Oh no, I have to sleep all the way up there tonight, I thought when I found out that not only was I going to sleep in one of the most haunted houses in this nation, The Lemp Mansion, but that I would be temporarily residing in the third floor attic, cut off from the other guests. I walked up the two floors through the lightly musty hallways ready to face my fate for the evening. Would I make it out alive?
It turned out to be one of the most horrifying nights of my existence. As you’ll see, though, I brought a lot of that upon myself. First, here’s some background information on why this former domicile of a St. Louis beer tycoon family is so spooked.
The mansion’s history
One of America’s first beer magnates, John Adam Lemp, began in St. Louis as a grocer; his beer sales would become the prime focus by 1840. He’s purported to have produced the first lager beer, forming the Western Brewery. His son, William, took over and by 1870, the Lemps had the largest brewery in St. Louis. They were one of the first breweries to have a national patronage; William implemented refrigerated railway cars to ship beer outside the St. Louis area. In 1892, this operation became known as the William J. Lemp Brewing Company.
A 33-room mansion is the focus of much ghostly activity today. The Lemps bought the mansion in 1876. William’s daughter, Hilda, married Gustav Pabst of Milwaukee, creating a powerful alliance. But the good times for the Lemps were to end; tragedy would assault the family.
In 1901, William’s son, Frederick, died mysteriously. A few years later, William, still heartbroken, shot himself. William “Billy” Lemp, Jr. became president and moved into the mansion when mother Julia died. Prohibition would be the catalyst in shutting down the brewery in 1919. Then Billy’s sister, Elsa Lemp Wright, committed suicide due partly to terrible insomnia.
In 1922, the grand ten-city block brewery of the Lemps (near the mansion grounds) was sold for just under $600,000, to a shoe company; it had once been valued at $7,000,000. As a result of this firehouse sale, Billy shot himself in the former brewery office, to the left of the main entrance of the house, now a dining room for guests who have breakfast. Brother Charles took over the mansion and lived there until 1949, working as a financier and political influencer for South St. Louis (after leaving the brewery 32 years earlier). He too committed suicide, dying a lonely and bitter person. He was the only Lemp to leave a suicide note; it was succinct: In case I am found dead blame it on no one but me.
I knew the background
I was fascinated to be staying in such a place. I wanted to see a ghost! As time drew closer for me to leave, though, I was getting worried. What if I did see a ghost? What if the ghost locked me in, or turned out all the lights and kept me in the dark? I began psyching myself. Watching a favorite horror movie, The Shining, a few days before my trip to St. Louis, only put my mind in further anxiety mode.
I unpacked; I sat in my room called The Louis Suite. (Rooms are named after various members of the Lemp family. Louis didn’t kill himself; died of natural causes). I stayed up in my room to escape the heat, realizing that I wasn’t scared at all. I kept telling myself this house didn’t give me strange vibrations. I went out for the evening and my attitude changed.
Very little of the Lemp furnishings remain because another Lemp child, Edwin, who actually lived to be 90, ordered most of the family heirlooms destroyed upon his death in 1970 to help rid the family curse. I wasn’t concerned with the heirlooms, but as I turned every corner, I always worried I would see ghosts!
I returned to the mansion right before 11:00 p.m. All was eerily quiet. The mansion doesn’t have any night employees nor phones in the room, so I felt isolated (the attic only has three rooms). One of them was unoccupied. The other supposedly had a guest, but I didn't hear any sound. I kept my door wide open, I put my backpack against the door so it would not slam shut.
I worked on my computer and kept turning my head to my open door. I thought I was catching glimpses of apparitions, but if I did, they disappeared quickly. Then I heard a loud clanging noise. It didn’t stop. I swiftly ran out my room, down the hallway, all the way to the end, and I saw – a man scraping ice out of the ice machine.
I was relieved. I told him how isolated I felt (he was on the second floor). He said he and his wife had stayed there about 50 times. Often, they experienced nothing out of the ordinary. Then he went on to say that the attic had recently been made usable for guests, that séances had been held up here since this part of the house was the most haunted. He had heard gunshots, ballroom music and ghostly voices.
I decided to take some pictures of my room and the hallway to see if I could catch images of orbs or apparitions. Some did capture orbs; the hallway mirror appeared to have a light outline of a ghost. Of course it can't be seen unless blown up to the size of a laptop screen.
A little after midnight, ghosts or no ghosts, I needed to get sleep. I closed the door, tried to sleep, but couldn't. I kept wondering what would happen once my eyes were shut. I tossed and turned, feeling chilly under the covers. A few hours later, I stood on the bed to turn the fan off, and saw blinking lights through the glass window above my door. I boldly went to my door and opened it. Someone or something had turned off the hall light. In the shadows, a woman appeared.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” I said. She didn’t look like a ghost; she stood at the doorway of the room next to mine.
“That’s okay”, she said. I shut my door wondering if she were taking pictures of the hall, and I was seeing flashes go off. I was relieved I wasn’t alone in the attic; too tired to give this more thought.
I got up a little after 5:00 a.m., after more tossing and turning. I went to a nearby coffee house to catch up on my emails. The mansion didn’t have internet access; it’s supposed to get it soon. When I opened the door to leave, the hall light was on again. No one was present. I scurried out towards the back door (the only exit after the staff leaves at night). I tried locking the door after I had gotten out, the same way Jack Torrance did with Room 237 in The Shining! At breakfast, I shared my experience and pictures with guests from Oklahoma. They found my night of trials most interesting.
I won’t forget my experience at the Lemp Mansion, especially since I did a better job of scaring myself than the ghosts!
Roy’s Travel Tips
For a hauntingly good dinner, try Al Smith’s Feasting Fox. You may see the ghost of Anna Busch (daughter of the beer tycoon Adolphus Busch) hanging out. She once lived here when it was an inn in the earlier part of the 20th century. Anna hung herself upstairs, where the banquet room is located, due to unrequited love. I enjoyed the down home German-themed atmosphere and the stuffed pork chop.
If you don’t like being confined to one haunted area, check out the three-hour ghostly and historical tours at Ghostride Tours. I saw where the inspiration for the movie, The Exorcist, took place. I walked through a graveyard that has some strange gravestones and unplugged holes that lead straight to – eternity!
When Roy A. Barnes isn’t scaring himself into a frenzy, he writes from southeastern Wyoming. He is a frequent contributor to Bootsnall.com.