LIMA — Celia “Ceely” Rose did something horrible in Pleasant Valley one early summer morning in1896.
The 23-year-old Ceely, who according to contemporary accounts was “silly,” a slow learner, poisoned her family over their disapproval of her infatuation with a neighbor.
In 1915, Ceely Rose became one of the first patients at the new Lima State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. She died there a day after her 61st birthday in 1934 and is buried in the hospital graveyard, though many say her spirit haunts her old family home in the low green hills of southern Richland County.
Ceely was born March 13, 1873, to David and Rebecca Rose, 17 years after her only sibling, a brother named Walter. “She talked with a stutter and performed on a level with children seven years younger than her. She might be described as half-child and half-woman,” according to an 1896 newspaper story reprinted in Brett J. Mitchell’s book “Triple Murder: The Crimes Committed by Celia Rose.”
“On top of all that, Ceely was not what you’d call attractive, so boys wanted nothing to do with her, unless, of course, they wanted to tease her. Ceely, however, sure had a thing for boys.” James Willis writes in “Big Book of Ohio Ghost Stories.”
The boy Ceely really had a thing for was Guy Berry, who lived on a neighboring farm and was five years her junior. Berry, news stories at the time reported, was polite and would talk with Ceely. Ceely was smitten, so smitten, Willis writes in “Ghost Stories,” that she began making daily visits to talk with Guy and told her parents they were going to be married.
While Guy politely endured Ceely’s visits, Willis wrote that Guy’s father was less tolerant and asked Ceely’s parents to keep her away. Another version of the story says Guy, in an attempt to blow off Ceely, told her they couldn’t marry because her parents didn’t approve. Either way, it didn’t set well with Ceely.
So, at breakfast one morning in late June 1896, Ceely laced the cottage cheese with Rough on Rats, which was almost pure arsenic. The rodent poison was very rough on Ceely’s family.
David Rose, who ran a mill in Pleasant Valley, died June 30. Walter Rose, Ceely’s brother, survived until July 4. However, Rebecca Rose, who apparently had not eaten as much cottage cheese, began recovering and, after figuring out what had happened, actually tried to protect Ceely, according to Willis.
“But when Rebecca began talking about moving away from the valley, Ceely became agitated again, because she didn’t want to be taken away from the neighbor boy, Guy Berry. So she finished her initial plan and re-poisoned her mother with a massive dose of arsenic.” Ceely’s mother died July 19.
Not surprisingly, as the last Rose standing, suspicion fell on Ceely. But, before the age of forensics and before autopsies were performed, authorities lacked solid evidence, until they enlisted a friend of Ceely’s to talk with her. Ceely confessed to the friend.
Ceely was tried for each of the poisonings and, in each case, was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
“The crime by this girl reveals a depth of depravity that can hardly be conceived,” the Richland Banner & Shield opined Aug. 15, 1896. “How fiendish must have been her hatred for them when she could deliberately kill them and stand by and watch them die. That such an act could be done in an enlightened century is sufficient to make pessimists of all kinds.”
Ceely was sent to the Toledo Asylum in 1896. In 1915, she was transferred to Lima where she died nearly 20 years later. No one claimed the body and Ceely was laid to rest in the state hospital graveyard.
In 1939, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield returned to his native Richland County, buying property in Pleasant Valley, including the old Rose farm. Bromfield, whose book “Pleasant Valley” contains a version of the Ceely Rose story, lived on what became Malabar Farm until his death in 1956. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were married and spent their honeymoon there in 1945. The farm became a state park in 1976.
Tourists are at times treated to more than quaint farms and pleasing vistas when visiting the park, Kelleigh Dotson wrote in a story on Yahoo.com. “Ceely’s house still stands today, and currently is owned by Malabar Farms State Park. Some say that they think Ceely still has an attachment to her old home and that is why on a night of a full moon you can often see Ceely’s spirit peering out of the window. In addition, on some nights people have reported seeing Ceely walking around on the grounds of her old house, perhaps she is still looking for her long lost love Guy Berry.”
Guy Berry died in Akron in 1961 and is buried in Pleasant Valley Cemetery, as are David, Rebecca and Walter Rose. “No matter who the ghost may be, it has been reported that if you take a picture in the cemetery, you will see orbs floating in the background,” Dotson wrote.
Dotson also wrote of incidents at a barn on the Malabar Farm. “People claim that the barn at Malabar Farms is haunted; part of Ceely’s family mill had been purchased and torn down. The beams in the old mill where then used in the construction of the Malabar Farm barn, and people have claimed of ghostly haunting going on there too. One such story is that during a rehearsal for the Ceely Rose play, one of the stage lights during the scene of where Ceely is killing her mother would continuously flicker on and off throughout that scene. After the scene was over the light went back to normal.”
Mark Jordan, who wrote that play, which is presented at Malabar Farm every October, recounted a trip to Lima in 2003 while researching Ceely Rose.
“On a raw, windy day in March of 2003, we made the drive to Lima, Ohio to visit the old prison graveyard where Ceely is buried. The clouds were low and heavy that day, and the closer we got to Lima the more they seemed to close in on us,” Jordan wrote on the web site ghostvillage.com in 2004.
After locating the grave and taking pictures, Jordan wrote, “it suddenly hit me just how real this story was that I was about to recreate on stage. These weren’t fictional characters. Ceely was a real person, and here I was snapping pictures of her grave like a tourist at Disneyland. I decided I’d better step up to the grave and properly pay my respects. …At that exact moment, for the first time that day, the leaden clouds parted and a ray of sunshine shone down on Ceely’s grave for about ten seconds. Nowhere else in the graveyard, or even in the landscape around, was the sun shining. Just there on Ceely.”