Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Lemp Mansion, St. Louis, Missouri

From the mid-19th through the early 20th centuries, the Lemp family ruled a fortune built on the brewing and sale of lager beers. At one time, Lemp beers were among the most popular in the United States. However, the family also has a history of tragedy. One of the Lemp heirs, Frederick Lemp, died while in his early 20s, while preparing to take on the family business. Three generations of Lemp patriarchs committed suicide, and one may either have driven his wife to suicide or possibly murdered her (following a long history of his infidelity and abuse) years before he took his own life. In addition to this, the Lemp family had a history of mental illness ranging from depression to severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. There are also rumors that one of the Lemp men fathered an illegitimate child who had Downs syndrome and kept him locked in the attic, but this appears to be folklore rather than fact.

William Lemp sr., the second patriarch of the Lemp family, purchased what would become the Lemp Mansion in 1876 in order to house his family. Tunnels were built to link the mansion to the caves underneath the Lemp brewery (the caves, as places with your-round stable temperatures, were initially used in part of the brewing process, and later used for entertaining guests in a surreal environment). The brewery remained strong until the early 20th century, when disinterest among family members led to a decline, and the final blow came with the establishment of prohibition.

The mansion transitioned from family home to offices and back to home for Charles Lemp, one of the last two of the Lemp line, who lived in the home alone, save for a few servants, and appeared to have developed numerous odd phobias and anxiety problems during his later years.

After Charles Lemp's death, the mansion became a boarding house. The house's rather macabre history, coupled with stories of strange and ghostly happenings, resulted in the boarding house rarely being completely full, and it's eventually financial losses. Today the mansion is a hotel and restaurant, and stories of ghostly occurrence continue.

During renovations to turn the place into a hotel and restaurant, it is claimed that workers reported hearing voices, feelings of being watched, and missing tools. Reportedly, several workers refused to return to the job site. The staff and patrons of the Lemp Mansion report footsteps without an apparent source, doors and cabinets opening and closing on their own, voices speaking, screams, laughter, and witnessing objects moving (sometimes violently) on their own. The apparition of a woman who may be the wronged (and possibly murdered) wife of William Lemp Jr. has been reported. And, of course, William Lemp Jr. himself, always the philanderer, has been reported to appear in the women's restroom.

In 1980, Life Magazine declared the Lemp Mansion to be one of the most haunted houses in the United States. The mansion was also featured on MTV's short-lived series Fear. The management has been vocal about the mansion's reputation as a haunted house, and this has, by their own admission, been very good for business.

Commentary: As has been noted twice before, having a resident ghost can be good business for an establishment that banks on atmosphere, such as a restaurant or hotel. And the Lemp Mansion has embraced this fact, making the ghost stories just as much of a part of its marketing campaign as it's food and rooms.

So, what of the stories, is there anything to them, or are they simply a mix of hysteria and hopefulness on the part of curiosity seekers?

It's hard to say. On the one hand, the house itself, being a large, imposing structure, was bound to attract stories whether anybody experienced anything or not - anyone familiar with the nature of folklore in urban settings would expect that. In addition, the media presence of the house, as demonstrated by its listing in Life , on MTV, and the numerous websites and newspaper stories about it, give plenty of fodder to the imaginations of those wishing or expecting to encounter a ghost. So, there are plenty of explanations for why visitors of the past few decades might come away with tales.

What is more interesting to me, but what I have had little luck in tracking down, is the prevalence of ghost stories relating to the place before it's current incarnation. While many books, magazines, and websites repeat the stories regarding boarding house tenants reporting strange happenings and renovation crews becoming freaked out, I have had little luck finding primary sources with the same information dating to before the mansion's time as a well-promoted place of business. If such information can be found, then THAT would be of great interest to anyone trying to figure out what, if anything, is actually going on in the house.

...and, hey, another video treat for all y'all

Sources: Prairie Ghosts, Karen Stollznow, Internet, Restaurant Home Page, Internet

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