Some places in this world seem tailor-made to be haunted, meeting all of the criteria for such a place. Tragic history? Check. Suicide, madness, suffering, and death? Check. Creepy old mansion? Check. Network of gloomy underground tunnels? Definitely check. There are often places that met all of the criteria for what a haunted place should be, and don’t disappoint. Such is the tale of a historic old building that was once one of the most prominent breweries in America, which would go on to weave a tale of opulence, ruin, death, a subterranean lair, and a spooky and persistence haunting that remains active to this day.
In 1838, Johann Adam Lemp and his family made their way across the sea from their native land of Germany to try their hand at the American dream, opening a grocery store in St. Louis, Missouri, that featured a beer he had crafted from his own family recipe, called Sir John Falstaff, which is still sold today. The family was successful enough that it wasn’t long before the demand for Lemp’s brew was so high that it eclipsed the grocery store, and Johann went about founding the Western Brewery in 1840. Lemp’s son William would take over the business, and in 1864 moved the brewery to an area situating it over a vast expanse of subterranean limestone caves that were perfect for storing the product down in the cool, dank gloom. Things were going great at the time, as Lemp was the first in St. Louis to market and sell the “lager” form of beer, which was mostly new to Americans and was widely praised for its light, pleasing taste. The popularity would increase, until by 1860 Lemp was a leader on the growing St. Louis beer brewing scene, and William moved the operation and erected a sprawling and opulent brick mansion nearby, spacious enough to house Johann, his wife Julia, and their eventual eight children, and it supposedly even had tunnels connected directly to the underground storage below.
In its heyday the Lemp brewery was massive, encompassing a full city block of space, and by 1877 it was ranked as the 19th biggest brewer in the United States. Lemp proved to an innovator at the time, in 1878 utilizing the first refrigeration facility in his brewery, as well as refrigerated railway cars for shipping, and he was among the first to actually bottle beer and ship it out nationwide on a mass scale. The gloomy caves below would be turned into a sort of amusement space, incorporating all manner of diversions for guests, including a bowling alley, swimming pool, and hot baths, and it became as much a tourist attraction as much as a beer making facility. By 1892 Western Brewery had become the Lemp Brewing Company, and his sons William Lemp Jr. and Louis were appointed as Vice President and Superintendent of the operation. Interestingly, William’s supposedly favorite son, Frederick, would be regulated to the background, although he worked tirelessly for the company behind the scenes, and William had big plans for him in the future. This was, it would seem, not meant to be.
In 1901, Frederick came down with health issues, and eventually died at the age of 28, leaving his father devastated. By all accounts William Sr. never got over it, losing his will to run the company and becoming distant with his family, and this was all exacerbated by the death of his friend and fellow beer tycoon Captain Frederick Pabst, of the Pabst Brewery in 1904. William became further withdrawn, sinking deep into despondency and spending all of his time down in the murk of the caves, to the point that those around him became worried about his state of mind, and they were right to be. On February 13, 1904, it seems that William Lemp had had enough of this world, and he calmly lay in bed to shoot himself in the head with a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson. Rather eerily, his wife Julia would soon after fall ill with cancer and die in the same exact bed in 1906.
In the wake of his father’s death, William’s oldest son William Lemp Jr. took the reigns of the family business, but he was not exactly cut out for it all, it would seem. He was at the time a well-known playboy and party animal, who seemed more interested in chasing tail and living it up than making beer, holding extravagant parties in the underground cellars and even in his own house. This would lead to a divorce from his wife and it was indeed a major scandal of the era. His wife would win the court battle, and William’s misfortunes were not even over yet. The coming of the nationwide ban on alcoholic beverages called Prohibition in 1920 was catastrophic for a business that was built on producing alcohol, and although they tried to stay afloat by marketing non-alcoholic beer, it was devastating. Family tragedies would continue amongst all of this doom and gloom, such as the suicide of William’s sister, Elsa Lemp, who also shot herself in the head in 1920 after struggling with a rocky marriage.
