Lemp Mansion draws attention to notorious St. Louis history

Wednesday, October 31, 2001

ST. LOUIS -- The Lemp Mansion, site of three suicides in a historic St. Louis brewing family, has a reputation today for ghostly apparitions, unexplained events and things that literally go bump in the night.

Around Halloween, that draws a lot of attention to the purportedly haunted restaurant, dinner theater and bed-and-breakfast now operating at the house.

"We've had people who have not been able to stay the night," said co-owner Paul Pointer, 44, whose family has run the mansion for 26 years. "I don't necessarily feel comfortable coming over here by myself. I'm looking over my shoulder constantly."

The mansion used to house the wealthy German Lemp family known for Falstaff beer, though they eventually sold that name to another company. They were believed to be the first in St. Louis to brew lager, the light, crisp style of German beer which eventually became world-famous.

But Pointer said some Lemp family members suffered from severe depression.

A father and three of his seven children committed suicide in St. Louis from the turn of the century into the 1940s, three of them shooting themselves in different rooms of the mansion: William J. Lemp Sr. in 1904; daughter Elsa Lemp Wright who shot herself in her own Central West End home in 1920; son William J. Lemp Jr. in 1922 and son Charles in 1949.

After Charles' death, the mansion was turned into a boarding house until the Pointer family bought it in 1975. And with ownership of the 1860s Federal-style mansion came plenty of stories.

"It was always considered the old spook house," said Pointer.

Sliding drawer

Soon the family had stories of their own to tell.

Pointer said one night he watched as a drawer in the downstairs dining room slid shut by itself, just after his sister asked him to close it. He said he still stacks up silverware in the drawer trying to figure out if there's any way the weight of it could slide the drawer closed.

On another occasion, a decorative painter of German ancestry walked off a ceiling restoration job. He said the man couldn't help feeling that he was being watched and thought he heard someone calling his name. The story is recounted in "Lemp: The Haunting History," a book by Stephen P. Walker. "It was weird. I just felt I had to get out right then," Claude Breckwoldt recounted in the book.

Pointer said years later, he took an elderly man, familiar with the mansion, on a tour to learn more about the property. The man looked at the ceiling fresco in surprise. The visitor said: "It was my understanding that Papa Lemp got into an argument with the German artist who was working on the fresco, covered it with a canvas and said it would never be finished," Pointer recalled. "Basically, we have left it undone. We kind of respect his wishes at this point."

Shiny shoes

Pointer found a letter among his father's papers after his own dad's death, and he now keeps a copy at the restaurant. It was from a former rooming house tenant who was certain he ran into a spirit on the mansion's stairs. Oddly, he said the ghostly figure was wearing very shiny shoes.

Pointer said he never shared its contents with anyone until he felt he had good reason to. A few years later, an employee came up to the first floor from the rathskeller, badly shaken. He said he ran into an unknown man on the stairs. He said the man was short, and he was struck by how shiny his shoes were. Pointer said the employee quit a short time later.

A current maintenance man at the house, Randy Hansen, said he hasn't seen anything unusual, but said he keeps needing to change the lock on one door because the keys keep disappearing. He said he feels uneasy in one bedroom, known as the east bedroom. "The hair on the back of my neck stands up," he said. One of the family suicides occurred there.

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