S1E1- The Lemp Mansion
Introducing... The Bag of Bones Podcast
The story of the Lemp brewing family is a tragic and fascinating tale all on its own. A family comes to America to live the dream, ends up creating a beer dynasty and on the front lines of brewing, refrigeration and shipping ingenuity.
The tragedy comes at the death of most of the Lemp family by way of suicide... and that doesn't even begin to touch on the hauntings.
Now a popular bed and breakfast in St. Louis, MO, the brewing manufacturing may be closed, but the house is worth the visit.
Take a listen then, to the story of the Lemp Mansion, our introductory episode.
Season 1, Episode 1- The Lemp Mansion
Released September 24, 2020
Listen to the Episode
Bag of Bones Podcast
Episode 1- The Lemp Mansion, St. Louis, MO
September 24, 2020
Missouri is the state that I call home. It seems fitting to start our podcast journey from there as I’ve come to know it so well. It has lots of rich history, much of which you probably already know with St. Louis being one of the early booming river towns, but also, lots of… dark history as well. Much that goes untold. Today, we explore one such story tapping into the history of St. Louis becoming a leader in the brewing industry but also in tragedy as it effects one of the foremost brewing families of the era.
Missouri’s landscapes include rich farmlands, vast and mighty waterways, towering bluffs and also hidden from view… caves. These resources helped to grow the area into a lucrative and dominating state.
Using these natural qualities, cities popped up along the mighty rivers but none lead the way quite like St. Louis did.
Many more stories will find their way to this podcast from St. Louis as I might have mentioned before, it has so many stories to offer and they became my playground and bedtime stories growing up. But today, let me share with you how St. Louis not only made it’s mark in the brewing industry because of this one family but also how they might have attributed to one of the most haunted and active sites in America.
I give you, the Lemp Mansion.
At 3322 Demenil Place in St. Louis, Missouri it sits alone standing proudly as the only home on the block. It’s facade facing the street looks elegant with windows highlighting the three story structure. You would be pressed to guess that so much pain and now so much dark history would come from such a beautiful house. But if you happen to look in just the right window, at just the right time, you will be witness to the pain of the past that haunted the Lemp family and still haunts today.
The Lemp family’s founder used the natural resources of the river and caves to build their German Lager dynasty.
Let me start back at the beginning.
J. Adam Lemp came to America in 1838 opening a small grocery store. His store grew in popularity, not because he had better cheese and crackers choices than others, but mostly because of the homemade light golden lager he served- which at the time was a stark contrast from the darker American beers.
He soon outgrew his location and began brewing in a limestone cave with a pub attached to it.
Lemp’s Western Brewing Company was born.
The caves hidden underneath the busy streets are naturally cool and when ice could be broken off nearby rivers, it made a perfect location to grow into the largest brewing company in the 1850s.
After the death of the immigrated patriarch J Adam Lemp in 1862, his son, William Lemp took over the expansion and growth of the family business.
Wasting no time, in 1864, William purchased five blocks-worth of land above and around the limestone caves they were already using and built a larger, more productive plant to accommodate the growth and the newest in brewing techniques.
By the 1870s the Lemp family was one of the richest in St. Louis, dominating the beer/lager market. They were the first to incorporate and implement the new and mostly unheard of refrigeration apparatus in their underground cellars and ice houses responsible for aging thousands of tons of beer barrels. By the 1890s the Lemp Brewery lead the way to establishing coast to coast distribution by way of refrigerated railway cars.
In 1876, William purchased a home his father-in-law built on the grounds and renovated it into a thirty-three room Victorian showplace complete with the newest in radiator technology, beautiful Italian marble, granite, iron and African mahogany fireplace mantels. The house boasted of an iron “lift” which was of course, the predecessor of the elevator.
Being avid art collectors, the house also included three massive vaults to hold their precious finds from around the world.
While the house was usually bustling with guests and parties, and the Lemp’s among the most elite of the social circles, the house did not boast a ballroom persay… A room, at the time, could make or break a social family in the eyes of the their peers.
