S1E4: Memento Mori
In Latin, Memento Mori means, "Remember, you must die." But here in America, we took it to mean, a memento of death.
For most, death is a painful event that no one is immune to and more often than not, we choose to keep a memory of the lost loved one. There are many, but this episode focuses more on hair jewelry.
S1E4: Memento Mori
Bag of Bones Podcast
The act of giving a lock of one’s hair to a loved one has been practiced for centuries. It was was a sign that you were “courting” or “engaged” if you kept a locket of your mate’s hair hair. Men carried it with them in watch fobs or sewn into the inside lapels of their jackets. Women wore brooches or lockets with snippets of hair from their loves.
It was common for the family Bibles to have snippets of hair on name cards for the members of the family in their family tree.
And even into the 1900s as tokens of friendship, ladies would exchange clippings to include in their autograph books.
And before you cringe at the thought of saving hair, I’d be willing to bet your parents have a clipping from your first haircut tucked away someplace safe… and- chances are, you probably did the same with your children. (Don’t worry, we’re not even tapping into the saving of teeth for this episode!)
Needless to say, it’s not too much of a stretch to think that lockets of hair being used as mementos from those loved ones who had passed before us, is not too outrageous. Even an art form.
Memento Mori, is translated to simply be, memories of the dead.
When a loved one dies, it’s not uncommon for us to keep some sort of memento to remember them by. Items, like china, rings, tools and clothing were passed on from generation to generation to keep the family’s history “alive” for lack of a better word, and as a sentimental reminder of our love for them. Many of those same items are passed on still today.
But, at a time before the photograph, and all they had were their memories, Memento Mori was not considered morbid in any way. It was honoring those who passed. It was like our keeping a photo on our wall, long after our loved ones had passed.
You’ve gathered that today’s episode is referring to the sentimental value that we have given to the locks of hair that we keep, but perhaps not in the how. In addition to keeping small snippets tied with a delicate bow or pressed between pages of a family’s Bible, some learned the talent of turning hair into pieces of jewelry or elaborate framed works of art.
This skill morphed into a recognized art form that was once very personal, being done by the grieving family member, to a highly profitable business, then back to a more intimate setting such as a social gathering like sewing bees and then by the time WW1 came along it switched into morbid curiosities.
Jewelry made from human hair. Such an odd thing to our sensibilities today. Almost cringe-worthy.
But stick with me a little bit longer and hopefully you’ll be able to remove the look of disgust from your face. (I know it’s there, because I made that face too). It altered into a look o respect for the craft and a reverence for the pieces.
In our world today where we take so much for granted and believe that most things are disposable, it’s hard to suspend those thoughts and re-visit that time since not only do we have millions of photos of our loved ones, and what they eat at any given time, to a time where if you HAD a photo… it was the most precious thing. Because it was rare.
Death was treated so differently in times gone by. There were specific rituals that those who lost someone followed for the specific amount of time depending on what the deceased meant to you. Death was not only an event, but since it may have been months or even years before family members and friends learned of the death, the rituals were maintained for a rather lengthly amount of time.
Men who lost their wife were to wear black clothing for three months and then to wear a black arm bandage, corsage or pin representing her death. The women however had to mourn and wear black dress, corset, gloves, hat and veil for two and a half years. They even had to correspond on mourning stationary. Yes, there was such a thing.
Death, was a thing. So it was not too hard to see how jewelry ended up a part of that as well.
Matte Black Ornamental rings and brooches made of jet and onyx were already used in mourning wear and adding the sentiment of a loved ones hair was a perfectly beautiful and natural thing. They could keep their loved ones with them always.
The manipulation of hair dates back centuries. The Europeans and Greeks worshipped it and the longer the locks, the more beautiful and sacred it was deemed The Egyptians, on the other hand, hated it, choosing to shave it off and wear wigs when the event called for it.
So, in true supply and demand fashion, there were those who emerged who mastered the skill of wig making and then in addition to adorning and style, they perfected their skill with hair wiglets, chignons, falls and curls.
And yes, these were mostly made with human hair. They had not developed synthetic as yet (well, not anything good- there were some horsehair, yak and fibers options…) but hair was quite the commodity. And, I’m sorry to tell you- it still is.
