In 1901, a devastating loss took place in the Lemp mansion of Benton Park, Missouri. It shook the family to their core and spelled disaster for the family fortune. Little did the Lemps know, this death was only the first in what was to become a long line of suicides and gruesome misfortunes.
Once one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in the St. Louis area, the Lemps' fate quickly took a turn for the worse after building and moving into their new, luxurious home. Who exactly was this family, and what happened to cause their ghosts to stick around the lavish family mansion long after their deaths?
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In 1836, Johann “Adam” Lemp immigrated to the United States, leaving behind his native Germany. After settling in the United States, Adam Lemp started a grocery store called A. Lemp & Co.
Alongside groceries bought from suppliers, Lemp also sold his own vinegar and beer; by 1840, he was focused solely on manufacturing and selling beer. Once his focus had shifted from the store, Lemp formed Western Brewery. It quickly became very popular with the increasing German immigrant community. Adam Lemp was one of the first in the U.S. to brew German lagers rather than English ales, and the new style caused a sensation. Soon enough, he was growing an empire. Adam created the Falstaff beer brand–a name he thought would go down in history. It did, but not for the reasons he anticipated.
By 1862, the year of Adam’s death, the Lemps’ Western Brewery was among the most successful in Missouri. After Adam passed away, his son William took over the brewery. William Lemp expanded the brewery in 1864, and he and his wife Julia built their family mansion in 1868, a year after the birth of their first child.
Built in the early 1860s, the mansion was purchased by William Lemp to function both as a residence and a place where his brewery could thrive. The new Lemp mansion had 33 rooms, a Victorian look, and a sizable basement within three floors—not including the attic room.
As owner and operator, William Lemp pushed the Western Brewery to become the largest brewery in St. Louis—it later became the largest outside of New York with a single owner. William demonstrated innovation and a strong business sense: He began to brew and bottle the beer in the same facility; he installed the first refrigeration machine in an American brewery; and he added refrigerated railway cars to allow the transport of Western Brewery beer across the United States. The beer became a national product that would soon reach worldwide distribution.
William and Julia had six children. The fourth, and William Sr.’s favorite, Frederick, was being groomed to replace his father as the head of the business. Unbeknownst to the family, Federick had significant health problems that would lead to his death in 1901 of heart failure. The family took the death of the 28-year-old hard, especially Frederick’s father. William Lemp mourned deeply for three years. When a close friend of his, Frederick Pabst (of PBR fame), passed away in 1904, William was already despondent and slowly declining. About a month after Pabst's death, William Lemp committed suicide with a shotgun.
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Thanks to the strengthening temperance movement, beer was significantly less popular by the time of William’s death. Eldest son William, Jr., or "Billy," took over the Western Brewery but struggled to return it to its former glory. In fact, Billy was much better at partying than running a business. It was rumored he took part in many discrete gatherings that involved illicit alcohol and prostitution.
These misdeeds became grounds for his wife to divorce him in 1908, citing mistreatment and indecency. After only 11 days, the divorce was successfully filed. Billy’s wife received a large sum of money from the Lemp family and gained full custody of their only son.
Ten years later, the Western Brewery closed, without giving any notice to workers. Despite creating a non-alcoholic beer, the company simply couldn’t sustain itself through Prohibition. This proved to be more than Billy could handle. Approximately four years later, on September 29, 1922, Billy became the second Lemp to die from suicide within the Lemp mansion walls.
In addition to his financial woes, there were rumors of a more physical threat to Billy Lemp. Supposedly, he had a son with a woman outside of the confines of marriage. The young child was born with Down's Syndrome–at the time, a shameful thing within a family. Rather than reveal his infidelity and the child's disability to the world, Billy hid his child within the walls of the Lemp mansion. The young boy's spirit is still reported to show his face inside the house. There are no official records that this boy ever existed, but the story has persisted for over a century.
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Two years before Billy's death, another Lemp child succumbed, although not in the family home. As a young woman, Elsa Lemp married the president of a prominent metal-producing company in 1910. The marriage ended in divorce in 1918. Apparently the couple reconciled, remarrying in 1920. But less than a month after their remarriage, Elsa shot herself in her bed.
Upon hearing of the death of his sister, Billy said, “That’s the Lemp family for you!”
Charles Lemp, the third son of William Senior, moved into the Lemp mansion in 1929, seven years after his brother’s suicide. Although Charles was unmarried and known for his penchant for solitude, a married couple moved in with him, along with Charles’s dog and two servants.
In May 1949, Charles first shot his dog and then himself, leaving behind a note which read “In case I am found dead, blame it on no one but me.” He had left instructions for his body with a St. Louis funeral home eight years earlier.
In another note, left eight years prior to the suicide, Charles left specific requests: His remains were to be taken by ambulance to the Missouri Crematory; his body was not to be bathed, clothed or changed; his ashes were to be put in a wicker box and buried in his farm; there was to be no funeral or notice in the papers.
In total, the Lemp family saw four of their members commit suicide. Many of the Lemp mansion's former residents are reported to still haunt the home today, from Billy's ill-begotten son to William, Sr. Only two of William Lemp’s children lived full lives. Louis Lemp died of natural causes in 1931. Edwin lived to be 90, passing away in 1970. His final dying request was for his caretaker to destroy every family heirloom, and the family’s art collection.
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In 1949, the mansion was sold off and transformed into a boarding house. It wasn't long before hauntings were reported. Witnesses claimed to see a boy who asked for someone to play with him. There were reports of inexplicable burning sensations, cold spots, slamming doors, and other mysterious sounds. The boarding home quickly flopped but was saved once again in 1975.
Supposedly, it isn't only the four Lemps who committed suicide that haunt the rooms of the Lemp mansion. There is also a story of a “monkey-faced boy” who can be seen around the attic. This, supposedly, is the ghost of Billy's hidden son. There is no confirmation of this story, and a living Lemp relative, Andrew Lemp Paulsen, vehemently denies the charge.
The Lemp family home currently functions as a restaurant and inn owned by the Pointer family. The upscale bed and breakfast also holds a fine restaurant and dining hall for events.The house was falling to shambles when Richard Pointer bought it in 1975. It was during the home’s extensive renovations that reports of strange occurrences began to surface.
Multiple people have reported experiencing an exceptionally intense feeling of being watched. Once Pointer’s son was sleeping alone in the home with his dog when he heard a loud bang just outside his bedroom door. He searched the entire house, but found nothing.
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One night while closing, two keys were played on the piano. The employees responsible for closing for the night searched the home but came up empty-handed. A candle on the mantel has lit on its own; a drawer of the dresser that belonged to the Lemps opens of its own accord; objects disappear and reappear in different locations; soft disembodied voices can be heard; and the clip-clop of horse hooves coming up the street have been regularly reported.
The Pointers say they’ve lost a fair amount of employees due to the unexplained phenomenon, but still run the inn to the best of their ability, inviting visitors to spend the night and dine amongst the spirits of the deceased members of the Lemp family.
Feature photo: Wikimedia Commons