Nestled in the quiet Benton Park neighborhood of St. Louis, the Lemp Mansion stands as an eerie reminder of a once prosperous and influential family. The Lemp Brewery, known for its popular Falstaff beer, brought wealth and fame to the Lemp family.
But behind the grand facade of the mansion lies a dark history marred by tragedy and heartbreak. Three Lemp family members, unable to bear the weight of their grief, took their own lives within its walls. And it is said that the ghosts of the Lemp family still haunt the mansion to this day, their spirits unable to find peace.
Lemp Mansion Architecture
Perched atop DeMenil Place, the Lemp Mansion looms over the streets of St. Louis like an ominous sentinel of a bygone era. Built in 1890, the mansion was once the crowning achievement of the Lemp family, a symbol of their wealth and success. But as time passed and tragedies struck, the mansion underwent renovations and alterations that stripped it of much of its ornate charm. The once grand halls and parlors were converted into offices for the Lemp Brewery, and later became a boarding house. The construction of the interstate even saw the destruction of some of the mansion’s grounds and carriage houses.
Despite these changes, the Lemp Mansion still holds some of its original details. The iron gates from the open-air elevator can be viewed in the basement, and the office where William Lemp Jr. took his own life still has an Italian marble mantel. The parlor ceiling is hand-painted, and the mantles are carved from African mahogany. Even the bathroom boasts a glass-enclosed shower imported from an Italian hotel.
But it is not just the architecture that makes the Lemp Mansion a fascinating place to visit. It is also steeped in the ghosts of its past, as the site of three suicides by members of the Lemp family. Today, the mansion serves as a restaurant and inn, offering historical and haunted tours, and playing host to murder mystery dinners and Halloween parties. As you walk through its halls and explore its rooms, you can’t help but feel the weight of its haunted history.
The Rise of the Lemp Brewery: From Grocery Store to Global Success
The history of the Lemp Brewery is a story of hard work, innovation, and ultimately, tragedy. It all began with Johann “Adam” Lemp, a German immigrant who arrived in the United States in 1836 and settled in St. Louis in 1838. Lemp started a grocery store called A. Lemp & Co., but by 1840 he had begun to focus solely on the manufacture and sale of beer, establishing the Western Brewery at 37 South Second Street. Lemp’s beer, which was among the first German lagers produced in the United States, quickly gained popularity thanks to the large German population in the area.
As the business prospered, Lemp needed a large storage space, so he turned to a cave in south St. Louis for its natural refrigeration. By the 1860s, there were 40 breweries in the St. Louis area taking advantage of the caves along the Mississippi, and the Western Brewery was one of the most successful.
When Adam Lemp died in 1862, his son William J. Lemp took over the Western Brewery. Under William’s leadership, the brewery became the largest in St. Louis and eventually the largest outside of New York with a single owner. William Lemp was known for his innovation, installing the first refrigeration machine in an American brewery in 1878 and later extending the idea to refrigerated railway cars. As a result, Lemp Beer was sold worldwide.
In 1892, the William J. Lemp Brewing Company was founded from the Western Brewery, with William as president, his son William Jr. as vice president, and his son Louis as superintendent. It was William Sr.’s fourth son, Frederick, whom he had hoped to groom to take over the company, but Frederick had significant health problems and died of heart failure in 1901. William Sr. became despondent and eventually took his own life in 1904. Despite this tragic end, the Lemp Brewery remained a successful and influential business for many years.
Tragedy Strikes the Lemp Family: The Decline of the Brewery and Personal Loss
On November 7, 1904, William J. “Billy” Lemp, Jr., became the president of the Lemp Brewery. Five years prior, he had married Lillian Handlan and the couple moved to a new home at 3343 South 13th Street. Lillian was rumored to be nicknamed the “Lavender Lady” due to her love of lavender-colored clothing and carriages. In 1908, Lillian filed for divorce from Billy, alleging desertion and cruel treatment among other complaints. After a trial lasting 11 days, Lillian was granted the divorce and custody of their only child, William III, with Billy given only visitation rights.
After the divorce, Billy built a country home called “Alswel” overlooking the Meramec River in what is now Sunset Hills. By 1914, he lived there full-time.
The Lemp Brewery faced difficult times in the early 1920s with the implementation of Prohibition. The brewery was forced to shut down and the Falstaff trademark was sold to a friend of Billy’s, “Papa Joe” Griesedieck. The brewery complex was later auctioned off to the International Shoe Company for $588,000. Tragically, Billy Lemp took his own life on December 29, 1922 in the same room that is now the front left dining room of the mansion.
Elsa Lemp Wright, the youngest child of William Sr., married Thomas Wright, president of the More-Jones Brass and Metal Company in 1910. The couple separated in 1918 and in February 1919, Elsa filed for divorce citing damage to her mental and physical health. After a trial, the divorce was granted but Elsa and Thomas reconciled and remarried in March 1920. Tragically, later that same month on March 20, Elsa shot herself while in bed at their home at 13 Hortense Place. Some have speculated that her death may have been a murder disguised as a suicide, with a feature film called “The Case for Elsa Lemp” and a five-part episodic titled “Lemp’s Last Wright” set to premiere in November 2023 exploring this possibility.
The Legacy of the Lemp Family
In 1904, William J. “Billy” Lemp Jr. became the president of the family brewing company. However, his marriage to Lillian Handlan ended in divorce in 1908, and Billy eventually moved to his country home, Alswel, where he lived full-time by 1914. The Prohibition era brought hardship to the Lemp Brewery, which was eventually shut down and its Falstaff trademark sold to “Papa Joe” Griesedieck. Billy Lemp took his own life in 1922.
Elsa Lemp Wright, the youngest child of William Sr., married Thomas Wright, president of the More-Jones Brass and Metal Company, in 1910. The couple separated in 1918 and divorced the following year, but reconciled and remarried in March 1920. Tragically, Elsa shot herself later that month. Some speculate that her death may have been a murder disguised as a suicide.
William Lemp III licensed the Lemp name to Central Breweries in 1939, which changed its name to the William J. Lemp Brewing Company. However, the contract was terminated by Ems Brewing in 1945. Charles Lemp, the third son of William Sr., lived in the Lemp Mansion until his suicide in 1949. Edwin Lemp, the youngest son, retired to his estate, Cragwold, in 1911 and devoted himself to charitable causes, including the St. Louis Zoo. Edwin died in 1970 and instructed his caretaker to destroy his art collection and family heirlooms upon his passing.
Lemp Mansion Today
In the decades following the deaths of the Lemp family members, the Lemp Mansion fell into disrepair and was used as a boarding house and apartments. In 1975, the Pointer family purchased the mansion and began the process of restoring it to its former glory. Today, the Lemp Mansion is a popular bed and breakfast and restaurant, known for its fine dining and unique atmosphere.
But the Lemp Mansion is also infamous for its ghosts, with many people claiming to have experienced paranormal activity within its walls. The mansion has been featured on numerous ghost hunting shows, and it is now a popular haunted house attraction during the Halloween season. Despite its macabre history, the Lemp Mansion remains a beloved and iconic landmark in the St. Louis area, attracting visitors from all over the world.