(Side note to put things into perspective of the time frame: by the 1850s over 150,000 pounds was being imported from Europe. Mainly France, Italy and Germany)
Human hair was a highly profitable market to get into. And this included jewelry. Watches, bracelets, necklaces, brooches, rings were in high demand.
By the mid to late 1800s jewelry stores would have their own “in house” hair weavers”. Customers could come in and purchase a ready-made item or bring in the hair of their loved one to have a custom piece made.
Mark Campbell remarked in his book from 1867 Self-Instructor in the Art of Hairwork, quote: “The Norwegians were among the first to make ornaments of hair to be worn as jewelry but in a great measure, we are indebted to the French for the perfection to which the art has attained.” End quote.
Again, Momento Mori was not considered morbid even though many displayed the very symbols we consider frightening, or unloving, or these days, faddish and grungy: such as skulls, coffins, wings, urns, skulls with wings and others but then, these symbols just meant the passing of time. A pause in our connection with the deceased.
It defined the piece for what it was, a symbol… a memory of death. To remind us that death is ever present and that we should embrace and strive for a righteous life. I believe in today’s vernacular it could be summed up with our saying, “Live life to the fullest.”
Just because a piece of jewelry from the past was black, did not always mean that it was Memento Mori. The artisans that created these ornamental pieces used a lot of symbolism in their creations. Not just the skulls and other creepy notations, but some that might surprise you.
The acorn or oak sprays are included to show independence and is often shown an empty acorn cup.
The use of ivory as a cutout piece or backdrop symbolized innocence and is seen often in the use of children’s and young women’s ornaments.
Seed pearls are meant to represent tears.
Lily of the Valley, the little bell-shaped flower has been known to symbolize sadness and the reuniting loved ones as well as the small bells announce their arrival to “good spirits”
Weeping Willow trees are popular in the hair jewelry institution (as someone with an artist’s eye myself I can see how hair could be a perfect form for this tree) but in death it means being born again; the resurrection of the soul
Today, the anchor symbolizes strength and security; a place to come home to; But in the 1800s, Anchors were used to signify hope and stability.
And one more that might seem obvious, The cross. Today, it is a symbol of the Christian faith that is recognized as salvation… atonement… redemption. And while it meant those same things in earlier times, when referring to death it also means- the acceptance of death. An end to suffering and sacrifice. Peace.
The skills of a Hairwork artisan can still be admired today, partially because of the medium with which they were working and the time and care they put into the creation of each piece.
Another quote from author Mark Campbell, says, “The jewelry manufactured in this time is as durable as the all-gold jewelry and is done in a style of surpassing neatness, thus rendering it beautiful either as an ornament or memento.”
And he is correct. Some pieces of Memento Mori are still as smooth and beautiful even being over 200 years old.
Long strands of hair were woven and twisted into bows that would be decorated with a pin. Necklaces that would be intricately braided in several designs and worn as is or have an additional piece of an anchor, cross or flower dangling from them. Watch fobs, bracelets, earrings, hat pins, and then to ornate wall hangings. Hours of painstaking work.
This style or braiding, and twisting was called “table work”, because artist would sit at a small, specially made table with strands of hair spilling over the edges weighted with just the right bobbin to keep the hair straight but not stretch it. The work space itself, was made of a domed shaped table that could spin to make it easier to reach all the way around for the weaver. They could sit or stand and braid their cord as long as they needed it to be and then tie it off, shellac the ends and adorn it with gold clasps.
Palette work was the skill of creating mailable “sheets” of hair to swirl and curl. They achieved this by flattening the hair and mixing it with sticky sap-like substance so when it dried it could be formed into shapes and sculpted. These creations are usually seen on the coverings for keepsake boxes (about the size of small jewelry boxes, for example), larger brooches and for shadow boxes, meaning framed under either domed or flat glass.
Wreaths and laurel designs were made of twisting, knotting and looping hair around wire until they created the length of the circle or half circle they desired. Then by off-shoots of wire and looped hair, twisting into the main strand made it look like branches of a tree or flower. The artist could add small dried flowers or wood or rolled paper or even create the flowers themselves from hair as well. It’s an amazing thing to see. I’ve added a few photos to the shownotes and it’s worth it to go to the website and really appreciate the time that had to go into creating even one element of these!
