MISSOURI - Lemp Mansion
by: Becky Ray
Johann Adam Lemp arrived in St. Louis in 1838 from Eschwege, Germany. Originally establishing a mercantile store, one of the most popular items he sold was vinegar and beer his brewed himself. It didn't take long for Lemp to realize the money making potential.
He established a brewery for both these products and started selling his beer out of a pub attached to the plant. It is believed that this is where Lemp introduced St. Louis to lager beer. This light golden beer was very different from the dark English Ales that had been popular. Lemp beer became a regional favorite quickly and by 1845 Lemp got rid of the mercantile shop and was solely producing beer at a small brewery close to where the Gateway Arch stands today. Before long, Lemp found that the brewery was too small to handle both production and storage so he found a limestone cave south of the city limits. This 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 lager 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 and was one of the staple beers of St. Louis.
Adam Lemp died a millionaire on August 25, 1862 leaving the company to his son William. William immediately began a major expansion of the brewery and purchased the five-block area around his father's brewing caves. Lemp beer and the Lemp brewery quickly gained national attention, as Lemp was the first brewery to establish coast-to-coast distribution of beer and even marketed it overseas. By the 1870s the Lemp family symbolized both wealth and power, as the Lemp Brewery controlled the St. Louis beer market. In 1892 the brewery was incorporated as the William J. Lemp Brewing Co.
By the middle 1890s, the Lemp Brewery made a national presence for themselves after introducing the popular “Falstaff” beer, which is still brewed today by another company. At the same time he was building his own business empire, William, Sr. also helped Pabst, Anheuser, and Busch get started. During this time, Lemp was the largest brewery in St. Louis and remained so until Prohibition.
Following William Lemp, Sr.'s death, William Lemp, Jr. took over as the new president of the William J. Lemp Brewing Company in November 1904.
In 1906, nine of the large breweries in the St. Louis area had combined to form the Independent Breweries Company (now known as IBC, famous for their root beer), creating fierce competition that the Lemp Brewery had never faced. In the same year, William's mother died of 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.
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.
THE MANSION ITSELF
William J. Lemp, Sr.'s father in law, Jacob Feickert built the mansion in 1868, but even at that time it was certain that Lemp money was used in the construction. In 1876 William Lemp purchased the home outright from Feickert to use as his residence and as an auxiliary brewery office. From that point he spent money lavishly increasing the home into a thirty-three room Victorian showplace.
Included in his additions were three room sized walk-in vaults, each measuring 13 feet high, 15 feet wide, and 25 feet deep and an underground tunnel was run through the caves between the house and 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. All of which could be reached from another tunnel from the basement of the house. This tunnel is now sealed and the spiral staircase entrance has been cut away to prevent trespassing.
In November 1904, when William Lemp, Jr. inherited the family business and vast fortune, he and his wife Lillian Handlan-Lemp began to spend the inheritance. Filling the house with servants, the pair spent huge amounts on carriages, clothing, and art.
William and Lillian had a vicious divorce in 1908, and the brewery was facing its fiercest competition. In 1911 William J. Lemp, Jr. transformed the mansion into the new offices of the brewing company. Quite a few changes were made and the front part of the house was altered into private offices, lobbies, and rooms for clerks.
Following Prohibition, the family and the mansion suffered a decline.
After the death of William Jr., his brother Charles remodeled the mansion back into a home and lived there with one other family member and two servants. Following his death in 1949, the mansion left the Lemp family and was used as a boarding house. Time was not kind to the neighborhood, and the mansion started to deteriorate as its surroundings did.
In the mid 1960's a significant section of the mansion grounds and one of the two carriage houses were lost to the construction of the Ozark Expressway, more commonly called Interstate 55.
Dick Pointer and his family rescued the mansion in 1975. It is now a popular bed and breakfast inn with four suites, each named after and previously belonging to a specific Lemp family member.
William Lemp, Jr.'s wife Lillian was a beautiful woman who came from a wealthy family herself. She and William (he preferred to be called “Billy”) 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 and the fact that she commonly dressed in lavender and even had her carriage horses harnesses dyed to match. 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 Billy was not a faithful husband. Born with a "silver spoon in his mouth," he was used to doing and acting as he pleased. When he 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, Billy 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.
Billy finally filed for divorce in 1908 and all of the court proceedings surrounding the divorce became a major St. Louis scandal. As if nothing else was going on the world, all four St. Louis newspapers devoted extensive front-page coverage for the duration of the trial to the messy affair. And why not? Lillian and William Lemp, Jr. were going through a very scandalous divorce that was followed by a vicious custody dispute. Opening in February 1909, the trial attracted crowds of spectators each day. Tales of violence, drunkenness, atheism, and cruelty filled the courtroom daily.
