Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Weekly Dose of Weird: Lemp Mansion

Welcome to the first Dose of Weird.  This week is in my adopted home state, Missouri. 

(quote from Rose Red)

St. Louis, Missouri is a city with a deep history.  The St. Louis Arch symbolizes the gateway to the West, and with its positioning on the Mississippi River, St. Louis has been a transportation and shipping hub for generations.  Thousands upon thousands of immigrants flocked there from France and Germany, something still reflected in the architecture.  Fortunes were made from the river and from breweries in the city.
Western Brewery was owned and operated in the nineteenth century by the Lemp family, founded by Johann “Adam” Lemp in 1840.  By the 1860s there were over three dozen breweries in St. Louis, but the most prosperous was Western.  Under the guidance of Adam Lemp’s son, William Lemp Sr, the brewery became one of the largest in the country and led its fellows in innovation; Western brewed and bottled on the same premises, began using refrigeration in 1878, began refrigerating rail cars, and finally became the first beer in the United States to be available nationally.  

The family built an enormous mansion in the Benton Park neighborhood of St. Louis.  Though their brewery empire was massive until prohibition, what the Lemps are most well known for had nothing to do with the brewery, and began in the extravagant home.  

William Lemp Sr. had several children, the most prominent of whom was William “Billy” Lemp Jr.  His eldest son, Frederick, died in 1901 at just 28; the circumstances are still unknown.  William Lemp Sr. grieved the loss of his son desperately, and three years later, shot himself in the head with a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson in his bedroom in the Lemp Mansion.  Billy Lemp was said to have run up the stairs and begun kicking the door in an attempt to get to his father and prevent the suicide.  He then took over the family business.

Billy Lemp had several brothers, the aforementioned Frederick, as well as Louis--who died of natural causes in 1931--Charles, and Edwin.  The brothers also had a sister, Elsa Lemp Wright.  Elsa Lemp’s life seems to have been fraught with trouble.  First the mysterious death of her eldest brother, then her father’s suicide in their home, then an unhappy marriage.  She was married for eight years to Thomas Wright, who was then the president of a metal company, but separated in 1918 and divorced early in 1919.  A year later, she and her ex-husband remarried, and soon thereafter Elsa took her own life.  Like her father 16 years before her, she shot herself in the head, while in her bedroom at home, though not the Lemp family home where her father shot himself. 

Billy Lemp also seems to have been quite troubled.  His marriage lasted scarcely longer than his sister’s, from 1899-1908, and when his wife filed for divorce, she hit him with scandalous charges.  Lillian Lemp, Billy’s wife and the mother of his only legitimate child William Lemp III, accused Billy of desertion, cruel treatment, and other unspecified indignities which may have included promiscuity, since Billy Lemp was known to be something of a player.  At the time there was also a persistent rumor that Billy had fathered a son with another woman and hidden the child away in the attic of the family mansion.  Interviews with former staff corroborate this rumor and staff say that the child, supposedly named Zeke, had Down’s Syndrome, and was called the “Monkey Face Boy.”  No birth records of this alleged son exist, so this must be taken with a grain of salt.  Billy Lemp lost custody of his legitimate son William III, and Lillian took their son away from public life.  Billy Lemp, like his father and sister before him, became despondent and depressed over his family and personal problems.  He increasingly left the business and public life behind, residing often at a private estate in Kirkwood.  Prohibition naturally destroyed business in the Brewery, and in 1922 Billy sold it.  A few months later Billy Lemp retired to his office in the family mansion, and shot himself in the heart with the same kind of weapon as his father.  

(the Western Brewery owned by the Lemp family)

Billy’s brother, Charles Lemp, lived in the family mansion from 1929-1949 with only two servants and his dog.  Supposedly, Billy’s illegitimate son Zeke also lived in the house.  Charles was not well; he was a germophobe and had taken to wearing gloves at all times to avoid bacteria.   He had long since left the family business behind, instead working in finance and banking.  During the late 1940s Zeke apparently died in the mansion.  William Lemp III, Billy’s son by Lillian Lemp, had died in 1943 of a heart attack.  Charles Lemp took the demise of his nephews to heart.  In May 1949, he shot his beloved dog in the mansion’s basement, then went upstairs to his own bedroom and shot himself with a .38 caliber revolver.  The dog, though shot in the basement, made it halfway to his master before he died.  

Edwin Lemp was the last member of the family left.  He never had children, and lived a very private life in Kirkwood.  He was the only member of the family to live to old age, dying in 1970 of natural causes; he was 90 years old.  Curiously, Edwin’s will stipulated that all of the family heirlooms, documents, and all of the art collected by members of the family was to be destroyed upon his death.  His butler followed Edwin’s wish and burned it all.  

(the Lemp family mausoleum)

The Lemp Mansion was sold after Charles Lemp’s death and made into a boarding house.  Stories of disembodied footsteps and unexplainable knocking spread quickly, and the boarding house fell into a financial rut.  In 1975 Dick Pointer and his family bought the Lemp Mansion and turned it into a restaurant.  Crews renovating the house reported feeling watched, and hearing strange sounds.  Employees of the restaurant are also plagued by ghostly happenings; doors lock and unlock, lights flicker, a piano plays itself, voices with no earthly bearer are heard, and sometimes glasses fly from the bar.  

The mansion is also used as part-museum part-curiosity.  Visitors can tour the family home and experience the ghosts for themselves.  The attic is supposed to be haunted by Zeke, Billy Lemp’s illegitimate son, visitors and investigators leave toys in the room and come back to find them moved, his face is seen in the attic window looking out at the street.  In William Lemp Sr.’s bedroom visitors have heard Billy Lemp running up and kicking the door as he did when his father committed suicide.  Billy Lemp’s private space became the first floor women’s bathroom, and many women have reported a man peeking over the stall, possibly the playboy figure of Billy Lemp himself.  The basement, where the family gained access to the caves along the Mississippi river, is referred to by employees as the “Gates of Hell” and is also supposed to be very haunted.  

Did the mansion have some kind of psychic hold over members of the Lemp family?  What sort of entity could have occupied the home and driven so many to commit suicide?  We may never know.  Perhaps it was just a case of genetic predisposition to emotional imbalance and bouts of depression.  Whichever you choose to believe, three members of the Lemp family committed suicide in the family mansion, in the same manner, even with the same caliber of gun.  Elsa Lemp, the only member of the family to commit suicide out of the home, also shot herself.  As Billy Lemp supposedly said upon seeing his sister’s dead body “That’s the Lemp family for you.”

(available on Netflix)

Stay Tuned.

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