Then, families could hang them on their wall, either behind glass and framed or many opted to hang them directly and then the wreaths could be linked together as new family members were uh…unvolentarily added. This tedious, and time consuming style of hairwork is called gimping or gimp work.
Dissolved work. I bet you can guess what kind of artistry this is created from. The crafter would pulverize the hair pieces into a pigment and mix it with a substance that would allow it to “stain” or adhere to the backdrop, which was usually ivory. They would then have the freedom to paint whatever scene with ease. Sometimes, this was the only option for those who had short or course hair.
And then if the artist was really showing off, they would combine the skills of gimp work, palette work AND Dissolved Hairwork to create shadow boxes with scenes of death or gardens using the hair to create flowers, and weeping willow trees on a creamy white back drop of ivory or soft velvety fabric.
The jewelry began it’s rise in popularity in the early 1800s but when Queen Victoria was mourning the loss of her king Albert, and order eight pieces of jewelry to be made from his hair, the popularity boomed.
This was also the beginning of the Civil War, here in the states. The rituals and customs surrounding death had to be altered simply because of the mass amount of death that was happening daily. One in four soldiers died and death was at their doorstep every day.
This was the time when “store-bought” items rose in popularity. Mourning clothes and dresses, became the first “off the rack” items found in shops…
The war also affected the hair jewelry industry in many ways. This was the rise of store bought pieces with the family trusting a retail establishment to create their jewelry but then, death happened so often and so quickly, the artists were soon pressed for time and were unable to add much of the adornment that they used to. The first thing to go was shaving off the time it took to carve: “In memory of…” or any other inscriptions for that matter. Therefore, you can often tell the age of a piece of jewelry from the inscription… or the lack of one.
And that also caused the loved ones to wonder if the hair they sent off was really the hair that was used in the creation of their jewelry pieces.
In response… and concern, woman, began to learn the skill of hairwork themselves and it slowly replaced the artisans in the shops. The book referenced in the episode was released in 1861 and was a thorough instructional book on how to create braids, treat the hair and templates of what to create. It was titled Self-Instruction in the Art of Hairwork. It taught them everything they needed to know, so in some circles, this replaced quilting or knitting bringing it around full circle, back to the homes.
The women were needing things to do to help them heal and grieve and this gave them purpose, release and community. It was considered a very sentimental gift that was cherished by the family members and passed down from generation to generation.
It went out of fashion in the middle 1920s when it became deemed “frivolous”. At a time when the world was at war and every penny and ounce of effort had to go to supporting the efforts of victory, hair work became old fashioned and backward.
Luckily, there are still quite a few pieces to be found in various museums, especially the Civil War memorials. And, there is one woman who has made it her mission to preserve these precious pieces, so she created a museum just for these sentimental antiques. Leila’s Hair Museum. I’ll add the link to her website in the shownotes if you’d like to see her collection up close and personal.
And apparently enough time had passed when this mourning ritual had been all but forgotten to where when I mentioned it as an upcoming episode, I was greeted with, “Hair jewelry? That’s a thing? That’s disgusting!”
Even yet, today there are necklaces you can purchase so you can wear your deceased loved ones ashes around your neck or in a ring so maybe its not gone, just updated.
S1E3: The Death of Phil Hartman
Probably best know for his time of Saturday Night Live, this well known and well loved actor/comedian, Phil Hartman was taken from this world far too early at the hands of one he should have felt safe with.
S1E3: The Death of Phil Hartman
Released: September 24, 2020
Bag of Bones Podcast
Episode 3- The Death of Phillip E. Hartman
September 24, 2020
She already had cocaine and the prescribed anti-depressants in her system before she went out drinking.
She met a friend at a local bar close to her home. “She seemed content,” her friend would recall.
She left that bar and drove to another friend’s home. She drank more, complained to him of her failing career, told him of her husband’s neglect… and sometime before three a.m. she went home. Her husband was furious with her intoxicated behavior and an argument ensued waking the children.
Calming the nine year old son and six year old daughter and sending them back to bed, comedian Phil Hartman of Saturday Night Live fame went back to bed himself, not wanting to participate any more in the argument.
