St. Louis’ Lemp Mansion, rising statuesquely above highway 55, is more than a reminder of the lavish lifestyle of the beer barons and baronesses of the eighteen and early nineteen hundreds. For anyone familiar with St. Louis folklore, it is also a reminder of the inability of wealth and social influence to bring happiness to the families it touches.
Stripped of urban legend, the story of the Lemp Family is one of sadness, misfortune and clinical depression leaving no generation untouched.
William Lemp, Senior, heir to the Lemp brewery at the passing of his father, aquired the mansion in the mid-1800s. In 1901, he lost his favored son, Frederick, at the age of 28 to a heart attack. Shortly thereafter, his best friend passed away. His grief became more than he could bear. William Senior became the first Lemp to take his own life in the mansion. Three of his children, Elsa, Billy and Charles, followed suit in the following decades – two of those suicides also taking place in the home.
Suicides were not the only cause of death in the Lemp Mansion. Historical research teamed with psychic investigation has uncovered other tragic losses in the home. Zeke Lemp, said to be the last child born to William Sr. and his wife, is said to have died in a fall down the stairs. A young girl, unrelated to the Lemps, is rumored to have died a violent death in the mansion's attic. Investigators are unsure if the death was accidental or a homicide.
Life Magazine deemed the mansion one of the nine most haunted places in America. It has been profiled on television, in print, on radio and featured on the Horror Channel. Now a restaurant and Bed & Breakfast, the mansion is regular host to paranormal investigation teams, amateur ghost hunters and the curious. The current owners of The Lemp Mansion say few of their overnight guests leave disappointed.
On the night of September 15th, I spent the night in the Lemp Mansion, with a group of nine people, lead by a paranormal investigator. I arrived open-minded and left convinced I’d had a glimpse into the world of paranormal activity.
Of course, I also arrived with camera in hand, hoping to capture something on film. Our first ghost photo (above) appeared just minutes after our arrival, before we'd even stepped foot inside the mansion. Could it be Elsa Lemp, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest? (click on photo to enlarge)
Read on and you'll discover it wasn't our only encounter during our stay . . .
The Tour . . .
The place was busy when we checked in – a wedding going on outside on the gazebo, the dining rooms packed with dinner guests and mystery theater actors getting ready to provide entertainment to guests in the main dining room.
We were shuffled through the crowd and taken upstairs to see our rooms:
The largest suite in the house, formerly the room of Lillian Lemp, first wife of William (Billy) Lemp Jr. It includes a large sitting room, bedroom and bathroom. The bathroom, installed at a time when few homes had indoor plumbing, was built with a glass and marble shower, soaking tub and fireplace. It is bigger than the average room in my own home. Lillian was referred to as “the Lavender Lady,” because her room, her gowns and even the bridles worn by her horses, were in shades of lavender.
The Lavender Suite is said to hold “psychic residue.” Our psychic explained that meant this portion of the house retains a sort of memory of events that replay, making it different from a haunting.
Laurie and Ashley, hoping that meant they'd have no ghostly encounters during the night, decided to take this room.
Once belonging to William Lemp Sr. and his wife, Julia, the room contains a bedroom and sitting area. This is truly a haunted room in which apparitions have been seen, items have disappeared from guests and have been reported to move on their own. Julia Lemp is said to haunt the entire second floor, in search of her son, Zeke. She is known as “The Lady in White,” as her spirit is often viewed in a long, flowing white dress. Both William and Julia died in this room: William; of a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head and Julia; of cancer.
William Lemp, Jr. moved he and his wife into the house, and himself into this room, following his mother’s death. He later took his own life, in the downstairs office, with a gunshot to the chest.
Cindy and I took this room.
The teenagers in our group chose this room, but reported it remained peaceful throughout the evening.
The attic bedroom sits at the top of the servants’ stairs and is said to be the most haunted room in the mansion. A small, cozy suite with a fireplace, it was my favorite because it is simple and rustic, with a gorgeous view of downtown St. Louis.
