The Haunted Lemp Mansion in St. Louis

Lillian Handlen Lemp

Lillian Handlen Lemp

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, drunkenness, atheism and cruelty.

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.

Lemp Brewery Today

Lemp Brewery Today

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.

Lemp Brewery Tower

Lemp Brewery Tower

After the end of the Lemp’s brewing dynasty, William, Jr. slipped into a depression. Acting much like his father, he became increasingly nervous and erratic, shunning public life and often complaining of ill health. On December 29, 1922, William shot himself, in the heart with a .38 caliber revolver, in the very same building where his father had died eighteen years before. William, II took his life on the main level of the mansion, just inside the entrance to the left. At the time of his death, this room served as his office. He was interred in the family mausoleum at Bellefontaine Cemetery, in the crypt just above his sister Elsa.

William’s brothers, Charles and Edwin had long ago left the family business, so with William Jr. gone, it seemed that the Lemp empire had finally ended. Edwin had entered into a life of seclusion at his estate in Kirkwood, Missouri in 1911. Charles had never been involved in the brewery and had chosen to work in the banking and real estate fields instead.

In 1943, yet another tragedy occurred when William Lemp III died of a heart attack at the age of forty-two.

Brother Charles eventually remodeled the mansion back into a residence and lived in the house along with two servants and the illegitimate child of his brother William. Charles, too, became an odd figure, as he grew older. Developing a morbid fear of germs, his obsessive compulsive behavior included wearing gloves at all times to avoid bacteria and constantly washing his hands. It was during this time that William’s illegitimate child, now in his 30s, died at the mansion. He was buried on the Lemp Cemetery plot with only a small flat marker, with the word “Lemp.”

Shortly after the “Monkey Face Boy’s” death, Charles became the fourth member of the Lemp family to commit suicide. First, he shot his beloved Doberman Pinscher in the basement of the mansion. Then, climbing the staircase to his room on the second floor, he shot himself. Charles was discovered on May 10, 1949 by one of his staff, still holding a .38 caliber Army Colt revolver in his right hand. Though the dog was shot in the basement, he was found half way up the stairs.

Lemp Mausoleum

Lemp Family Burial Site, Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri.
Amy Stark, September, 2005.

Of the Lemps, only Edwin Lemp, who had long avoided the life that had turned so tragic for the rest of his family, remained. He was known as a quiet, reclusive man who had walked away from the Lemp Brewery in 1913 to live a peaceful life on a secluded estate in Kirkwood,Missouri. Edwin passed away quietly of natural causes at age 90 in 1970. According to Edwin’s last wishes, his butler burned all of the paintings that the Lemps had collected throughout his life, as well as priceless Lemp family documents and artifacts. These irreplaceable pieces of history vanished in the smoke of a blazing bonfire.

The Lemp family line died out with him and the family’s resting place can now be found in beautiful Bellefontaine Cemetery.

After the death of Charles Lemp, the mansion was sold and turned into a boarding house. Along with the nearby neighborhood, the building began to deteriorate, and the haunting tales began. Residents complained of ghostly knocks and phantom footsteps being heard throughout the house. As these stories spread, tenants were hard to find for the boarding house and it continued to decline to a near flophouse status.

However, in 1975, the old mansion was saved when Dick Pointer and his family purchased it. Immediately they began to renovate the building, turning it into a restaurant and inn. Workers within the house often told stories of apparitions, strange sounds, vanishing tools, and a feeling of being watched. Frightened by the hauntings, many would leave the job site never to return.

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