He lay on his bed with his ankles crossed and closed his eyes, tuning out the world. A short time later, his wife Brynn came in their bedroom and with her own gun, shot her husband in the forehead, the throat and the chest.
It was May 28, 1998 and Phil Hartman was dead.
Phillip E Hartman was originally born in Canada but his family moved to California when he was ten. He was the fourth of eight children and he was usually quiet and kept to himself.
As he got older, he would become the class clown and try on voices such as John Wayne and other mimicking and cutting up with his friends. He enjoyed making his friends laugh, but a career in the industry hadn’t crossed his mind… yet.
He went to work with his brother’s band as a “rodie” for a time and then with another brother as a graphic artist for which he went to California State University to study. He created album covers for bands including America, Crosby, Still and Nash and hi favorite, Poco.
His work had kept him pretty isolated and he felt the need for some social interaction. He went to the Los Angeles improve club called The Groundlings, and when they asked for volunteers from the audience, Phil jumped up from his seat and went to the stage.
“I had to do this,” he says, “just to get to some extrovert into the equation.”
He was instantly invited to become a part of the group. Founding Member of the Groundlings, Tracy Newman has said of Phil, quote “I never saw an audience member come up with that kind of excitement or energy. It was like a hurricane hit that stage.. in a good way.” End quote
His first movie role was in 1978’s Stunt Rock, an Australian film, his first starring role in a movie was 1995’s Houseboat along with Sinbad and his first television debut was as a guest on the popular game show, The Dating Game. Interesting fun fact: He was chosen by the bachorette but never showed up for their scheduled date.
He threw himself into the improve group, learning and refining his comedic skills, And it was there he met other comedians such as Jon Lovitz and Paul Ruebens- better known as Pee Wee Herman. Ruebens was on the verge of his Pee Wee persona and Phil collaborated with him perfect his character with his scripts for his live show and also created the part of Captain Carl which became a recurring role and Phil was happy to revive it several times over the years. He also helped co-write some of the Pee Wee Herman screenplays, which really helped get his name out to open new doors for his career.
His friend Jon Lovitz saw the mastery and potential in Phil’s talent and helped Phil get the audition for Saturday Night Live. They stayed friends and at Phil’s passing Jon was honored to be his replacement in the series News Radio for one season before the show was cancelled. And it was at Jon’s home on the day of Phil’s death that friends gathered to pay homage to their friend, still in shock that he was gone.
By the time he was invited to the Saturday Night Live cast in 1986, he already had two failed marriages under his belt.
But he soon fell for swimsuit model Brynn Omdal, ten years his junior and they married in 1987. Phil was known to call her his “dream girl.”
Brynn was born Vicki Jo Omdal in Minnesota, April 1958 she had moved to Los Angeles as many do, to become an actress. She was hoping that her new husband would put her on the fast track to her own career, but soon resented Phil’s success. Her own unfulfilled ambitions were to become a main source of arguments in their marriage.
Phil’s career and life really took off in the eighties with a vibrant run on SNL, his new marriage, movies such as Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Three Amigos and Blind Date, commercial offers, and the birth of his first child. A boy. Sean. He closes out the eighties with a shiny new Emmy for his writing on SNL.
Considered a success by anyone’s standards, but his own, Phil worked hard and took every opportunity to entertain.
He became well known for his celebrity impressions of Bill Clinton, Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan Ed McMahon and Barbara Bush. The cast would lovingly referred to him as “The Glue” that held the SNL cast and show together. They would say that there wasn’t anything you could throw at him that he couldn’t pull off.
He enjoyed playing the “seedy villain” roles and called his character repertoire as “the weasel parade”, still being allowed to be the bad guy but making the audience laugh.
His life at home, however was rocky. And while he loved being a father, a second child, a girl, born in 1992, the marriage was wearing him down. He would choose to steal away on one of his many boats or in his plane as he used nature to center himself. “Nature worship” is what he called it and said, “Its almost a religion to me.”
By the time the nineties were underway, there wasn’t too many places you didn’t see or rather hear, Phil Hartman. He was everywhere. He was being paid a small fortune to promote everything from cheese burgers to Cheetos. He was a popular guest on the late night talk shows. He liked being the side characters in his movie choices. He jokes saying, “That way if the movie fails, I’m not the one they blame.”