On our way to see this room, up the spiraling servants’ stairs, we all sensed something on the third landing – a sense of being watched and heaviness all around us. I remember saying “oh no . . . no way am I staying up here tonight . . . “
Our second ghost photo was taken in this room moments later. A distinct face of a man with a goatee appeared in a standing mirror. (click photo to englarge)
Sam gladly took this room, reporting tons of paranormal activity throughout the night: the bathroom doorknob rattling, the door opening on its own and the constant sense of the room being “crowded.”
Getting Ready . . .
After getting settled, Sam and I did some exploring of the second and third floors and I snapped several photos of each room and the attic crawlspace. Later, I’d discover that Sam had drug me off on this little exploration so that my surprise birthday party could be set up in the Lavender Suite. We returned to the Lavender Suite where a table was decorated and a cake adorned with a smiling ghost said “Happy Birthday Rhonda.” I was truly surprised!
We moved into the sitting room in the William Lemp Suite. The teenagers and Sam were off exploring while the ladies – Cindy, myself; Laurie and Ashley were busy anticipating the evening.
Laurie was scared. Her plan: consume lots of alcohol and wear sunglasses so she would see and sense nothing. (Her plan didn’t work). Ashley provided moral support to Laurie and Cindy and I were hoping to leave the next morning with tons of ghost stories to share.
As we chatted and passed around a Lemp Mansion History book, I snapped several photos from my perch on the couch. These photos produced the second appearance of the man with the goatee and the first appearance of "shadow spirits." Unbeknownst to us at the time, we’d shared pre-dinner cocktails with three ghosts! Later, we tried to replicate the shadows we’d captured on film, without success. They can be explained by nothing logical. I shot with my back against the wall, with nothing behind me that would cast the strange shadows. I tried to explain the curvy shadow lurking above Cindy as, perhaps, the shadow of an ornate chair in the bedroom, somehow cast from the camera flash, but nothing with the shadow's shape existed. The person-shaped shadow to the right is also without explanation. It can’t be my shadow, as I was sitting and there was nothing behind me but wall – no lamp or window to cast my own shadow, and no one sitting or standing nearby.
At 7:00, we locked our rooms and headed downstairs for dinner. The restaurant was packed, and for good reason. If you ever get the chance to dine at The Lemp, it is worth it. Dinner was fabulous, with compliments to George, our chef, who has cooked for The Lemp for seventeen years. The two hours spent at dinner went quickly and, before we knew it, our psychic guide had arrived.
Our Psychic Arrives . . .
Betsy Belanger, a psychic and paranormal investigator from St. Louis Spirit Search, arrived at 9pm. She would spend the next three hours with us, sharing the Lemp family history, telling the tales of her many Lemp investigations, and the results of her methodical empirical research. We were supposed to have been joined by her partner, Lou, but he ended up having a medical emergency. We joked about how he should have been able to predict such a kink in his schedule.
We followed Betsy back upstairs to the sitting area in the William Lemp Suite. Betsy struck me as an incredibly warm, genuine person and I truly appreciated hearing her version of Lemp history. She told the story in a much softer, sympathetic, manner than is usually depicted in folklore.
And, she gave more than just her psychic impressions. She’s spent years investigating the mansion and tons of time and energy attempting to prove and disprove many of Lemp’s tales by painstakingly going through public records. The end result was a balanced report, tinted by a true appreciation and empathy for the Lemp family’s trials.
Of course, in addition to the chronology of the family’s history and introduction to the family members, Betsy shared some of her first-hand paranormal experiences. There were many times, as she spoke, lights flickered and strange noises were heard. Once in a while, she’d acknowledge something occurring in the room. Sometimes, you got the sense she was getting a sense, but keeping quiet about it.
Betsy Meets Billy . . .
Betsy holds an obvious affinity for Billy Lemp who, she feels, is an earthbound spirit in the mansion. By her definition, Billy is the loudest, most active spirit in the house and, if he wants you to know he is there, he will find a way to let you know. Later in the evening, we’d all spend some “quality time” with Billy, but were content for the time being hearing Betsy’s stories.
