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 completed 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 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.
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.
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 life have been prevalent over the years. According to St Louis historian, Joe Gibbons, when he interviewed a former nanny and a chauffeur 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 take 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 the 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, the 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.
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 halfway up the stairs.
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.
Since the restaurant opened, staff members have reported several strange experiences. Again, apparitions appear and then quickly vanish, voices and sounds come from nowhere, and glasses will often lift off the bar flying through the air by themselves. On other occasions, doors are said to lock and unlock by themselves, lights inexplicably turn on and off of their own free will, and the piano bar often plays when no one is near.
Said to be haunted by several members of the Lemp family, there are three areas of the old mansion that have the most activity — the stairway, the attic, and what the staff refers to as, the “Gates of Hell” in the basement. It is this area of the basement that used to be the entrance to the caves running below the mansion and the brewery.
The attic is said to be haunted by William, Jr’s illegitimate son, referred to only as the “Monkey Face Boy.” This poor soul, born with Down’s Syndrome, spent his entire life locked in the attic of the Lemp Mansion. Strange occurrences are often witnessed on this third floor level of the mansion. The face of the boy has regularly been seen from the street peeking from the small windows of the mansion. Ghost investigators have often left toys in the middle of his room, drawing a circle around them to see if the objects have been moved. Consistently, when they return the next day, the toys are found in another location.
In the downstairs women’s bathroom, which was once William, Jr’s personal domain and held the first free-standing shower in St. Louis, many women have reported a man peeking over the stall. On one such occasion, a woman emerged from the bathroom, returning to the bar and stated to the two men she was there with: “I hope you got an eyeful!” However, the two men quickly denied ever having left the bar, for which the bartender verified. This ghost is said to be that of the womanizing William Jr.
In William Lemp, Sr’s room, guests have often reported hearing someone running up the stairs and kicking at the door. When William killed himself, William Jr was known to have run up the stairs to his father’s room and finding it locked began to kick the door in to get to his father.
Several years ago a part-time tour guide reported hearing the sounds of horses outside the room where William Lemp, Sr had kept his office. However, when the tour guide looked through the window, nothing was there. This area, north of the mansion and now used as a parking lot, was once utilized as a tethering lot for horses.
The mansion has been featured in a number of magazine articles and newspapers and now attracts ghost hunters from around the country. Today it features a bed and breakfast with rooms restored in period style, a restaurant featuring fine dining, and a mystery dinner theater. Tours are also available at the mansion.
The Lemp Mansion is located at 3322 De Menil Place, a short distance from the Mississippi River. To get there Take Broadway from Interstate 55 and follow that to Cherokee Street. Go west on Cherokee and turn right onto De Menil Place.
3322 De Menil Place
St. Louis, Missouri, 63118
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