Director Joe Dante has said, “He was one of those guys who was a dream to work with. I don’t know anybody who didn’t like him.”
His voice is heard on video games, commercials and cartoons such as the Smurfs, Dennis the Menace, Disney’s Duck Tales and even Scooby Doo. But his voice is probably most recognized as a frequent guest on the animated series, The Simpsons. While his most popular roles were those of Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz, he actually voiced nineteen characters over nine seasons and “appeared” in fifty three episodes. In his honor, the characters that he immortalized were never to appear in another episode again following his death.
The cracks in his marriage started to show as she became more resentful of his success. He confides to a friend that he has succumb to pretending that he’s asleep to avoid the endless fights with his wife.
He did his best to promote his wife’s career by taking her with him to his interviews and talking her up to the casting directors of shows When he left SNL in 1994, planning on doing his own sketch comedy, he would be the executive producer and head writer. He encouraged the writers to give her a part, but they weren’t convinced of Brynn’s comedy skills. And, honestly, It was Phil Hartman the world wanted. Since the variety show didn’t happen, talks were in the works of another sitcom for Phil and again, he encouraged the writers to include a role for his wife.
When that opportunity fell through, Phil, not unhappy about the turn of events not looking forward to the demanding roll of producer, decided that he “just wanted to be an actor” and took the roll in a new series NewsRadio in 1995.
NewsRadio continued precariously for four seasons never really knowing if it was going to be picked up again the next. It was, indeed grabbed for a fifth season, but Hartman died before the production began. Enter Jon Lovitz attempting to take the helm. Hartman was posthumously nominated for the Emmy in 1998.
The arguments continued and despite going in and out of rehab, so did the chemical abuse. One of the arguments following an angry outburst at their daughter while Brynn was drunk, Phil threatened to end the marriage not wanting drug abuse in the house with their children.
She enrolled once again in a rehab center but left the program early.
Brynn Hartman had low self-esteem. She was convinced that her husband was cheating on her and hired a private investigator to follow him for over two years convinced there had to be someone. She ended up with stacks of photos of her husband enjoying life on his boat and visiting his beloved Emerald Bay.
After her death several threatening letters were found in her possession that she had intended sending to his former cast-mates and to his ex-wife.
They both fiercely loved their children and adored the role of parenting and so they tried to keep the marriage together, however, it was in far more trouble than the couple let on.
Phil had a habit of hiding behind his humor so many were shocked to hear of the discontent underneath. Her anger and their arguments became physical with her throwing things and slapping him. He was known to have to remove the children to the safety of friends and family to protect them from her outbursts.
When she turned forty, her son’s doctor prescribed Zoloft to her to help with her bouts of depression.
And that only helped her fits of rage to escalate when she mixed the drug with alcohol and her drug of choice- cocaine.
The night of the murder, Brynn fled the scene with her two small children one floor above and drove to her friend Ron Douglas’ home.
“I killed Phill and I don’t know why,” she told her friend. He didn’t believe her knowing that she’d been drinking so he took the gun from her and followed her back to the home in Encino, CA.
Once he saw the body of deceased Phil Hartman, he immediately called 911.
While Ron is on the phone with the police, Brynn has locked herself in her bedroom with Phil’s body. She is making calls of her own. Ron can hear her screaming into the phone confessing the shooting in the other room.
She makes one final call to her sister and sobbed hysterically into the phone, “Tell my kids I love them more than anything and I always loved them, and Mommy doesn’t know what happened, she’s just very sorry.”
At around 6:30 am as the police have escorted Sean and the friend Ron from the home, they return to find six year old Bergin hiding in the corner of a bedroom under a blanket. They take her outside to safety and hear a single gunshot from inside the home.
They force through the door of the bedroom and see Phil’s body and beside him, his wife, bleeding from a single gunshot to the head.
The children were sent to Brynn’s sister and her husband in Wisconsin where they grew up.
