Just over a rise in scenic Richland County, Malabar Farm appears in the distance — a stately, historic (and sprawling) main house, rolling hills and fields, and an inviting white barn with horses grazing nearby. The bucolic setting has an intriguing history as the one-time home of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Louis Bromfield and the swanky-yet-isolated setting for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s 1945 wedding.
But the impressive compound has a darker side, too. It was the site of a Lizzie Borden-like murder scandal in 1896, when teenager Ceely Rose murdered her family in a misguided effort to capture the love of a neighbor boy.
The rural setting conjures up plenty of other eerie lore, cemented in long-dead legends and myths. As a matter of fact, Malabar Farm — now an Ohio state park — has been called one of the 10 most haunted places in America. That’s why park naturalists are resurrecting the popular Haunted Hikes this month: creepy, outdoor explorations of ghostly tales and whispered legends shared on three autumn Sundays.
The free, two-hour walks at dusk take visitors along the lanes by the park’s restaurant, the Big House, the cemetery, and the Ceely Rose House — and reveal tales scary enough that naturalist Lori Morey says they’re geared to adults and older teens.
“We get into some supernatural legends and myths from Native Americans and early settlers,” she says, “including tales of Bigfoot and Windigo, and folklore of giants and rolling heads and little beings that live in the woods. On top of that, there are the local tragedies — like the Rose murders. It can all be pretty scary, especially as you’re walking along the dark woods.”
Indoor spots around the farm also offer oddities year-round that might send a chill up your spine. Daily tours explore the 13,000-square-foot main house, the barn, the restaurant, and the tiny cemetery — all of which have been known to elicit odd occurrences, according to tour guide Mark Sommer, who’s been showing folks around the farm for 13 years.
He says professional “ghost hunters” have canvassed the house and barn and spent the night in the farm’s cemetery. People on tours have pulled him aside and told him the rooms give them sudden feelings of sadness. One woman kept fidgeting during a tour and later said that spirits of the Bromfield dogs (he had 70 boxers over the years) were bothering her.
At the park’s restaurant, staff members and servers have been rattled by glasses suddenly breaking or doors locking unexpectedly behind them.
Morey has also heard tales of visitors seeing other-worldly beings. “While I was leading a tour upstairs in the house, a lady says she saw the spirit of a tall man standing in the corner and nodding along. I suppose it was Bromfield approving of my story.”
Haunted Hikes will take place Oct. 16, 23, and 30 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. They are free but require registration. Call 419-892-2784 for details and to register.