Ann Barrett: What did he do to make this house so evil, Mr. Fischer?
Benjamin Franklin Fischer: Drug addiction, alcoholism, sadism, beastiality, mutilation, murder, vampirism, necrophilia, cannibalism, not to mention a gamut of sexual goodies. Shall I go on?
Ann Barrett: How did it end?
Benjamin Franklin Fischer: If it had ended, we would not be here.
Richard Matheson, The Haunting of Hell House
I’ve long dreamt of finding a real-life Hell House, a house so cursed that those in their right minds would intentionally shun the place. So you can imagine my surprise to find that such a house does exist, and that in fact, rather than being shunned, it’s a popular restaurant/inn in St. Louis, Missouri.
Life Magazine listed it in their nine most haunted houses in America, and there are a number of people who list it in their top ten. I’d go further and slide it easily in my top five. With a bullet.
To be sure, those who have investigated the home of the Lemp family, now known as the Lemp Mansion, have escaped the experience unscathed. In fact the present day hauntings are mild compared to whatever sadness, pain, madness – or combination of the three haunted the family which gives the house its name.
The Lemp family fortune was built on beer, and in a city known for breweries, the Lemp Brewery once reigned supreme. Johann “Adam” Lemp, was born in 1798 in Grüningen, Germany, eventually settled in St. Louis, Missouri in 1838, where he started A. Lemp and Company, Family Grocery on the corner of Sixth and Morgan. Two staples sold in Adam’s store, which originally stood beneath where the Edward Jones Dome now stands, was his own vinegar and beer. Within a couple of years, Lemp had gotten out of the grocery business with the intention of serving the city’s large German population with quality brewed beer, in the German tradition. At the time, lager beers – the backbone of German beers weren’t being massed produced, as this was before the age of refrigeration and the hot Missouri summers didn’t allow for the proper chilled storage necessary for its manufacture.
Lemp had the idea to take advantage of the vast network of caves which lay beneath the city and alongside the riverbed of the Mississippi River, to chill the beer to the required temperature for manufacturing lager on a vast scale. Lemp’s idea took off and he found his business, Western Brewery, which once stood where the footprint of the arch now stands, among the most successful of the 40 St. Louis brewers who began hauling their beer underground to age.
Adam’s son, William J. Lemp had been born prior to the family leaving Germany, and at his father’s insistence, attended St. Louis University, eventually going into business with one of his father’s competitors. In 1862, old man Lemp died and William came on board at Western Brewery, bringing along his sons William Jr. as vice-president and Louis as superintendent. William streamlined the process, both brewing and bottling his beer in the same facility, as well as adding refrigeration not only in the brewery, but also in the railroad cars which transported the beer, allowing him to break out of the regional market and become one of the first national brewers. By then they had built a new brewery just down the street from where the Lemp Mansion now stands.
William Lemp expanded the brewery and the money rolled in. He purchased the house now known as the Lemp mansion from his father-in-law which he converted into the Lemp family home, as well as an office from which he could work. As refrigeration had now come to the brewery, he was able to convert some of the caves which lay below the house and brewery into a recreational facility for the family – a bowling alley, auditorium, theater and later a swimming pool, heated by water piped in from the brewery.
Despite the company’s success, William was dealt a double blow, first by the loss of his fourth son, whom he had hoped would take over his place as president, who according to some, worked himself to death, his demise brought on him quicker by a bad heart. The second blow was the loss of his best friend, Frederick Pabst, whose name lives on in the ever popular Pabst Blue Ribbon brand.
It’s not known exactly what pushed him over the edge, certainly his health was on the decline. But on February 13, 1904, William Lemp, Sr. woke up, ate breakfast, told one of his servants that he wasn’t feeling up to par and would retire to his room for a bit. Once there, he took his Smith and Wesson 38 calibre revolver from a drawer and blew his brains out.
You… me… that girl… Lionel… all together… naked… drunk… clutching… sweating… biting…
Richard Matheson, The Haunting of Hell House
William J. Lemp, Jr. took over control of the brewery upon his father’s death. By all accounts, Billy as we was known didn’t have his mind on business, and instead seemed intent on going through the family fortune. Along with his wife, Lillian, he moved into the family home on Demenil Place, brought in a large staff of domestic servants, particularly female servants and started remodeling and expanding. Julia was known as the Lavender Lady as her entire wardrobe seemed to consist of clothes in this color. Not only her clothes were lavender, but her bedroom and even the tack used for her carriages and horses bore that color. Lillian was what we’d now call a trophy wife – young, beautiful and from a wealthy family. She also seemed content to put up with Billy’s debauched ways, which had to be quite hard as he was notoriously indiscreet.
Billy had begun hosting parties in the caves beneath the family mansion, taking full advantage of the swimming pool which was reached from street level by way of a spiral staircase. There he provided prostitutes for his gentleman friends and for himself, and soon tales of orgies fueled by an endless supply of Falstaff Beer was the whispered talk of St. Louis society.
Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t Lillian who filed for divorce, but Billy who among other things, presented evidence that his wife had shamed the family by – get this – smoking in public. Her insistence on wearing lavender also played a part, as he felt this was an attempt to draw attention to herself. It was the trial of the century in St. Louis and in the end Lillian got custody of their son as well as a fair sized chunk of the family fortune. But the divorce wasn’t an easy one, and within a couple years they were back in court over Billy’s odd behavior. His butler testified that if he moved to slowly, Billy would speed him up by pointing a revolver at him. There were also monkey and chicken fights at the brewery which their son was forced to witness, as well as a bizarre incident where the littlest Lemp was to bear witness to live birds devoured by monkeys. Billy also had taken to shooting the neighborhood cats, but not for pleasure. Instead he claimed to only shoot the ones which disturbed his sleep. Lillian’s alimony was bumped up considerably after the trial, though the resultant publicity pushed her into seclusion for the rest of her days.
Billy withdrew as well and built a country home on the Meramec river near Kirkwood, remarried and steered clear of St. Louis society, though he did return frequently to the family home where he kept his office. It was Billy who changed the name from Lemp beer to Falstaff, replacing the family name on the iconic logo. And still the business went into the toilet. Prohibition was the final straw, the brewery was shut down and the Falstaff brand sold to his friend, the unfortunately named Papa Joe Griesedieck. (Sound it out). The brewery which was valued at upwards of $7,000,000 was sold for just over $500,000.
On December 29, 1922, Billy Lemp spoke to his wife by telephone, then went into his office in the Lemp Mansion, unbuttoned his coat, vest, then shot himself in the heart. Two years previously, his sister Elsa, who had grown up with Billy in the Lemp Mansion had shot herself in the home she shared with her husband, a short distance away. She had suffered from insomnia, and one can surmise, a healthy dose of the family madness.She had told her husband she was going to lay down and try to nap. She too had suffered through a nasty divorce, citing mental and physical cruelty, but had reconciled with her husband and they had remarried.
Though there is no evidence to support it, it’s commonly believed that Billy had fathered a child with either a servant girl or local prostitute, who was born with Down’s Syndrome. Known affectionately as “the monkey face boy,” Some believe Zeke, which was supposedly his actual name was shut away in an attic room, but others say he was given that area to play, which was indeed the servants quarters, and unlikely where even the worst father would keep his bastard son.
At any rate, he is believed to have died after falling down the servant’s stairs at the age of 16. By this time Charles Lemp, Billy’s brother had taken up residence in the Lemp Mansion, and helped care for Zeke, along with his brother Edwin and a married couple who were the only remaining servants.
Charles Lemp had no interest in the family business, which was being ran by Billy’s son, William Lemp III, who tried to revive the family business and worked himself to death in the process.
Charles was an odd duck, collected art and as he grew older developed a morbid fear of germs, and so wore white gloves at all times. He was frequently seen in the company of his Doberman and never married, preferring the single life. More or less a recluse, he left detailed instructions about what he wanted done with his earthly remains in case of his death. Then on May 10, 1949, he took his dog to the basement, shot it, then returned to his second floor bedroom, lay in his own bed and shot himself in the head.
Edwin moved from the family home, dedicated his life to philanthropy and on his death, stipulated that his art collection and all family heirlooms be burned.
Afterward the Lemp Mansion became a boarding house, but a continuing series of strange occurances made it hard to keep tenants, and the place was on the verge of becoming a flophouse. When I55 was built it cut right through the grounds, so now Lemp Mansion looks down onto a busy interstate highway. The current owners, the Pointer family has turned the once proud mansion into a restaurant and inn, with everything from mystery theaters to ghost tours. In fact, the inn’s van reads “from ghost to ghost” on the side, referring to the Lemp Mansion’s reputation for being one of the most haunted houses in the United States.
Welcome to my house. I’m delighted you could come. I’m certain you will find your stay here most illuminating. Think of me as your unseen host, and believe that during your stay here I shall be with you in spirit. May you find the answer that you seek. It is here, I promise you. And now, auf Wiedersehen.
Richard Matheson, The Haunting of Hell House
It was a hot Sunday in July when I rolled into the parking lot of the Lemp Mansion, my 12 year old kid in tow. I like to think of the kid as my control subject, as he has expressed a preference for not hearing any stories about the places we stay until he’s safely left. And I have to say he stayed blissfully ignorant, despite such warnings as the history of each room on a plaque on the walls beside the doors. And despite having quite a bit of trouble falling asleep, he didn’t seem particularly scared.
Ignorance is bliss as they say, and I was far from blissful. I knew for instance, that the first room on the left after coming through the front door once was the office of Billy Lemp, where had shot himself through the heart. We laid down that night to sleep in the Charles Lemp suite, in the same spot where Charley had blown his brains out. Coming out the door of our room there was the Lavender Suite on our right, the site of Billy’s debauchery and where he used to sleep with a loaded pistol beneath his pillow, pointing at his wife Lillian. On the left is the William Lemp Suite, where William shot himself in the head and his wife died after a long and horrifying bout with cancer.