She told us about her first overnight at the mansion, years ago, when she was just beginning her career in paranormal research. After an evening of ghost hunting, she was sleeping in the first floor hallway on a rollout bed. An associate was asleep on the antique couch down the way.
As she struggled to fall asleep, she heard the almost comically loud creaaaaaak of a door; the noise even waking up her partner who acknowledged hearing it too. For the following fifteen seconds, she came face-to-face with Billy Lemp, setting about scaring her nearly to death by leaning over her and doing his best ghost-laugh, but he ceased his antics when she told him he was scaring her to death and asked him to stop. She tells us it was the most scared she’s been in her entire life, but uses the story to teach us a tool we might later need, telling us that if at any time during the night we are frightened in such a way, we can always ask the source to stop, go away and leave us alone. “It works,” she assures us.
The Story of Zeke . . .
The most enthralling aspect of Betsy’s story was that of Zeke, the last child born to William and Julia Lemp, late in Julia’s life. Betsy emphasized that little of the folklore one reads about Zeke is accurate.
Zeke was born with physical deformities and cognitive deficits. His birth was undocumented, perhaps because, back then, his mother would have been encouraged to institutionalize him, as he would never exceed the mental development of a six year old. Instead, he was raised in the house by his parents and, following their deaths, by Billy.
Folklore states Zeke was locked in the attic. Betsy makes it clear this is untrue. Back then, the attic served as the servants’ quarters. The servants loved Zeke, doted upon him, and the attic served as safe place for him to play, as he had the constant attention of the Lemp staff and an outdoor patio high above the jeers from neighborhood children.
Betsy has spent much of her time at the Lemp trying to communicate with Zeke and discover why his spirit remains earthbound. What she has unearthed is a sad story about Zeke and his mother, who is also earthbound. Apparently, the two are looking for each other, without success. Julia Lemp remains on the second floor and Zeke remains upstairs in the attic area.
Zeke died, at the age of sixteen, as a result of falling down the servants’ stairs.
There were tears in the eyes of many of us as Betsy told this story. Something about a child being unable to leave the physical world following death was disturbing to all of us. It isn't quite how I imagined the Universe working if, indeed, that is the case.
Since the attic has recently been remodeled, Betsy tells us she is worried about Zeke, whose spirit is confused and frightened by the changes. She says he is now difficult to make contact with.
But, with us that night was Cindy’s daughter, who has experienced paranormal activity since she was a small child. She spent a lot of time in the attic area that night, claiming to have made contact with Zeke. At one point, Betsy joined her upstairs and confirmed Cindy's daughter's claims. Many of the photos we later captured in the attic room and crawlspace, we believe might be Zeke. (Do you see Zeke in the above photo, taken in the attic crawlspace? Click to enlarge)
The Official Tour . . .
By 11pm the last of The Lemp staff had left the building and the attic room guests had locked themselves in for the night, so we had the whole place to ourselves. Betsy guided us through the first floor and basement, sharing the history of each room.
The rooms of the first floor remain intact, but are converted into dining rooms. Boasting 13-foot hand painted ceilings and fireplace mantles imported from Germany, the only thing missing is the original furniture, though a Lemp sofa still sits in the hallway.
William Lemp Jr.’s Office
The front dining room was once William Lemp Jr.’s office. His desk sat beneath the place where a painting of The Lavendar Lady (his first wife) now hangs. It was in this spot that Billy, who had squandered much of the Lemp's fortune and was facing the consequences of prohibition on the brewery, put a .38 revolver to his chest and fired. Betsy shows us where he stood and how his body fell. Cindy and I would later have our most frightening experience of the evening in this room.
Charles Lemp’s Office
Now the restaurant bar, this is the location of the third and final Lemp suicide, that of Charles. Charles was the only suicide victim to have left a note: “In case I am found dead, blame no one but me.”