For the divorce, Lillian stated that William drank to excess and had been keeping company with other women. Billy argued that his wife had been seen drinking and smoking in public. Virtually ignoring William's decadent activities, Lillian almost lost custody of William Lemp III, the couple's only child, because of a photograph that was presented at the trial that showed her smoking a cigarette. Lillian received her divorce based mainly on the testimony of a family servant who stated she had found the long hairs of different women in William's bathroom while Mrs. Lemp was out of town. The only time that she was ever seen wearing anything other than lavender was during her divorce proceedings, when she appeared entirely in black.
Two years later a second trial was underway over the custody agreement of William J. Lemp III, the couple's only child. Lillian moved to deny her ex-husband access to their son. Her most moving citation was Lemp's cruelty to animals. In the end, she retained custody of their son but soon retired from public eye. William soon built a country home atop the bluffs overlooking the Meramec River that he dubbed “Alswel.” In 1915 he married for a second time to Ellie Limberg, widowed daughter of the late St. Louis brewer Casper Koehler.
DEATHS AND SUICIDES
Lemp beer was one of the great financial success stories in America and William Lemp Sr. began teaching the business to his favorite son, Fredrick. Sadly, in the middle of all this success, the Lemp family experienced the first of many tragedies. The long workdays and heavy stress were too much for Fredrick who had never been in good health, and he literally worked himself to death. In 1901 at the age of 28 he died from heart failure.
William Lemp Sr. was never the same, beginning a slow withdrawal and he was rarely seen in public after his son's death. Then 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. Lemp's daughter Hilda had married Pabst's eldest son Gustav in 1877.
Suicides were so common amongst German-Americans in St. Louis that the police department coined a phrase to describe it. They called it the Dutch Act. Four members of the Lemp family took their own lives beginning with William Lemp, Sr.
William Lemp, Sr.
Following the death of his son Frederick and the death of Pabst, the people who knew William Sr. described him as a defeated man. His physical and mental health began to decline. On February 13, 1904, Lemp got up, ate breakfast, and mentioned he was not feeling well. After he finished his meal, he returned to his upstairs bedroom and around 9:30 a.m. he shot himself in the head with a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver. He was 67 years old.
Born in 1883, Elsa was the youngest daughter of William Lemp, Sr. In 1910 she wed Mr. Thomas Wright making her the richest heiress in St. Louis. Unfortunately, her marriage was an unsteady one, and in December 1918 they separated. Elsa filed for divorce on the first day of February 1919 and in her petition she stated that her husband had long since ceased to love her. She also alleged the Wright treated her with coldness and indifference, and absented himself from their home in order to be away from her. Although her divorce was not sensational like her brother's because she did not go into specifics, but it was expedited so that within an hour after the petition was filed her divorce was granted.
However, on March 8, 1920, the couple remarried in New York City. They returned to St. Louis on March 19 to find their home filled with congratulatory flowers sent by friends and family.
That night was a restless one for Elsa, who was known to have abdominal problems that caused periods of severe mental depression. She slept very little as the pain kept her up much of the night. When her husband woke up the next morning, Elsa told him she was feeling better, but wanted to stay in bed. According to Mr. Wright, he agreed that was the best thing she could do and went to run his bath. While in the bathroom he heard a sharp sound. Thinking it was his wife trying to get his attention, he opened the door and spoke to her, however she did not answer him. She was lying on her back with her eyes open and he stated that she seemed to be looking at him. As he walked toward her he saw the revolver on the bed and realized she was trying to speak to him, but could not. Within minutes, she was dead.
None of the servants present at the time of the shooting had heard a thing, nor did they have a clue as to why Elsa would want to take her own life, or so they said. Dr. M.B. Clopton was the first person they called, then a family friend. Next they called Circuit Attorney Lawrence McDaniel, and it was only through his notification that the Coroner received information concerning the suicide. Oddly enough, no one called the police for over two hours.
Elsa's brothers William Jr. and Edwin rushed to the house when they learned of the shooting. William's only comment was, "That's the Lemp family for you."
William Lemp, Jr.
While head of the Lemp brewery, William Jr. had allowed the company's equipment to deteriorate and become outdated, and then Prohibition came along. Acting much like his father, he became ever more nervous and unpredictable, avoiding public life and often complaining of ill health. Convinced that Prohibition was never going to end, he sold the company's Falstaff trademark to would-be beer maker Papa Joe Griesedieck for $25,000. In 1922 he sold the brewery in an auction to International Shoe Company at $588,000. The pre-Prohibition $7-million company was worth about eight cents on the dollar. Eighteen years after his father's suicide, gloomy and miserable, the 55-year-old Lemp shot himself in the heart with a .38 caliber revolver in his mansion office on December 29, 1922. Shortly after speaking to his wife on the phone, he unbuttoned his vest and fired the gun through his shirt. Billy took his life on the main level of the mansion, just inside the entrance to the left. This room served as his office at the time of his death. He was interred in the family mausoleum at Bellefontaine Cemetery in the crypt just above his sister Elsa.
