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The Haunted Lemp Mansion in St. Louis

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LempMansion1892.jpg (289x195 -- 127396 bytes)

The Lemp Mansion in 1892


A house is never silent in darkness to those who listen intently; there is a whispering in distant chambers, an unearthly hand presses the snib of the window, the latch rises. Ghosts were created when the first man woke in the night.


--  James Matthew Barrie, "The Little Minister"






Said to be one of the ten most haunted places in America, the Lemp Mansion in St. Louis, Missouri, continues to play host to the tragic Lemp family. Over the years, the mansion was transformed from the stately home of millionaires, to office space, decaying into a run-down boarding house, and finally restored to its current state as a fine dinner theatre, restaurant and bed and breakfast.

The Lemp Family began with Johann Adam Lemp who arrived in St Louis from Eschwege, Germany in 1838. Building a small grocery store at what is now Delmar and 6th Streets, he sold common household items, groceries, and homemade beer. The light golden lager was a welcome change from the darker beers that were sold at the time. The recipe, handed down by his father, was so popular that just two years later, he gave up the grocery store and built a small brewery in 1840 at a point close to where the Gateway Arch stands today.

Lemp first sold his beer in a pub attached to the brewery, introducing St. Louis to its first lager. Before long, Lemp found that the brewery was too small to handle both production and storage and found a limestone cave south of the city limits. The cave, which was located at the present-day corner of Cherokee and De Menil Place, could be kept cool by chopping ice from the nearby Mississippi River and depositing it inside, providing perfect conditions for the lagering process to run its course. Lemp’s Western Brewing Co. continued to prosper and by the 1850s was one of the largest in the city. In 1858, the beer captured first place at the annual St. Louis fair.


A millionaire by the time of his death, Adam Lemp died on August 25, 1862 and his son, William, began a major expansion of the brewery.  He purchased a five-block area around the storage house on Cherokee, above the lagering caves.  In 1864, a new plant was complete at Cherokee Street and Carondolet Avenue. Continually expanding to meet the product demand, the brewery eventually covered five city blocks.


By the 1870s the Lemp family symbolized both wealth and power, as the Lemp Brewery controlled the St. Louis beer market, a position it maintained until prohibition.


The Lemp Mansion, St. Louis, MissouriIn 1868, Jacob Feickert, William Lemp’s father-in-law, built a house a short distance from the Lemp Brewery. In 1876 William Lemp purchased it for his family, utilizing it as both a residence and an auxiliary office. While the home was already impressive, Lemp immediately began renovating and expanding the thirty-three room house into a Victorian showplace.


From the mansion, a tunnel was built from the basement through the caves to the brewery. When mechanical refrigeration became available, parts of the cave were converted for other purposes, including a natural auditorium and a theatre. This underground oasis would later spawn a large concrete swimming pool, with hot water piped in from the brewery boiling house, and a bowling alley. At one time, the theatre was accessible by way of a spiral staircase from Cherokee Street.


By the middle 1890s, the Lemp Brewery gained a national presence after introducing the popular "Falstaff” beer, which is still brewed today by another company. The Lemp Western Brewery was the first brewer to establish coast-to-coast distribution of its beer. At the same time he was building his own business empire, William, Sr. also helped Pabst, Anheuser and Busche get started.


WilliamLemp.jpg (177x233 -- 40017 bytes)In the midst of this success, the Lemp family experienced the first of many tragedies when Frederick Lemp, William Sr’s favorite son and heir apparent died in 1901 at the age of 28. Frederick, who had never been in extremely good health, died of heart failure. The devastated William Lemp was never the same, beginning a slow withdrawal; he was rarely seen in public after his son’s death. On January 1, 1904, William’s closest friend, Frederick Pabst, also died, leaving William indifferent to the details of running the brewery. Though he still arrived at the office each day, he was nervous and unsettled. His physical and mental health began to decline and on February 13, 1904, he shot himself in the head with a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson.


In November 1904, William Lemp Jr. took over as the new president of the William J. Lemp Brewing Company. Inheriting the family business and a vast fortune, he and his wife, Lillian, began to spend the inheritance. Filling the house with servants, the pair spent huge amounts on carriages, clothing and art.