The bathroom for the Charles Lemp suite is located just outside the door, next to the foot of the stairs leading to the servant’s quarters, where Zeke, the monkey faced boy likely died. And if that wasn’t enough to get the heart racing, tonight we had the place completely, and utterly to ourselves. No other guests, no staff on site. But first came dinner …
The Lemp Mansion prides itself on its Sunday dinner, based on what a typical high society Sunday dinner would have been like in the early twentieth century. All you can eat fried chicken, brought to you a bowl at a time, pineapple glazed ham, sliced roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables and rolls … I didn’t even ask about dessert. And so after dinner and a cursory look around the place to get our bearings and some photos, we headed downtown for an event which we were scheduled to appear. Though it’s not downtown, it’s an easy drive there and back, particularly when traffic is light.
It was dark when we got back, and there were precious few lights on inside. We had been given the key to the back door, which is reached by climbing a spiral staircase outside of the building, rumored to be the staircase which once led to the caves and the site of Billy’s infamous parties. As you climb the stairs to the second floor, you don’t really have any doubts that this place is haunted. If it isn’t, it should be.
The Charles Lemp suite contains the family piano, which is said to play by itself. While it never did that, it did on occasion “ping,” which was enough to make a person jump out of their skin. The kid wanted to take a shower, but even he agreed that it might be best to wait till morning, as neither of us had any great urge to go out in that hallway. But eventually we agreed that we needed to go up to the third floor to get ice, and so we mounted the stairs which young Zeke was rumored to have toppled down to his death.
There were no lights on on the third floor, and the first thing I saw with the light from my phone was the plaque announcing the room the unfortunate Elsa had grown up in, thought to be the most haunted room in the house. I was all for giving the door a knock to see if Elsa was home, but my kid vetoed the idea. And I have to admit, though my fist drew up to give it a tap, there was something inside me which said no.
“Yes, I know the score: you do not fight this house! Look, Hell House doesn’t mind a guest or two. What it doesn’t like is people who attack it. “
Richard Matheson, The Haunting of Hell House
I grew up in a haunted house, so I know the score. You don’t mess with things you don’t understand. If you do, you do so at your own risk. There are those who believe that an entity, whatever the hell that is, can attach itself to you and follow you outside the house where it’s believed to reside. I’m a firm believer in that, as is my psychic advisor (trust me, you need one of those in my line of work). So I saw no need to agitate whatever spirits were with us that night in Lemp Mansion.
Some say certain people are more ‘sensitive” to spirits. I prefer to think of us as allergic to the supernatural. You come into contact with something and you can feel it. On rare occasions you can see it. Myself, I try to avoid it. Having seen apparitions on a number of occasions, I don’t personally believe that there is anything to learn from the experience. I’ve yet to meet a ghost who was willing to sit down for an interview, so anything I can say on the matter, or anyone else for that matter is purely conjecture.
In fact I’d go as far to say as after growing up with the damned things, I shut myself off to them. But a few weeks prior to my visit to Lemp Mansion, I had decided to open myself up, much like the protagonist in the Legend of Hell House, who had been the only survivor a failed investigation of the house some years previous. And though skeptics will point out that one of the reasons why most ghostly experiences can’t be trusted – because they happen in the twilight between being awake and sleep – that’s when I pick up on things. Typically it’s voices, and it’s only happened on a few occasions, but with the kid asleep and the house to myself, there was plenty to listen to.
It could be my imagination, it could be otherwise, and when you’re alone in a house like this, you’ll never know if what you hear is real or voices inside your head. But I heard from quite a few people that night, and early morning as well, for I don’t believe my eyes closed for more than a couple minutes till I saw the sun coming up in through the windows.
If I can trust what I heard, much of the Lemp family is still in the family home and surprisingly happy to be there. And yet there was one voice I never heard, but still felt, who didn’t seem to be happy at all. The ghosts of Elsa, Zeke the monkey faced boy, William Lemp, Sr. and his wife Julia, Lemp Mansion’s own lady in wife has all been seen at one time or another. There’s even a story of an unrelated girl who died on the third floor that has been seen roaming the halls. Those appear to be residual hauntings – apparitions reliving the past.
But it’s Billy who is the most dastardly presence in the house, seemingly intentionally frightening guests, wafting his cologne through the rooms, tossing glasses in the bar and generally still making his presence known. Billy has a lot to atone for, but instead he seems to have retained his former personality after death, that is if the stories can be believed.
And after a night at the Lemp Mansion, I see no reason to believe otherwise.
Gothic Travel Ratings
As I said, I don’t try to agitate spirits. I’m content to spend the night in a house ripe with legends, and where you can believe the stories to be true. Lemp Mansion gets a solid five on that score, plus a great dinner to boot. And if you’re the type who likes to agitate the spirits, to stir things up if you will, it’s my studied opinion that in the Lemp Mansion, you might just find your own Hell House.