Charles was in his senior years at the time and had grown eccentric and "paranoid." He would be the final Lemp to ever live in the house. His younger brother, Edwin, built an estate in what is now a suburb of St. Louis, where he raised animals, tended beautiful gardens and did his best to detach himself from what, he felt, was "The Lemp Curse." Edwin died of natural causes at the age of 90. His will instructed that, upon his death, the Lemp family heirlooms and art collections be burned. And, they were.
The family’s gathering area. When the current owners purchased the house, they discovered the ceilings of this room and the grand entryway had been covered in painted canvas. Peeling back the canvas, they uncovered a hand-painted ceiling.
As the story goes, William Lemp Senior contracted the painting of the ceiling. Being a perfectionist, the paintings never met his standards so, once complete, he ordered them covered up.
The new owners of the mansion hired a painter to restore the ceiling to its original state. He worked on it in bits and pieces, lying on his back on scaffolding. He tried to do most of his work in the daytime when the mansion was occupied, but one evening found himself alone in the mansion.
After that evening alone, he refused to return to complete the project, as he reported an encounter in which a loud, angry voice instructed him to get out of the house. The restoration work remains unfinished.
This was once an incredible room created by Lillian Lemp. Before Charles Lemp remodeled the house, adding a room above it, it boasted a glass ceiling. Inside the atrium, Jullian raised tropical birds and plants.
Later that night, I would spend some time alone in the atrium, where I had a big scare . . . the sound of footsteps coming down the hall that sent me running out the atrium door and down the spiral staircase to join my friends outside.
But, the encounter would prove not to be ghostly, as it was one of the teenagers prowling around the first floor, taking photos.
The basement houses the kitchen, a dining room and the sealed off entrances to the Lemp Catacombs – a series of underground tunnels and rooms leading from the mansion to the Lemp Brewery. We were not allowed access into the tunnels (or directed how to get to them, though I remember hearing a tour of them on the radio a couple years ago, so know they are still accessible.)
The underground rooms boast a theater and several bathing pools heated by a natural hot spring.
It didn’t occur to us until the next day that none of us ventured into the basement to explore it during the night.
The Dowsing Rods . . .
One of the psychic tools Betsy uses are dowsing rods. Copper rods, held loosely, they allow her to communicate with spirits by establishing the direction they will turn for “yes” and “no”. Betsy took us back upstairs for an introduction to them and a quick lesson, and then let us find quite places to experiment with them.
Mine were going bonkers during her demonstration but, to be honest, I felt silly walking around, talking out loud to spirits, so spent my time watching other people experiment with theirs. Everyone reported success, so Betsy left us with a pair to use throughout the night.
The Stroke of Midnight and the Ghost Hunt Begins . . .
Betsy said goodbye at Midnight, wishing us luck and letting us know the house seemed full of paranormal activity. Sam was the first one to retire for the evening, heading upstairs to his attic bedroom and leaving us to our adventures.
The teenagers wandered around the house together as the rest of us stayed in a tightly bunched group, exploring rooms and taking photos. During our first solo-exploration, we did little more than spook ourselves, though there were areas in the house where we experienced the unmistakable feeling of a presence.
The Creaky Door Incident . . .
At one point, Laurie and I decided to head downstairs to the atrium landing for some fresh air. We made it down the main stairs and into the hallway, when we suddenly heard the loudest door creek, coming from the direction of the men’s bathroom.
This did not sound like the creaking door of an old house. It sounded more like someone hit the play button on a Halloween tape: “Creaking Door”. The sound was deafeningly loud and slow. Laurie, terrified, screamed and started running up the stairs. I followed suit, not afraid of the sound, but afraid Laurie had seen something, and unwilling to stand downstairs alone and see it too.
When we got upstairs, we double-checked everyone’s location. Ashley and Cindy were in the Lavender Room. The teenagers were together in the Charles Lemp room and Sam was still sound asleep upstairs. Had we met Billy in the downstairs hallway? (click photo to enlarge)
I couldn’t coax anyone back downstairs to see if the door to the men’s room remained closed. We figured Billy Lemp had played the same trick on us that he’d played on Betsy during her first night at the Lemp.
