The Lemp Mansion

St. Louis, Missouri

Lemp Mansion

The mansion rises above the city streets, dwarfed only by the giant structure in whose shadow it sits.  Staying in the mansion, one cannot be certain if it is the shadow of the beast down the street or the history of the place that makes it seem just a little colder.  Lying in a room at night, there comes all sorts of noises, footsteps, sobbing, or shouting.  Still, there is no need for alarm, right?  The past cannot harm the present, can it?  At the sound of a phantom gunshot or the sight of a face in a window, many would think twice about staying the night through.  The owners, however, know their permanent guests and take such things in stride.   

When most people go to St. Louis, there are a few landmarks that are on the must-see list.  The Anheuser-Busch Brewery, for example, or the Great Arch usually top the list.  Still, just a few blocks away from the famous brewery stands two other buildings whose tragic histories are tied with beer and death.  They are all that remains of a once proud family whose tragic path left its own form of mark.

Those who enjoy beer can usually name off several dozen different brands.  A few even know the stories behind the names or the names of the founding brewers.  The name of Lemp, however, faded into obscurity, though it was one of the pioneers of beer in America. 

Johann Adam Lemp arrived in St. Louis in 1838 with designs of striking it rich, or at least comfortable, as a grocer.  He opened his first shop and enjoyed success, mainly because his store offered something that no other in the area could.  Brewing out of his own home, Lemp introduced an alternative to the English-style ales, an amber concoction he called Lager.  By 1845 his beer was so popular that he closed the grocery and concentrated on brewing full-time.  He moved his brewing operation to a cave just south of the city limits.  Over the next twenty years demand for the beer became so fierce that when he died in 1862, Lemp was a rich man.  He passed the business on to his son, William, trusting in him to keep the dynasty going.  He was fortunate in passing before he saw the ruin of his family.

When William Lemp took over the brewery, he had a factory built on top of the caves and introduced the popular “Falstaff” beer to rave reviews.  He also purchased the mansion as a home for himself and his family.  It too stood over the vast network of caves, making it possible to travel from home to brewery beneath the city streets and unobserved.  One chamber of the massive cave system was turned into a natural auditorium with access via a spiral staircase on Cherokee Street.  It seemed at this point of high prosperity that nothing could go wrong for the Lemp family.  Then, in 1901, the first of many tragedies struck.

William’s favorite son, Frederick, who was groomed to take over the family business, died under mysterious circumstances at the age of only twenty-eight, devastating the brewer.  Lemp continued to work; however, according to his friends and co-workers, the loss changed him.  A short three years later a second loss further rocked William Lemp when his best friend, Frederick Pabst, passed away.  The strain was too much for him to bear, and less than a month later, William Lemp, Sr., got up one morning, had his breakfast, and shot himself in the head in his bedroom.

Lemp’s son, William Jr., took over the business and managed to keep it going for a time until Prohibition forced the brewery to shut down.  Unable to fathom the continuing costs, Lemp sold the brewery to the International Shoe Company and the Falstaff logo to another brewer.  Meanwhile, his personal life began to suffer.  William Jr. had several affairs, at least one resulting in an illegitimate child, much to the displeasure of his wife, resulting in a separation.  Other members of the family still lived in the home, including his sister, Elsa Lemp Write, and her husband.  One morning, as her husband made his way to take a bath, he heard a disturbingly familiar sound.  His sister, it seemed, had followed her father’s example and shot herself to death.  When William Jr. heard the news, he could only say, "Well, that’s the Lemp family for you."

William himself took his own life in 1922, shooting himself in the chest with a pistol.  By the end of the 1920’s only two Lemp brothers remained, Charles and Edwin.  Charles returned to the mansion, where he lived with one of William’s illegitimate sons who was most often referred to as the "monkey-faced boy."  It was during this time that the boy died, followed shortly by Charles.  While the details surrounding the boy’s death are not clear, Charles followed the family tradition of shooting himself, this time taking his favorite Doberman Pinscher with him.  Only Edwin Lemp seemed to have escaped the family legacy of suicide, living to the age of 90, when he died of natural causes. 

After the death of Charles Lemp, the building became several things including a boarding house.  However, tales of strange occurrences within began to frighten away would-be borders.  In 1975 Dick Pointer and his family bought the building and began renovating it for the purpose of turning it into a bed and breakfast and restaurant. 

William Lemp

The myriad of strange occurrences in the mansion led Life magazine to proclaim it one of the top ten haunted houses in the world.  While there is no doubt as to who haunts the old mansion, their activities are varied. 

Among the most common occurrences are objects disappearing from locked rooms, flying about in public view or vanishing altogether.  Knives, change, and even clothing have been snatched, often within seconds of being set down or dropped, never to be seen again.  Coupled with strange noises of running feet and doors that pound as if they’re being kicked in, such occurrences are enough to give most visitors a fright.

William Lemp, Jr., also makes regular appearances, often spying on women in bathrooms or leering at them out of the corner of their vision.  On one occasion William is reputed to have unlocked a guest’s door and ransacked a bride’s belongings on her wedding day while her back was turned.  His estranged wife, called the "Lavender Lady" due to the color of clothing she is most often seen wearing, also is frequently sighted. 

Perhaps the most disconcerting, and famous, apparition in the house appears in the attic window.  Dozens have reported seeing a simian-like face staring out at them or even waving as they pass by.  It was in this room that "The Monkey-Faced Boy," the illegitimate son of William Lemp, Jr., spent most of his life.  The boy, having been born with Down’s Syndrome, was forced to live in the attic until he died at the age of thirty.

In addition, almost everyone who spends any amount of time in the house at one time or another experiences the uncanny feeling of being watched.  The presence, say those who’ve experienced it, is unsettling, as it lets them know that they don’t belong there. 

Present Day:
The Lemp Mansion today operates as a restaurant and bed and breakfast with guests able to stay in any of the rooms once occupied by the Lemp Family.  In addition, guests can enjoy a murder-mystery dinner theater or even murder-mystery weekends that can be either public or private.  Though the spiral staircase on Cherokee Street is gone and the caverns have been sealed, there is still an air of eerie mystery around the house.  Several ghost hunting groups have investigated, all declaring the hauntings to be authentic.  The management even encourages such activity, noting that most who come looking for something out of the ordinary do not go away disappointed.

Best Times/Rooms:
Death knew no season at the Lemp Mansion, making any time of year ripe for phenomena.  However, most disturbances are reported by those staying in the Charles Lemp room, where the doddering old man finally took his life.  Other rooms in which strange things have occurred include the William Lemp suite and the Elsa Lemp suite.  The most interesting events, however, seem to occur in the attic.  During several investigations ghost hunters drew a large chalk circle on the floor and placed within it toys for the unfortunate son of William.  When they returned, they discovered the toys strewn about the room as if played with by someone with child-like sensibilities.

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Scott A. Johnson

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