Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lemp Mansion Overnight

I love Lemp Mansion at Christmas. Sure, it is one of the most well known haunted houses in this area of the country, and it has seen its share of misfortune and tragedy, but it's still a lovely old house. We were lucky enough to spend the night here last Friday, something I've wanted to do for ages.

The history of the home, in a nutshell, is that it was built in the early 1860s and later purchased by William J Lemp, whose father, John Adam Lemp, started Lemp Brewery. Lemp Beer was the king of the St Louis beer market at the turn of the century, and the mansion was a symbol of the family's success. The house is said to be haunted by numerous spirits - some who died in the house, some who died elsewhere, and some who are urban legends.

This room, above, was originally the ladies parlor. Later it became the the office of William "Billy" Lemp Jr, and is the room where he shot himself in 1922. A portrait of Lillian Lemp - known as Lavender Lady because she dressed exclusively in lavender - hangs on the front wall, and I've heard the portrait light blinks if you talk to her. The Lavender Lady's divorce from Billy in the early 1900s was quite the circus sideshow in the St Louis media, but she died in 1960 at the age of 83, so I'm not sure why she would haunt this house. 

This room was the gentlemen's parlor back then, and epitomizes the agony and the ecstasy of renovating an old house. After Edwin Lemp, the last son of Billy, died in the 1970s, the house became a boarding house, and was sorely neglected until the current owners purchased it. All the wood trim had been repainted countless times, and a significant percentage of renovation in this house has been stripping wood. That's my most dreaded task, as the owner of a 130 year old house. But the ecstasy part is this ceiling, which was discovered when a canvas ceiling was pulled away. Can you imagine? I've already checked under all the false ceilings of Franceth Manor. We have nothing so amazing.

The entire first floor is now a restaurant, which is why you see tables and chairs in every room. The Sunday Chicken Dinner, served family style, is what we like to call "taking the tuberculosis cure", after the misguided notion in Olden Times that rich food helped cure consumption. The room pictured below also has an ornate ceiling, and is the original dining room.

The next room, originally the aviary, is my favorite, and also the room we always dine in because we always seem to end up there on Friday nights when the Murder Mystery Dinner Theater is going on in the rest of the dining rooms. We're not really into participating in dinner theater, but it's fun to listen to. Do yourself a favor and get yourself a Lavender Lady martini and some of their house-made toasted ravioli!

Speaking of the Lavender Lady and drinking, check out these amazing stained glass windows that were installed in the bar in modern times (early 2000s).

Mural from the Museum & Gift Shop  
Down the hall from the bar is the Museum & Gift Shop, located in one of the old vaults. Yes, one of. There's a vault above AND below this one. Everything from money to artwork to brewery plans and formulas would have been stored in these three vaults. Today you can buy Ouija boards and tshirts in the first floor vault, as well as view many family heirlooms and details of Cherokee Caverns, located under the mansion and brewery complex. 

Before 1-55 cut through this area, Cherokee Caverns was a tourist attraction, and the section of cave under Lemp Mansion had a theater and swimming pool instead of the traditional ballroom in the house. Access from the mansion has since been sealed up.  Landmarks Association has had a raffle for a tour in the fall the past couple years, so become a fan on Facebook and watch for future opportunities. I will say this: I've heard it's pretty unpleasant down there. Don't think this is some nice show cave tour with concrete paths and lights.

I can't show you the caves but I can show you upstairs! Some of upstairs, anyway. Here is where I admit that booking this overnight on a Friday was a big mistake on my part. I get up at 6am, and we ate dinner at 8pm. After several Lavender Lady martinis, t-ravs, prime rib, and cheesecake, I was toast. I totally squandered the opportunity to befriend our housemates and see their suites and ghost hunt all night long. BLOGGING FAIL. 

Here is the hallway between the Lavender Suite and the William Lemp suite, and here is where I tell you about more Lemp family tragedy. Frederick Lemp, the fourth son of Julia and William Sr, had been expected to take over the family business, but died of heart failure at the age of 28. William Sr, despondent after this loss and the death of his best friend, Frederick Pabst, killed himself in one of the bedrooms in 1904.

We spent the night in the Elsa Suite. Elsa Lemp was the daughter of William Lemp Sr and was the wealthiest heiress in St Louis at one time. She, too, committed suicide, but not in this house. According to wikipedia, she separated from her husband in 1918, divorced him in 1919, and then reconciled and remarried him in 1920, and then shot herself in their bed that very same month. One of the stranger Lemp stories, to be sure.

In any case, this suite, along with the Frederick and Louis suites on the third floor, are only named for the family members. They would have been servants quarters. I'll not give it away, but this room has a very fun secret, and is also rumored to be the most haunted room in the house, as well as the room where the legendary "monkey faced boy" lived. Urban legends will have to be saved for another time. We didn't have any ghostly experiences, but I can tell you, when I woke up in the middle of the night and was trying NOT to listen for noises, I worked myself into such a state that I almost fell out of bed when Francis snored. I'm still laughing about that.

I have to end this somewhere or it will turn into a novel. I'll tell you about Cragwold, Edwin Lemp's estate, and Alswel, Billy Lemp's summer home, another time. I hear the Lavender Lady haunts that one, too. If you've been to any of the houses, caverns, or mausoleum, share your stories!

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