By Thomas Palmer
This is a special Christmas Eve edition of Galion History Corner.
On several occasions many years ago, I had the opportunity to learn the how-tos of giving a historic house tour from the wonderful Miriam Sayre, long-time drama teacher at Galion High School who, in her youth, read to Bishop William Montgomery Brown. More than once that involved she and I by ourselves in Brownella waiting for guests to arrive, with Miriam stretched across the large fainting couch in the first floor reception area and talking away.
In addition to stories about the Bishop, Miriam told me about her memories of Louis Bromfield. She and her friends, she said, used to climb to the top of Mount Jeez near Malabar Farm to attend readings by Bromfield. She was very much an admirer of the Pulizer Prize-winning author.
There is another connection between Bromfield and Galion that has a Christmas theme to it.
There is no question that Bromfield was a fan of the holidays. During the period of time that Bromfield lived at Malabar Farm, it was an active place during the Christmas season.
In 1950, for instance, holiday visitors witnessed the wedding of Bromfield’s daughter Mary Hope to Robert TemBroeck Stevens, among the guests for which was the Governor of Ohio and the parents of actress Lauren Bacall.
The year before, Bromfield had received a unique holiday present from a good friend. After joking that he wanted a “little Sicilian donkey,” friend Herbert Cobey of Galion actually had a donkey from Sicily delivered via truck to Malabar on Christmas Eve. The donkey had a bright ribbon tied around its neck with a tag reading, “My name is Jose.” Bromfield was pleased and speculated that the animal would become a beloved pet.
The Bromfield family’s first Christmas at Malabar Farm was in 1939, although Louis was absent, writing a screenplay in Hollywood.
The author’s love of the holidays was a lifetime one. In 1943, the Chicago Tribune shared a post by Bromfield looking at three Christmases he remembered well — one as a boy visiting his grandmother: “I was in a big sleigh with my brothers and sisters on the way to my grandmother’s farm in Ohio. The steaming horses crossed a high bridge and plunged up a hill and suddenly, beside the watering trough hewn from a single log and filled with unfrozen living water from the spring, my father pulled the horses up short with a great jingling of bells. A door opened in the big white house and out of it came my grandmother, a tiny, pert little woman although she was the mother of eight strapping sons and daughters. She picked me up and carried me into the warm living room already filled with my uncles and aunts and cousins of all ages.”
The second profiled a prewar Christmas evening in a hotel “high in the Swiss mountains,” where those present included Mrs. Winston Churchill, various members of minor nobility, as well as “a fine assortment of trollops and not a few spies.”
The third took place in the company of soldiers and locals in church in the small French village where the Bromfields were living. “All of them were friends for I had lived with among them off and on for years.” Bromfield remarked on the hymn “Adeste Fidelis” being sung. Knowing would be the family’s last Christmas in Europe, the family was silent on their trip back home.
Clearly, Louis Bromfield knew how to celebrate Christmas.
Click here for more posts in our Galion History Corner series.
Each Saturday, we post about local history. We call this series “Galion History Corner,” and we will be sharing not only stories about our shared heritage but also updates on history news here in southeast Crawford County.
This series is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Bernard M. Mansfield, whose “Your Historical Galion” was a fixture in weekend editions of the Galion Inquirer. Dr. Mansfield was a friend and family physician, and he inspired the current generation of Galion historians to continue his work.
Sources: Mansfield News Journal, Chicago Tribune