Laurie was so terrified, we plugged her into a feel-good movie (RV, with Robin Williams) and sat down and watched it with her a bit. Two of the teenagers headed off to bed. We were shortly antsy to go exploring again and, since there was no way Laurie would stay alone in the room, she reluctantly joined us.
Ghosts in the Attic . . .
It was about 3:00am. We headed upstairs to the attic to check on Sam. Standing outside Sam’s closed doors, Laurie and I were leaning against the railing to the servant’s stairs; a spiral staircase traversing four floors.
“Did you see that?!” Laurie said, telling us she’d just seen a white figure walk along the stairway on the floor below us. None of us had been looking, so if it was the “Lady in White,” known to pace the second floor, Laurie was her only witness.
We opened Sam’s door, waking him up with my camera flash. In his half-sleep, Sam told us to check the bathroom in his room because it had been the source of all kinds of noises during the night.
Cindy opened the bathroom door and I leaned in and shot a photo. Later, I would discover what I initially thought was nothing but a white towel, hanging on a silver towel rack. I thought I’d captured some kind of spirit energy at the end of the towel, but when Sam saw the photo later, he pointed out two things: There was no towel rack in the bathroom and the silver thing was actually the doorknob, leaving the only explanation for the entirety of the bright, white glow to be that of spirit energy, likely the same spirit who had spent the night opening and closing the bathroom door and rattling the doorknob to wake Sam up. We guessed it was Zeke, as the room is known to be one of his haunts.
On the way back down the servant’s stairs, I tried to snap photos of the staircase, to see if my camera might pick up the “lady in white,” to no avail. My camera simply wouldn’t fire.
Cindy directed me to take a shot of the attic from my perch on the stairs. No problem. My camera worked perfectly. Later, we would find a spirit energy peering out from behind the door to the attic crawlspace on that photo. None of us remember leaving the door open and we wondered whether that spirit wanted his photo taken, thus explaining the camera malfunction when I was aiming the opposite direction. If you look carefully at the photo, it seems to be two images – one a profile of a strangely shaped face (perhaps Zeke), but, on the right side of the white energy, a bit lighter, is, again, the man with the goatee.
The Ring Incident . . .
We headed back down to the first floor, joined by Cindy’s son and his friend, who brought the dowsing rods. The group of us ended up in the main hallway, everyone standing but me. I perched myself on the Lemp Sofa.
I shot photos as everyone took turns with the rods. There was a distinct presence in the hallway and the feeling was getting stronger and stronger, though the rods weren’t giving us any feedback at all.
Then we heard, from the direction of the bar, a distinct “PPPSssssst!," like someone was trying to get our attention. “Did you hear that?” “Yes! I heard it!” We all quickly moved to the bar doorway and peered inside. We could not enter the bar – one of the few rules for staying the night. So, we stood there, waiting for something to happen and nearly jumping out of our skin when we heard the sound of the icemaker dropping cubes into its container.
Right outside the bar is the concierge's desk. “Laurie?” Ashley asked, “Um, is this your ring?” There, perched on top of the desk, in a place someone would undoubtedly discover it, if directed to stand in front of the bar, was Laurie’s gold and platinum pinky ring.
Laurie had never before had that ring fall from her finger and had no idea it was missing. We decided that, perhaps, she’d lost it during the door-creak scare and that Billy had returned it to her, as sort of an apology for scaring her so badly.
The staff had left hours before. And, even if they had found it earlier in the evening, the more likely scenario would have been to ask one of us if we were missing it or lock it up in lost and found, rather than setting it where it would be unlikely to find. It was obviously not costume jewelry.
Laurie was so shaken, and so sure it was left as a gift from Billy, she refused to wear it, trying to give it to one of us. I told her it would be best to thank Billy, which she finally did.
During this episode, I took photos along the hallway – from the sofa, before the “ppssst!” looking inside the bar, and of Billy’s office, on our way towards the stairs. In each of these photos, a dark shadow appears in front of me, sometimes so thick it cannot be seen through. Later attempts to replicate the effect failed.