This family rose to the occasion, or perhaps I should say sunk? The Lemp family utilized their caves underneath not only for the brewing of their lager, and for the tunnels that connected the house, slash office to the brewery they also boasted the “missing” ballroom… and just to make sure their standing in society was secure, there was also a bowling alley, a theatre and auditorium and even a heated swimming pool that used the hot water from the boiling house of the brewery to keep it a warm, perfect temperature.
This amazing underground portion of the Lemp family home had brick flooring and stone and brick archways and was always the right temperature for hosting guests. One could barely tell that they were dining and dancing underneath the sleeping city.
It was truly the picture of grandeur. It was the outward appearance of success. And through the vision of J. Adam Lemp, the young German immigrant, it was the American dream. His son followed in his footsteps and grew the dynasty to heights his father couldn’t have even dreamed. They were on top of the world… and under it.
And then… the future of the Lemp Brewing Company took a drastic turn.
The heir apparent for the Lemp Brewing dynasty, Frederick Lemp, died unexpectedly in 1901 of heart failure. He had kept his illness hidden and his seeming sudden death was a shock to the family and his especially his father. Frederick was only 28.
William suffered mentally and emotionally from the death of his eldest son and began to sink deeper into depression. He gave up his love for the business and reverted to seclusion rarely making public appearances.
But it was in January of 1904, when his best friend Frank Pabst, yes of PBR fame, also died, that William felt he could not take the burdens of life any more. He lost all interest of business related decisions and recluse to his room on the second floor. A month later, he took his own life with a gunshot to the head.
This should be enough to make for a good haunting story don’t you think? But wait… the darkness has only just begun.
William Lemp Jr. better known as Billy took over the affairs of the business after the death of his father.
Billy was a spoiled, extravagant child and by the time the business was supposed to come to him, he was already better at spending money rather than making it. He knew little of the business operations and was not keen to learn more.
He was known for hosting the most lavish parties in the underground ballroom and pool. Of course, there was plenty of beer for his guests and to get around those pesky business meetings, he even went so far as to hire prostitutes for his guests… so they say.
Quite the unabashed playboy, rumor has it that he had a child out of wedlock by either a servant or a prostitute. The child, some say his name was Zeke, others knew him as the Monkey-Faced boy and others recall him never been given a name. Through the stories of servants over the years, and those who cared for him, we now know that he had Down Syndrome. But back then, a scandal such as this could ruin a family but could also destroy their business.
So the poor child was sent to live in the attic to be raised by servants and never to set foot in the main house for the remainder of his life. The attic was the only home he knew.
Passersby, walking down the sidewalk would often see a child, with a monkey’s features looking from the uppermost windows where the house and roof joined.
In 1906 Billy’s mother, the last voice of reason in her son’s ear died of cancer. While the competition for beer sales in St. Louis grew fierce, still… Billy played.
Scandal finally caught up to the Lemp family and it hit them where it hurt the most. The front page of every St. Louis newspaper.
Billy Lemp and his wife, Lillian, known as the Lavender Lady, went through a very nasty, very public divorce.
By 1914, the brewery had fallen into major disrepair and was barely able to maintain its production. Not that Billy hadn’t been warned of pending breakdowns, he just chose not to “waste” the money of such repairs.
and then… prohibition…
These were blows the master brewers couldn’t rebound from.
So, in 1919, the Lemp Brewery locked and chained it’s doors, not bothering to even mention it in advance to their hundreds of employees who didn’t find out until they showed up for work that day.
The humiliation and decline of the once most elite family of St. Louis continued when sister of Billy, Elsa Lemp Wright, the wealthiest heiress in St. Louis, shot herself in the same manner as her father.
Only two years later, buckling under the pressure, Billy- William Lemp, Jr. shot himself in the heart in the office at the mansion on the main floor.
After the death of his brother Billy, Charles, a younger sibling, moved into the mansion along with two of his own servants, and his dog (plus let’s not forget the illegitimate child still in the attic).
Those closest to Charles say that it wasn’t long after being in the home that he slipped slowly into madness suffering from obsessive-compulsive behavior being suddenly terrified of germs. He would wash his hands constantly and was never seen without gloved hands.