Phil was honored by SNL with a special tribute to his eight seasons on the show. The Simpsons retired the characters Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz. Canada honored him with a star on their Walk of Fame in 2012 and Hollywood honored him with a star on August 26, 2014. The Canadian Comedy Awards created an award in his honor and bestowed to quote “an individual who helps better the Canadian comedy community.”
Television critic Ken Tucker compliments Hartman’s style by saying, quote, “He could momentarily fool audiences into thinking he was the straight man, but then he’d cock an eyebrow and give his voice an ironic lilt that delivered a punch like like a fast slider- you barely saw it coming until you started laughing.”
Don Ohlmeyer of NBC spoke at his wake saying, “Hartman was blessed with a tremendous gift for creating characters that made people laugh. Everyone who had the pleasure of working with Phil knows that he was a man of tremendous warmth, a true professional and a loyal friend.”
The loss of Phil Hartman is still felt on the sets of Saturday Night Live, but those who knew him and worked with have said that their lives were made better by doing so.
S1E02: Hoarding Can Be Deadly
S1E02: Hoarding Can Be Deadly
Two Brothers who literally shut themselves off from the rest of the world nesting in among their many possessions and still accumulating more. Until... the scent of death and decay seeped out... After the police's attempts at making contact, a hatchet was used to break in the front door... you'll never believe what they found.
Season One, Episode 02: Hoarding Can Be Deadly
Released September 24, 2020
Bag of Bones Podcast
Episode 2: Hoarding Can Be Deadly
September 29, 2020
At the address of 2078 Fifth Avenue in New York is a small pocket park that quietly exists amongst the towering spread of suburbia, minding its own business as the world goes on around it.
The Collyer Brothers Park is named after the former owners of the brownstone that stood in the very same place. And they, Homer and Langley Collyer behaved in much the same way as their little namesake park. They just wanted to be left alone and let the world go on around them.
It was 1909 when Dr. Herman Collyer moved his wife Susie and their two grown sons into the three story brownstone home at 2078 Fifth Avenue.
Homer, the eldest brother was accepted in the College of the City of New York at age fourteen eventually earning his bachelors. He went on to graduate with a degree in maritime law while his brother, Langley chose an education in engineering and chemistry, at Columbia University. Langley also pursued a career as a concert pianist. He played professionally included performances at Carnegie Hall.
Homer did practice law for some time while Langley switched gears to piano sales making it convenient to collect more than his fair share of keyboards along the way. The home held over eighteen different pianos before it was all said and done, including a grand, two organs and a clavichord.
In 1919, their father, a gynecologist separated from his wife moving his practice elsewhere. The boys stayed with their mother, Susie.
Only four years after their father moved out, he passed away leaving all of his belongings and his medical practice items to his two sons which they moved back into the brownstone at Harlem.
And then only six years after that, making it 1929, now, their mother passed away, leaving the home and all of her possessions to her sons. The sons who had never lived away from home in their lives, were suddenly thrust into a new position. hashtag, adulting.
The family was already labeled eccentric, the parents being first cousins to start with- but they had excessive amounts of furniture and chandeliers, paintings and other showpieces of wealth and culture. Susie, was an acclaimed opera singer and had quite the collection of music players, rolls of music, musical instruments and the like but perhaps it was the two grown sons that chose not to marry.
Both were eligible bachelors being sociable, intelligent, both taught Sunday school and had pleasant personalities, but never found a mate to call their own.
And then, a few years after the death of their parents the brothers were dealt another blow that would begin their downward spiral into history.
In a moment of entrepreneurship, the brothers decided to purchase the land across the street from their home and build an apartment complex. The plans were halted, however, the very next year, 1933, when Homer suffered a stroke causing hemorrhaging in the back of his eyes leading to blindness. It was then that Langley quit his job to care for his brother full time.
Whispers of the brothers escalating eccentricities spread throughout the Harlem neighborhood and passersby would always slow their walk when passing by the brownstone hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive brothers or peek in a window to see what treasures they might have found while Langley was out and about on short trips to add to their growing collection of items. Without their parents, and Homer’s illness, it was at this same time that the brothers started to withdraw from the outside world more and more.
To make matters worse, this was all happening during the era of the Great Depression. Families were losing their homes and moving away. The structure of the city they once knew was changing and the brothers were watching their once upperclass neighborhood decline in value, safety and a racial demographic shift that made them very uncomfortable.