The Final Scare . . .
By 5:00am, Cindy and I were the only two standing. We were tired, but wanted to take one more trip downstairs before trying to sleep. It was still pitch dark outside.
We wandered downstairs into the atrium and took a seat next to each other. The room felt peaceful and we spent several minutes just casually chatting, mostly commenting about how quiet the house felt and how we thought we’d experienced the last of the paranormal activity for the night.
Without a noise, a chill or a sense of being watched, we decided to head upstairs for bed. But, the minute we stepped from the atrium, that dark sense of a presence surrounded us again, stronger than ever. We ended up standing in Billy Lemp’s office.
Cindy is, perhaps, a stronger believer in the paranormal than I, but she doesn’t often sense activity. This makes her fearless. She had no problem walking into the room and laying on the floor in the spot where Billy fell upon his suicide. "Are you insane?!" I asked her.
In my lifetime, I've lived in two haunted houses - a turn of the century victorian and a mountainside chalet previously owned by a family whose son committed suicide. Both of the houses made believers of staunch non-believers who experienced strange things within their walls. So, I've had lots of opportunities to hone my perceptions, though no practice doing so in years.
I didn't need practice in Billy's office. The feeling of heaviness in the room was almost suffocating. Some people get goosebumps in the presence of a spirit. Others feel the hairs on the back of their neck stand. I get a feeling of tightness in my throat and chest and my eyes water. These aren't physical reactions to fear, as I don't feel afraid when they occur. And though, in this case, the room was heavy with a sense of depression, the tears rolling down my cheeks weren't, and never are, accompanied by emotion.
It didn’t just feel like someone was with us, it felt like the whole room was filled to the brim with something. The feeling was so intense, I was having trouble getting air, needing to occassionally step into the hallway, where the feeling was lighter, to take a few breaths before entering the room again.
Cindy had to remind me to shoot photos. I fired off a few, then we moved into the hall to check the camera screen and see if we'd captured anything. Almost every frame included a dark, human-shaped shadow.
Since this was the most intense experience of the night and we, apparently, had captured photos to document it, we decided it was important to prove or disprove whether or not the photos were truly of a paranormal nature. We tried everything possible to replicate the shadow on the wall: I stood in the same spot and fired off pictures, the flash completely illuminating the room, with no sign of the shadow. We turned on the hallway light, to see if backlighting might account for the shadow (though the light hadn’t previously been on). No matter what we did, we couldn’t make the shadow appear again. It was only later that we also discovered a fast-moving orb in the photo.
Finished with our camera experiment, we went back to seeing what we could sense in the room. The intense, dark feeling immediately returned. While the experience hadn't been what I would describe as terrifying, it hadn't exactly been pleasant. I decided I'd had enough and suggested we head back upstairs.
I honestly couldn't say whether we spent fifteen minutes or an hour in that room. It felt like ages.
We headed back upstairs, to the William Lemp Suite, and into bed. We made the conscious effort, though, to try to stay awake, listening and looking to see if anything might happen in the room. Cindy wore her glasses because she didn’t want to miss anything. We were both disappointed when we awoke two hours later, as we hadn’t really meant to fall asleep.
Morning . . .
So ends our paranormal experiences at The Lemp. The staff arrived at 7am to prepare breakfast, calling us downstairs at 8. It was the first time we’d even seen the couple that’d checked into the attic bedroom the night before and we spooked them with our stories.
After spending a night in the darkness of the house, seeing and feeling the things we experienced, the place looked almost cheerful with sunlight streaming through the windows.
Some of us swore we’d never return. Some of us arrived skeptics and left believers. Some of us can’t wait for the next opportunity to spend a night at The Lemp.
I left The Lemp Mansion with a refreshed belief in the paranormal, but without the answers I sought. I know we witnessed something – was it psychic residue, parallel universes, lost souls or even worm holes? I don’t know. I do know our attempts to disprove most of what we captured on film failed.
I can’t wait to do it again.
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