Updated date:

The Legacy of the Lemp Mansion

Author:

KT Dunn is a Midwest native with a lifelong interest in history and mystery.

History of the Brewery

Johann Adam Lemp

Before Anheuser-Busch came to St. Louis, the Lemp Brewery was already producing lagered beer. The story of the Lemp family business began with J. Adam Lemp (1793-1862), a German immigrant who became a beer baron and an American success story. Details of his life are a bit murky, but after his arrival in the United States, Adam came to St. Louis in about 1838 and established himself in business. In 1840, after a stint as a grocer, he built the Western Brewery on South Second Street. Here he produced lager according to the method he was taught in Germany. He used natural limestone caves beneath the city for this process. The brew became very successful and the company thrived.

Over time, the Lemp family inexplicably suffered a string of suicides and mysterious deaths which, along with Prohibition, led to the gradual decline of their brewery empire.

Over time, the Lemp family inexplicably suffered a string of suicides and mysterious deaths which, along with Prohibition, led to the gradual decline of their brewery empire.

William J. Lemp

Upon Adam’s death in 1862, his son William J. Lemp (1835-1904) took over as head of the company. In 1864, William began construction of a new brewery facility fronting Cherokee Street, above the cave system where their lager was stored.

Anheuser-Busch began producing Budweiser in 1876, but Lemp beer remained popular. Although numerous other breweries existed in St. Louis by that time, there was seemingly enough business for all.

The William J. Lemp Brewery was formalized as a corporation in 1892. Under William's direction, the Lemp Brewery began to ship its product across the country by railroad. In fact, they formed their own railroad company for this purpose.

The brewery's signature Falstaff beer made its debut in 1899, and the familiar trademark was registered in 1902.

Today, Cherokee Street is home to an eclectic commercial mix of antique stores, book shops, and coffee cafes.

The Lemp Mansion - April 2018

The Lemp Mansion - April 2018

History of the Mansion

The house on South 13th Street (which later became DeMenil Place), in the Benton Park district of St. Louis, had been built in 1868 by Jacob Feickert, father of William Lemp’s wife, Julia. In 1876, William purchased it for use as a residence and brewery offices. The brewery buildings can be clearly seen a short distance down the street from the property, and a tunnel was created to reach the brewery from the house.

Elaborate renovations made by the family included an elevator, radiant heating system, and basement kitchen space, which today serves as the restaurant kitchen. Once refrigeration was installed in the brewery, some underground storage space in the caves was remodeled to include a theater, ballroom, and swimming pool for the mansion.

In 1897, William and Julia’s daughter, Hilda, married Gustave Pabst, son of William's friend Frederick Pabst, of the Milwaukee brewing family.

In 1904, William J. Lemp took his own life at home by gunshot to the head, apparently as a result of depression following the death of his son, Frederick, of heart disease at age 28.

The old brewery buildings are visible down the street from the mansion.

The old brewery buildings are visible down the street from the mansion.

William J. ("Billy") Lemp, Jr.

William's older son, William J. Lemp, Jr. (1867-1922), then took over the company, residing in the great house with his wife, Lillian, and their son, William III. Lillian became known as the “Lavender Lady” because of her penchant for lavender-colored clothing and accessories.

William Jr., known as "Billy," and Lillian parted in 1909 following a rather spectacular divorce trial. The house was remodeled in 1911 as office space, although by this time the brewery was under some financial pressure due to competing breweries.

In 1920, when Prohibition came along, William J. Lemp, Jr. sold the company’s best-known Falstaff brand to the Griesedieck family, also local brewers, and closed down the Lemp plant.

In 1922, the brewery facility was sold to International Shoe Company. Later that year, William Jr. also fatally shot himself, in the chest, at the age of 55. His funeral took place at the mansion.

His brother Charles then remodeled the house again and moved into it, residing there until his own death by suicide in 1949.

The remaining Lemp brother, Edwin, who did not live in the mansion, died at age 90 in 1970.

Deaths in the Family

  1. Frederick Lemp, son of Adam, died unexpectedly in 1901, apparently of heart trouble.
  2. William J. Lemp committed suicide by shooting himself in his bedroom in 1904, and William J. Jr. took over the company.
  3. Elsa Lemp, daughter of William J., also apparently shot herself in 1920, in her own home, although this may have been a questionable suicide according to some sources. Elsa and her husband had been divorced previously, and had only recently remarried.
  4. William J. Lemp, Jr., shot himself in his office at the house in 1922, a few months after selling the brewery at a loss.
  5. William Lemp III died at age 42 of a heart attack in 1943.
  6. Charles Lemp, brother of William Jr., also shot himself in the house, in 1949.

End of an Era

For a time following Charles' death, the house was used as a rooming house, finally falling into a state of disrepair along with other homes in the surrounding neighborhood. The area was eventually revived, however, after the construction of Interstate 55 in the 1960s. The highway was rerouted slightly to save the historic Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion nearby, consequently also saving the Lemp property.

In 1975, the Lemp house was purchased by the Pointer family and converted to a restaurant and inn, which continues in operation today.

Haunting Legends

Almost inevitably, stories began to circulate about evidence of ghostly activity in the old mansion during its renovation and thereafter. One of the spirits is purported to be the “Lavender Lady.”

Employees and guests have reported hearing music and disembodied voices. A November 1980 Life Magazine article proclaimed the Lemp Mansion one of the most haunted places in America, helping to further cement its reputation.

Lemp Mansion Restaurant and Inn

The old mansion is said to be haunted, but in the cheery bustle of an ordinary weekday lunchtime, ghosts would seem decidedly out of place. The restaurant offers lunch and dinner menu options, as well as family-style meals on Sundays and some holidays. The first floor also features a bar as well as a gift shop, which includes a small museum display of Lemp photographs and artifacts.

The mansion has its own modest parking lot, and street parking is available. On Easter Sunday recently, we found the house bursting at the seams with customers for the reservation-only midday dinner, but we were still able to locate a parking spot a short distance from the house. Inside, seating proceeded smoothly, and we were escorted to a table in the atrium, where we enjoyed our delicious meal.

Special attractions include dinner theater presentations and ghost tours. Overnight suite accommodations are available.

The facility is also available for private events, such as weddings.

the-legacy-of-the-lemp-mansion

Additional Online Resources

  1. O'Neil, Tim. 2012, Feb 12. A Look Back: Lemp Mansion, Home of Beer Dynasty and Suicide. Retrieved from URL.
  2. http://www.lempmansion.com/history.htm.

Comments

Liz Westwood from UK on April 21, 2018:

This is a very interesting article, packed with information. Sad to see the high suicide rate in the family.