Homer stayed indoors permanently as inflammatory rheumatism slowly took over his joints and muscles, paralyzing him, leaving him wheelchair bound. Langley was fiercely protective of his brother and trusted no one to see him.
Neither were oblivious to the seriousness of Homer’s injuries, but they were convinced that outside doctors would only do more damage. They believed that these unknown doctors would perform unnecessary surgeries, so- they were convinced that between the two of them was his only hope for a cure.
Being sons of a doctor and surrounded by thousands of medical books, the brothers decided to take on the healing of Homer’s illnesses themselves. Personally, I’m not sure if they actually read any of the books because the course of treatment they came up with consisted of a diet of oranges, black bread which a form of rye bread, and peanut butter.
One hundred oranges per week, to be exact.
Now I am not one to doubt the healing powers of peanut butter and vitamin C, but unfortunately, it didn’t help Homer’s agony in the least.
Langley, however, was so sure of their cure, he began collecting all the newspapers and magazines so that when Homer’s sight did return, he would be able to catch up on all that he missed during his illness.
Spoiler alert. He never regained his sight. Nor, was he able to walk again.
They only slipped further and further into reclusiveness, choosing not to pay their bills, even though they had money to pay them. The first casualty in this new thought process was the repossession of the lot across the street in 1943. They didn’t pay their income taxes since 1931. Langley was very vocal in his protests of the action shouting from a second story window out into the street that they had no income, and should therefore not be required to pay income tax.
In 1937, their phone was disconnected. In 1938 the electric, water and gas were all turned off for failure to pay the bill. But in 1942 when the Bowery Savings of New York began eviction procedures, one- it caused a massive crowd to gather outside the home to watch the proceedings, wondering, possibly hoping to see the removal of the brothers, but two, not surprising, the brothers were not ready to leave.
The bank sent the police to the address on Fifth St expecting a fuss, but they had no idea what waited for them on the other side of the door.
The police attempted to force their way into the front door but soon found it to be barricaded with stacks and stacks of newspaper bundles, cardboard boxes, mattress springs, bicycle parts and various other items restricting their entry.
They cut and carved their way through the wall of trash using axes and finally came to an opening.
There, they met Langley who was waiting for them with a check to pay off the remainder of the mortgage in full and then he promptly ordered them to get off his property.
In their nest of tunnels and openings, they tinkered with various tasks. In the winter they would keep warm with a small kerosene heater. Langley would sneak out to fetch water from a pump at a local park, and they had light thanks to a generator that Langley, the former engineer, made from an old Model T Ford engine.
Langley would read books and stories to his brother and play piano concerts to pass the time.
It got to the point that Langley would rarely make appearances during the day light hours but wait until after midnight to shop and scavenge for food, and also gather items he felt they needed. He was not above digging through dumpsters and trash cans to find the things he was looking for. He never saw a bicycle part that he could leave behind.
Everyone who came in contact with him during his midnight escapades in his tattered clothing held together with safety pins, always said that he was an amiable gentleman, but also added that his was a bit crazy.
Langley fiercely protected their privacy and only wished people would just leave them alone. Once upon a time he was talkative and sociable, but now, he tried to avoid people as much as possible. His obsessive disorder escalated so much that when he caught neighbors in the building next door, trying to peek in the window of their home, he bought the property- paying in full- in cash.
This one transaction sent out a flurry of gossip of the riches and valuables that must hide behind those walls.
Confirming everyone’s thoughts, the NY Times reported a false claim in 1938 that the brothers turned down a bid for the home for $125,000. The article also eluded to an amassed material wealth and treasures hidden inside.
This led to new interest and curiosities about the brothers complete with several break in attempts.
Langley set about putting bars on all the windows and then boarding them up. He took on the task of wiring the entrances closed and blocking them further with walls of newspapers and trash, setting booby traps in various locations of the home to ensnare any would-be burglars.
An obvious sign of wealth in the eyes of onlookers, otherwise, why go through such trouble to hide it.
The tunnels, tinkering and booby traps would ultimately be the brothers own demise.
On March 21 1947, a man claiming to be Charles Smith called the NY’s 122 Police department complaining of the smell of decomposition coming from the Collyer home.
