of the famous pair (Bogart and Bacall)  were not only featured in their former wedding suite (post nuptials), but also  spread throughout the Big House including the stylish formal dining room which was festively decorated for Christmas. 

Apparently, some strings were pulled by a judge for Bacall, who at the time wasn’t old enough to get married in Ohio nor was she a legal resident of the state, according to a guide who gave details about the former famous guests as onlookers visited the dining area.

He also noted that former guests of Bromfield--celebrities or not--were assigned chores, once they were up and ready for breakfast. They also had to help out on the farm if they stayed there.

Mr. Bromfield apparently didn't like freeloaders, either.

Not far from the dining room, refreshments consisting of  cookies, coffee, apple cider and hot chocolate were also waiting at the end of the tour in the three-door garage, which held a bright yellow jeep.

For those who have never had an opportunity to take a glance inside the prestigious house, there is also a video on YouTube of a past open house: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K58gOgkumzQ&ab_channel=OhioDNR.

The cost of admission for the candlelight tour was $6 for adults and $4 for children. 

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