With the coming of Prohibition it seemed the family’s dynasty was doomed, and William Jr. went about auctioning off the brewery for a pittance in 1922, shortly after which he went off to a room of his mansion and killed himself with a gunshot to the chest. With the mansion vacated, his son William Lemp III tried to take over in the wake of Prohibition, but was unable to salvage what once was, and eventually licensed the Lemp name to Central Breweries of East St. Louis in 1939. He would then go through a divorce with his wife and financial ruin before dying from a heart attack at the age of 42. At the time, the eccentric brother of William Sr., Charles Lemp, was living in the mansion, and he was apparently a reclusive weirdo. He too would shoot his dog and then blow his brains out in the home in 1949, after oddly requesting that he have no funeral, and that his remains not be clothed, bathed, or changed, and his ashes be buried on his farm in a wicker box. It seems like the only one of the Lemp family to live a long and happy life was the youngest son of Willian Sr., Edwin Lemp, who would go on living at a luxurious country mansion to the ripe old age of 90, after allegedly specifying that all family heirlooms be destroyed by fire in his passing, believing them to be cursed. The house would go on to become a boarding house and then deteriorate into a state of disrepair, finally becoming the restaurant and inn it is today.
Considering all of this tragedy and death, it is no wonder that ever since the Lemp mansion and indeed the caved under it have become a hotbed of paranormal activity. There ave been numerous odd tales over the years of hauntings in this area, the spookiest of which revolves around an illegitimate son William Sr. was said to have had, named Zeke, who was born retarded and sequestered away until his death. The ghost of the so-called “Monkey Boy” is said to lurk in the attic of the estate, popping up to frighten visitors. Other strange stories are not far behind, such as the accounts given by Richard Pointer, who purchases the property in 1975 to turn it into a restaurant. As they worked on renovating the dilapidated property, various unexplained occurrences would emerge, such as one day when Pointer was painting in the bathroom. He says of the strange incident:
I was painting the bathroom by myself. There was no one else in the house, and I felt someone behind me, watching me. I mean, it was a terrible feeling, the most burning sensation you could have. I get goose bumps just now, thinking about it. I turned around, and nothing was there. I started working again and got the same feeling, so without looking behind me, I cleaned my paintbrushes and got the hell out of there.
Another report comes from an artist hired by the Pointers to work on the ceilings of the mansion, who would have some unsettling experiences of his own. He would claim that he had been overcome with a sense of menace and the intense sensation of being watched, even though no one was around at the time. He would lament, “That place is crazy. You must have a ghost in there or something!” Pointer’s son would also be tormented by unexplained bangs and noises in the house, and the phenomena have persisted ever since. A candle would supposedly be inexplicably lit every night, drawers would open and close or furniture move on their own. One former waitress at the restaurant has said of her own brush with the unexplained:
Early one morning I was going through the house, making sure that everything was as it should be as the restaurant opened, when I noticed a dark-haired man seated at a table in what was originally the Lemp family dining room. He was facing away from me, so all I could see was the outline of his shoulders and head. I was surprised to see someone in the restaurant so early, but I asked him if he wanted a cup of coffee. He did not answer. When I looked away for a moment to flip the light on, I turned around and he had vanished.
Paranormal investigators have of course filed in, and they have come away with some stories of their own. Investigator Betsy Burnett-Belanger claimed there were at least nine spirits on the property, and the caves below it have been reported to have all manner of strange paranormal phenomena as well, including disembodied voices and moving objects. The stories of the place’s hauntings have grown to the point that in 1980 it was named one of Life magazines most haunted houses and it has drawn more than its fair share of attention from the paranormal community, and every Halloween the caves are turned into a haunted house to the amusement of curiosity seekers. Whether it is really haunted or not, the former Lemp family brewery holds to itself a dark history and if it is not prowled by the spirits of the dead then it certainly feels like it should be.