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Louis Bromfield, the conservationist and writer who created Malabar Farm,
told his own ghost story about the property during his life time.

Louis Bromfield grave slab

After his beloved dog Prince died, Bromfield woke up during the night to the presence of an invisible dog lying next to him and then to the sound of a dog pulling with his paw on the frame of the stuck door to let himself in, as Prince did in life. Of course, there was no dog there when Bromfield opened the door. Bromfield related this experience in his book about the property, Malabar Farm. If Prince is still there, perhaps he visits his master, who lies buried in Olivet Cemetery on the farm. Visitors today sometimes report seeing or hearing a ghostly dog.

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At Malabar Farm State Park, there is a tiny pioneer cemetery up on the hill.

Entire cemetery surrounded by white picket fence

Never heard of Malabar Farm? My grandmother is disappointed in you.

It’s ok, she was disappointed in most of us, too, when we went there during a family reunion. Malabar Farm in Lucas, Ohio, was the home of Louis Bromfield, author and conservationist. A prolific writer, he produced novels, plays, short stories, non-fiction works, and finally an autobiography, writing more and more about conservation later in his life. Four of his books were transformed into films and brought him acclaim on the silver screen. He won the Pulitzer Prize for the novel Early Autumn.

Despite Bromfield’s acclaim, in popular culture of my grandparents’ day, Malabar Farm’s wider claim to fame was as the location of the 1945 wedding and honeymoon of Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart.

Malabar Farm and Bromfield’s passion are now preserved as an Ohio State Park, demonstrating the conservation methods that Bromfield pioneered. The Big House that Bromfield and his family lived in remains, full of artifacts of their lives, and a working farm surrounds it. On a small rise, a little pioneer cemetery stands, which nearly has more names than tombstones: Pioneer Cemetery, Olivet Cemetery, Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Schrack Cemetery, Malabar Farm Cemetery, Bromfield Cemetery. The park calls it Pioneer Cemetery on the map and Olivet Cemetery on the sign.

Olivet Cemetery sign

Surrounded by a pristine white picket fence, the graves inside are sometimes swallowed by the lush plants that flourish in the farm’s sun and rain.

William Ferguson tombstone in a bed of grasses and flowers

The cemetery was there before Louis Bromfield bought his farm, as evidenced by the 19th century dates on a number of tombstones. George Franklin served in the Civil War, as did George Baughman.

George Franklin tombstone with American flag and GAR marker

George F. Baughman military tombstone
And there Louis Bromfield, his wife, his mother, and his father, lie in quiet repose with the residents of a previous century on the same land.

Louis Bromfield grave slab with American flag and metal veteran's marker

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In today’s explorations of memorials outside of cemeteries, I have a personal story for you. My maternal grandfather knew he was dying, and he had time to make plans. In June of 2007, his health began to rapidly decline, and his heart, it seemed, was finally going to kill him – about sixty-five years after the doctors first said it would. Grandpa had rheumatic fever as a teenager, and it damaged his heart sufficiently to warrant a medical discharge from the Navy with a poor prognosis – I think he was given less than a year to live. Grandpa, stubborn as he was, took advantage of those GI benefits to go to veterinary school (an accelerated program because anyone with medical expertise was an asset during World War II). He married, raised three daughters, ran a successful veterinary practice, and had been retired for almost two decades when he went into hospice the next-to-last time, about two weeks before the scheduled family reunion. My aunt went to see him and reminded him that most of us would be there soon. He decided he didn’t want us all standing around him in hospice waiting for him to die, and he set his mind to being at my aunt’s house for the family reunion. He recovered temporarily so that hospice set him up with the necessary equipment in her home and sent nurses to check on him. My grandmother, two aunts, mother and her boyfriend, and two cousins spent that 4th of July in Savannah with Grandpa savoring what we knew were his last days.

Of course, that gave us the opportunity to discuss what exactly Grandpa would like us to do with his earthly remains after he died. It seemed to be something that he and Grandma hadn’t talked about much in many years. One of the most amusing exchanges I heard was when my grandmother mentioned that the family still owned three more plots in Parsippany, New Jersey, where her parents are interred. “I don’t want to go back to New Jersey, even if I am dead,” Grandpa growled back with his customary dry humor. Eventually, we learned that he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes spread somewhere, although the where of that statement was ambiguous. He just didn’t seem particularly invested in what happened to his remains.

This past summer, we gathered at my other aunt’s house to plant a garden for Grandpa. She has a flagpole in her backyard, and we buried the box with his ashes in a garden around the flagpole, marked with a large golden golf tee with a dogtag-like charm hanging off of it with his name, birthdate, and death date. I wonder what if anyone will ever come across this marker, after all of us are gone.

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