The Lemp Mansion in St. Louis, Missouri, is said to be one of the ten most haunted places in America. The mansion continues to play host to the tragic Lemp family after death. The once stately home to millionaires became office space, then decayed into a run-down boarding house. Finally restored, the Lemp Mansion is presently a fine dinner theatre, restaurant, and bed and breakfast.
History of the Lemp Mansion
The Lemp Family began with Johann Adam Lemp, who arrived in St Louis from Eschwege, Germany, in 1838. Johann built a small grocery store and sold everyday household items, groceries, and homemade beer. People welcomed the light golden lager as a significant change from the darker beers sold at the time. The recipe, handed down by his father, was so popular that just two years later, Johann gave up the grocery store. He built a small brewery in 1840 at a point close to where the Gateway Arch stands today.
At first, Lemp sold his beer in a pub attached to the brewery. 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 cavern, 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, Johann Adam Lemp died on August 25, 1862. After his death, Johann’s son, William, began a significant expansion of the brewery by purchasing a five-block area around the storage house on Cherokee, above the beer caves. Continually expanding to meet the product demand, the brewery eventually covered five city blocks.
By the 1870s, the Lemp Brewery controlled the St. Louis beer market and maintained this position until prohibition. As a result, the Lemp family symbolized both power and wealth.
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 expanded the thirty-three-room house into a Victorian showplace.
A tunnel was built from the basement of the mansion 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.
Amid 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 of heart failure at 28. The devastated William Lemp was never the same, beginning a slow withdrawal from public life. When his closest friend, Frederick Pabst, died, William became apathetic to the details of running the brewery. His physical and mental health declined, 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. They filled the house with servants. Then the pair spent vast 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.
William tired of his beautiful wife and kept himself 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.
Rumor has it William’s shenanigans caught up with him when he sired a son with a woman other than his wife. The family hid the boy in the mansion’s attic for his entire life because he had Down’s Syndrome—a total embarrassment for the family. According to St Louis historian Joe Gibbons, when he interviewed a former nanny and a chauffeur who worked at the mansion long ago, both verified that the boy existed and lived in the attic quarters. Known today as the “Monkey Face Boy,” this unfortunate soul continues to show his presence at the Lemp Mansion.
William, Jr. filed for divorce in 1908. With the divorce, Will’s troubles had only just begun. By 1906, nine of the large breweries in the St. Louis area 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 of cancer on April 16. Even as the brewery’s fortunes declined, William, Jr. entirely remodeled the mansion in 1911 and partially converted it into offices for the brewery. By World War I, the brewery was barely limping along.
Despite the decline, William built a country home on the Meramec River, to which he increasingly retreated. In 1915 he married for a second time to Ellie Limberg, the widowed daughter of the late St. Louis brewer Casper Koehler.
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.
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 same building where his father died eighteen years before.
In 1943, yet another tragedy occurred when William Lemp III died of a heart attack at 42.
After the death of the brother 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 started. Residents complained of hearing ghostly knocks and phantom footsteps 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.
The Pointers continued to restore the mansion. As they worked, the Pointers experienced several unexplained occurrences. Once, when Richard Pointer was painting William Lemp’s former bathroom, he was frightened into leaving early. In describing the event, Pointer said,
“I was painting the bathroom by myself. There was no one else in the house, and I felt someone behind me, watching me. I mean, it was a terrible feeling, the most burning sensation you could have. I get goosebumps just now, thinking about it. I turned around, and nothing was there. I started working again and got the same feeling, so without looking behind me, I cleaned my paintbrushes and got the hell out of there.”
Pointer hired a local artist named Claude Breckwoldt to restore the mansion’s hand-painted ceilings. Pointer did not inform Breckwoldt of any strange goings-on at the estate. Yet he, too, had a similar experience. Breckwoldt said,
“I was on the scaffolding, lying on my back and painting the ceiling in the dining room when I got the feeling that someone was staring at me. I felt as though they were in the hallway just outside the room, but I couldn’t see anything through the frosted glass doors. I went on working, and about an hour later, the feelings returned. It was weird. I felt like I just had to get out of there right then.”
Breckwoldt left without cleaning up, washing his brushes, or even locking the door behind him. He told Pointer, “That place is crazy. You must have a ghost in there or something!”
Pointer’s son Dick was once sleeping in the mansion, alone except for his Doberman Pinscher Shadow. He and Shadow awoke to what sounded like a loud bang or kick outside his bedroom door. A subsequent search of the house turned up nothing.
One night, Dick was closing the restaurant with an employee when they heard two keys played on the piano in the empty mansion. A search for any one who could have made the sounds was fruitless.
Dick, his sister Patti, and various Lemp Mansion employees and guests have experienced unexplained events too numerous to recount here. These include a candle on the mantle being inexplicably lit; the drawer of a furniture piece belonging to the Lemps opening and closing without the aid of a human hand; glasses moving, objects disappearing and reappearing in different locations, soft, disembodied voices, and hearing the “clip-clop” of phantom horses’ hooves on the streets leading to the carriage house.
The Pointers say they’ve lost many employees over the years due to the unexplained phenomena in the mansion. One such incident involved former waitress Bonnie Strayhorn. She explained,
“Early one morning, I was going through the house, making sure that everything was as it should be as the restaurant opened, when I noticed a dark-haired man seated at a table in what was originally the Lemp family dining room. He was facing away from me, so all I could see was the outline of his shoulders and head. I was surprised to see someone in the restaurant so early, but I asked him if he wanted a cup of coffee. He did not answer. When I looked away for a moment to flip the light on, I turned around, and he had vanished.”
Strayhorn quit her job that day and sought employment elsewhere. She said a man couldn’t have been sitting there and exited the room without seeing him do so.
Numerous supernatural events have and continue to occur. 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 lock and unlock by themselves, lights inexplicably turn on and off by their own free will, and the piano bar often plays when no one is nearby.
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. “Gates of Hell” refers to the basement location where the caves’ entrance runs from the mansion to the brewery.
William Jr’s illegitimate son, referred to only as the “Monkey Face Boy,” is said to haunt the attic. This poor soul spent his entire life locked in the attic of the Lemp Mansion. People report strange occurrences on this third-floor level of the mansion. A boy’s face 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 child will move the objects. 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 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. Legend has it that when William killed himself, William Jr ran 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, kept his office. However, when the tour guide looked through the window, nothing was there.
The mansion has been featured in several 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.