“The Monkey Faced Boy”
It was told for years that during mid to late 1940's William's illegitimate child, now in his 30s, died at the mansion. This is pure fabrication on the part of a psychic medium, and there is no basis of truth to any story about an illegitimate child.
Charles had worked in the family brewery for only a short time in his youth before heading out to a successful career in banking and politics. Despite this, he remained a private and odd man. After he'd converted the mansion back into a home, he seemed to have developed an attachment to the house and refused to move out, even at the suggestion of his only surviving brother Edwin. He lived in the house along with just two servants and the illegitimate child of his brother William. Somewhere along the way he had developed a morbid fear of germs. On May 10, 1949 he was discovered dead in his bed and still holding the .38 caliber Army Colt revolver he had used. He was 77 years old. It was also found that Charles had made detailed funeral arrangements for himself many years earlier. Out of all the Lemp suicides, Charles was the only one to leave a note behind. In the letter dated May 9, 1949 he wrote, “In case I am found dead, blame it on no one but me.”
William J. Lemp III
In 1943, yet another tragedy occurred when William Lemp III died of a heart attack at the age of forty-two.
Edwin entered into a life of seclusion at his estate in Kirkwood, Missouri in 1911. Following the deaths of all of his family members, Edwin Lemp was truly alone. Never speaking publicly about his family or their tragic ends, he seemed obsessed with keeping someone with him at all times. In 1970 he died of natural causes at the age of 90, ending the Lemp family line. Per Edwin's last wishes, his butler burned all of the paintings that Lemp 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.
For a while it was believed that the Lemp Mansion had its own zoo in some of the carriage house buildings. Neighbors of the mansion frequently claimed to hear animal-like sounds at night, especially during full moons, and started the rumor.
In 1980, Life Magazine listed the Lemp Mansion was one of the nine most haunted places in America, and I believe they may be right. This mansion seems to be haunted by several members of the Lemp family.
Stories of the mansion being haunted go back to when the mansion was a boarding house. Residents would often complain about knocking sounds and phantom footsteps. As these stories grew, it became more difficult to find tenants to fill the rooms.
In the late 1970's as the Pointer family worked to restore the house, workers reported strange things happening within the residence. Reports ran from a simple feeling of being watched to vanishing tools and strange sounds. Several workers walked off the job site never to return.
A few years back a part time tour guide heard horses neighing and moving about a few feet outside the north side of the building just below where William J. Lemp, Sr. had kept his office. Upon inspection from the window, the guide was distraught to discover that there were no horses anywhere to be seen. Coincidentally, when the parking lot on the north side was expanded to be closer to the Lemp Restaurant, it was revealed that the area the ghostly horse sounds originated from had once been used as a tethering lot for horses.
In the restaurant section of the mansion, glasses have been seen to lift off the bar and fly through the air. Many sounds have been reported, and several visitors and employees have seen actual apparitions appear and vanish before their eyes. Door will lock and unlock unexplainably, lights will flicker on and off, and the piano in the bar plays on its own. Some visitors claim to have seen the apparition of the Lavender Lady as well.
All these unexplained events, sightings, and sounds add more than charm to the place. Paul Pointer, current co-owner reports that they have had some guest unable to spend the entire night. Pointer himself has seen his share of strange things. One night his sister asked him to shut a drawer in the downstairs dining room, as he turned to do so, the drawer slid shut by itself.
There seem to be three areas of the mansion that have the most activity: The Stairway, The Attic, and what the staff calls the “Gates of Hell” in the basement. This is the area of the basement that used to be the entrance to the caves running below the mansion and the brewery.
In the downstairs women's bathroom many women have reported a man peeking over the stall. This was once William Jr.'s private bathroom and it is also where the first freestanding shower in St. Louis was installed. Other women have reported hearing people entering the bathroom and running water when no one is present. It is believed that this spirit is that of the womanizing Billy.
Guests who stay in the William Lemp Suite have reported the sounds of someone running up the staircase and kicking at the door. This too could be William Jr. When William Sr. shot himself, it is known that Billy ran up the stairs to his father's room, and when he found it locked began to kick the door in to get to his father.
In the book, “Lemp: The Haunting History” by Stephen P. Walker, he recounts the story of Claude Breckwoldt, a decorative painter of German descent, who walked off a ceiling restoration project. Breckwoldt said he felt he was being watched all the time. In the book he states, “It was weird. I just felt I had to get out right then... That place is crazy. You must have a ghost in there or something!”