The Lemp Mansion in 1892
A house is never silent in
to those who listen intently;
there is a whispering in
an unearthly hand presses the
snib of the window,
the latch rises.
Ghosts were created when the
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
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
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.
In 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
Brewery gained a national presence after introducing the popular
"Falstaff” beer, which is still brewed today by another company. The
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
In the midst of this
Lemp family experienced the first of many tragedies when Frederick
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
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,
Jr. took over as the new president of the
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.
Lillian was a beautiful woman
who came from a wealthy family herself. She and William
Jr had married in 1899 and William J.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
St. Louis brewer Casper
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
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.
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
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