In 1949, he took his beloved Doberman to the basement and shot him. He then walked up to his room on the second floor and turned the gun on himself.
The child that was raised in the attic, Zeke, died in his thirties, just after his uncle committed suicide one floor below.
My story could stop there and I’m sure you could fill in the blanks of what happened next… years and years of death by suicide, cruelty… greed… the perfect recipe for a good haunting.
Not to disappoint, the Lemp Mansion rises to the occasion, after falling into disrepair (apparently it had to go through a short stint as a boarding house with tenant unwilling to stay there and then quite a few years of vacancy but…) the home was brought back to it’s full splendor in the 1970s and functions as an elegant restaurant, bed and breakfast and the occasional dinner theatre event.
That’s right… you heard correctly. You can sleep there if you’d like. It’s an open arrangement meaning, the owners leave you there… alone… for the night and don’t return until morning. You have free reign of the house minus a few locked doors. But just a head’s up, it is always booked on Halloween, so get your reservations in early.
The spectorly residents that quote unquote live there are more than accommodating. At the very least, you will feel eyes on you while standing in certain areas of the house.
Guests have seen apparitions of a lady descending the stairs, glasses being tossed about the bar, toys being moved in the attic, a bearded gentleman in an overcoat walking the upstairs hall and a face looking out from the uppermost window from the outside… you know… where the house meets the roof.
Sounds of horse hooves can be heard clip-clopping where the stables used to be, which is just behind the house. Footsteps, knocking, voices… even a dog’s barking from the downstairs area.
A popular story that gets told time and time again by different guests is the sound of footsteps running up the stairs and kicking at the base of the bedroom door… something a very young William Jr. was known to do in his youth at his parent’s door.
Another is one that if you bring a toy to the attic… it will move.
The ghosts are fond of pranks, flicking lights off and on, hiding keys and shoes and then having them re-appear, opening and closing doors.
The room that was once the office where Billy took his life is a Mecca of activity. In fact, it’s said by several of the employees that he wanders the entire main floor. (Ladies, this includes the women’s restroom where people have complained of being “watched”. Myself among them. The feeling was so strong while I was there, I decided that I didn’t have to “go” as bad as I thought I did… It can wait…
Employees are never short on stories and are usually happy to share them. Most know that while the food there is excellent and the building is beautiful to look at and explore, most come for the history and the hauntings.
While the mostly unseen inhabitants are harmless, many of the employees are afraid of the entrance to the cave tunnel and have coined it “the gates of hell”.
In the downstairs bar area they’ve heard growling and dog whimpers. Low whispers and even music. They’ve felt a “presence” and thought they were being watched and some even talked about a “weight on their chest” making it hard to breathe.
Most of the history, documentation and the entire art collection of fine paintings and other pieces, is gone thanks to the last of the Lemp lineage Edwin. While he may not have succumb to the Lemp suicide curse, instead dying of natural causes at the age of 90, but was equally as tormented, willed everything to be destroyed by fire at his death. Not even those massive vaults that were built to protect these precious historically valuable pieces could protect them.
The Lemp mansion is an amazing piece of brewing history made up of the very human dark stories hidden underneath. Reminding us again that money doesn’t always ensure happiness and things may not look on the inside as they seem on the outside.
I have visited the mansion several times and must admit that I’ve eaten some of the very best meals there, but more importantly, the owners have taken the time and care to preserve so many original pieces of the home. The mantels, the original art work that was painted on the ceilings… the aviary… the trim work. So beautiful.
You can also catch a glimpse of one of the original safes (tucked away in the gift shop) and the decorative iron gate that was the entrance to the iron lift.
I have never been able to see the tunnels, ballroom or pool, in the caves below but it has always been on my bucket list. I’ve heard that it can still be seen and is still just as amazing, as it always has been. Maybe someday…
Do I believe it’s haunted?
But if you’re ever in St. Louis, Missouri, you should check it out for yourself. I’ll even put the booking information in the show notes.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the first of many tales I’ll be bringing you every week about the dark or peculiar side of American history.
Will you join me next week to see what we can reveal from my Bag of Bones…