WilliamLempII.jpg (186x238 -- 46955 bytes)Lillian was a beautiful woman who came from a wealthy family herself. She and William Lemp, Jr had married in 1899 and William J. Lemp, III was born on September 26, 1900. Before long Lillian became known as the "Lavender Lady" because of her fondness for the color. In addition to her lavender attire and accessories, she went so far as to have her carriage horses harness' died lavender. In the beginning, Will enjoyed showing off his "trophy wife" but Will was a "player." Born with a "silver spoon in his mouth," he was used to doing and acting as he pleased.


When William began to tire of his beautiful wife, he demanded that she must spend her time shopping. Allotting her $1,000 a day, he gave her an ultimatum that if she didn't spend it, she would get no more.


In the meantime, Will was busy running the brewery during the day and pursuing all manner of decadent activities during the night. Holding lavish parties in the caves below the mansion, he would bring in numerous prostitutes for the "entertainment" of his friends. Enjoying the swimming pool, the bowling alley, and the free flowing beer, his friends who attended these lavish events were known to enjoy a high time in the earth below.


Will's shenanigans caught up with him when he sired a son with a woman other than his wife. Today, there is no official documentation that this boy existed. However, the rumors that this boy was hidden in the mansion attic for his entire lifetime have been prevalent over the years. According to St Louis historian, Joe Gibbons, when he interviewed a former nanny and a chauffer who worked at the mansion long ago, both of them verified that the boy did exist and was housed in the attic quarters that also housed the servant's rooms. Spawned from Will's philandering with either one of the many prostitutes or a mansion servant, the boy was born with Down's Syndrome. A total embarrassment to the family, the boy was hidden away from the world in order to cloak the Lemp's "shame." Known today as the "Monkey Face Boy," this unfortunate soul continues to show his presence at the Lemp Mansion.


Finally, William, Jr. tired of his "trophy wife" and filed for divorce in 1908. Why she didn't make this step with all of his goings-on, could be nothing more than a sign of the times. The court proceedings surrounding the divorce became a major St. Louis scandal with all four St. Louis newspapers devoting extensive front page coverage to the messy affair. The trial opened in February, 1909 to crowds that flocked to the courthouse each day to witness the drama of tales of violence, drunkeness, atheism and cruelty.


LempBeerLabel-1892.jpg (289x172 -- 88140 bytes)Virtually ignoring William's decadent activities, Lillian almost lost custody of William Lemp, III because of a photograph that was presented at the trial that showed her smoking a cigarette. In the end, she retained custody of their son but soon retired from public eye. The only time that she was ever seen wearing anything other than lavender was on the final day of her divorce proceedings, when she appeared entirely in black before the judge.


With the divorce, Will’s troubles had only just begun. In 1906, nine of the large breweries in the St. Louis area had combined to form the Independent Breweries Company, creating fierce competition that the Lemp Brewery had never faced. In the same year, Will’s mother died by cancer on April 16th.

Though the brewery’s fortunes were continually declining, the Lemp Mansion was entirely remodeled in 1911 and partially converted into offices for the brewery. At this same time, William allowed the company’s equipment to deteriorate, without keeping abreast of industry innovations. By World War I, the brewery was just barely limping along.

William soon built a country home on the Meramec River, to which he increasingly retreated and in 1915 he married for a second time to Ellie Limberg, widowed daughter of the late St. Louis brewer Casper Koehler.

Then Prohibition came along in 1919. The individual family members were already wealthy so there was little incentive to keep the brewery afloat. For a time, Will hoped that Congress would repeal Prohibition but finally gave up and closed the Lemp plant down without notice. The workers learned of the closing when they came to work one day and found the doors shut and the gates locked.

On March 20, 1920, Elsa Lemp Wright, William’s sister, the wealthiest heiress in St Louis, shot herself just like her father had years before. Elsa was said to have been despondent over her rocky marriage.

Liquidating the assets of the plant and auctioning the buildings, William, Jr. sold the famous Lemp "Falstaff” logo to brewer Joseph Griesedieck for $25,000 in 1922. The brewery buildings were sold to the International Shoe Co. for $588,000, a fraction of its estimated worth of $7 million in the years before Prohibition.



Continued Next Page



Lemp Brewery

The Lemp Brewery today. Photo by Kathy Weiser,

October, 2004.


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