Police responding to the call couldn’t find a way in. They had to use axes to smash down the front door and break the window on the second floor only to be faced with wires, iron bars, boards and then an impenetrable wall of junk.
Newspapers, chairs, boxes, baby carriages, plaster busts, mattress springs… there was no telling what they would find next.
Police began tossing items out onto the street as an audience grew to watch the deconstruction of the Collyer home. They even had to cut a hole in the roof to gain access to the rooms. They tossed items by the arm-fulls over the side of the building to the sidewalk below.
Junk. Items piled from floor to ceiling, wall to wall only navigable through booby trapped tunnels.
Mattresses, sewing machine parts, years of outdated phone books, medical instruments and tools, mannequins, rolls of fabric, oriental rugs, clothing…
Police continued to toss items from the window to search for the source of the smell.
Five hours of digging finally revealed the body of Homer Collyer. They believed that he’d been dead for about ten hours. Cause of death, starvation and heart disease. They found him wearing his blue and white stripped bathrobe, sitting in his wheel chair with his head resting on his knees.
Suspicions immediately went to the younger brother, Langley who was no where to be found. They speculated that either he may have murdered his brother, or being relieved of his brotherly duties fled the area.
Word spread and the calls of Langley Collyer sightings created a nine state manhunt. Police were sent out across the nation looking for clues to the whereabouts of the missing brother.
The city went forward with the funeral of Homer Collyer on April 1, 1947. When Langley failed to appear for his brother’s funeral, suspicions shifted to believe that he too, may also be dead.
As the police continued to excavate the layers upon layers of junk, people claiming to be family members began showing up complaining of the harsh treatment of the items. They insisted that the police begin taking inventory as they continued so as not to destroy items of value.
Medical equipment, including and early model of an x-ray machine. Human organs in formaldehyde. The thousands and thousands of medical books, plus books on every other subject lined the wall in floor to ceiling bookcases, and stuffed into boxes. Their mother’s hopechests, jewelry, tapestries, grammaphones, records and an assortment of musical instruments.
For over two weeks, the crews attempted to remove items both valuable such as jewelry, passports, antiques, and bank books to junk… trash… garbage.
Furniture, baby carriages, toys, a sled, paintings, clocks and clock parts, camera equipment, guns, eight live cats, bolts of fabric… food, tin cans, bottles….
Finally on April 8th, a workman found the body of Langley Collyer. He was completely buried under a pile of items and partially eaten by rats. It became obvious that he was a victim of one of his own booby traps while taking food to his brother.
The medical examiner attributed his death to being buried alive- asphyxiation.
They estimated his actual death around March 9th, twelve days prior to his brothers. In death, they were a mere ten feet from one another.
Langley was buried beside his brother and parents at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY.
As it turns out, there were quite a few valuables but that is in the eye of the beholder… or the buyer. Random items were auctioned off earning less than $2,000. The wheelchair that Homer Collyer was found in was sold to private collections for public exhibit along with a few other unique or unusual items. The possessions and the home were valued at over $91,000 which is well over a million dollars by today’s estimates.
People came out of the woodwork claiming to be family trying to benefit from the home, cash, bank accounts and valuables. Twenty- three were found as legitimate relatives and the assets were split equally.
It turned out that the piles and piles and stacks and stacks of items were actually keeping the walls of the old brownstone from caving in. Relieved of their stalwart duty, the bricks would fall onto the workmen when they started removing the debris from the edges of the home.
The house had fallen into such disrepair, but the leaky roof, the creaking walls, the crumbling foundation and mortar went unnoticed by the brothers snug as bugs in their nests of trash.
It wasn’t until the over 140 tons of trash was removed from the home that secret tunnels were discovered in the basement allowing Langley access to come and go undetected even though the doors and windows were completely closed off.
In 1947, the house was razed to the ground. The pocket garden was put there in its place. And still today, parents warn their children of the detriment of not cleaning their rooms or collecting too many things for one would not want the same fate as the Collyer Brothers.
S1E01- The Lemp Mansion
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…
Author and Host Elizabeth Bourgeret takes you behind the curtain and down the rabbit hole in some of the most interesting stories in American history!