Not just because it's a place that I really wish I could have revisited on the trip, but because it was one of the first famous haunted locations I ever visited in adulthood, and to this day it is the site of one of the strangest experiences I've ever had.
I flip-flop between rationalizing that I was just a young, impressionable ghost enthusiast "swept up in the spookiness of it all," and giving myself enough credit to think that maybe there was something intangible and unseen that my body knew and my mind didn't. I'm trying to give myself the benefit of the doubt. I wouldn't write off one of you creeps if you came to me wondering about an experience, so why should I write myself off?
That's not to say there aren't easily explainable causes that could account for or contribute to my experience. For all I know, my evening at the Lemp Mansion was a perfect storm of suggestion, the paranormal, structural problems in the building, and nascent anxiety issues.
Was it shoddy wiring in an old house that created an electromagnetic field significant enough to produce a "fear cage" effect? Did the atmospheric mansion combined with my knowledge of its history feed the burgeoning anxiety/depression condition that at the time I was just barely starting to understand? Was my mental state ripe for an episode of panic, whether I was at the Lemp or not?
Or, was it something far less "rational"? Something not so explainable?
For those of you who aren't familiar with the Lemp Mansion, here are the basics:
Built in the 1860s in St. Louis, the mansion was acquired by William J. Lemp, son of German immigrant John Adam Lemp, founder of a hugely successful beer brewery. The mansion was the Lemp family's home (it later became the "company headquarters" circa 1920).
William Lemp expanded his father's lager business, creating the William J. Lemp Brewing Company and the largest brewery in St. Louis. In the late 1800s, the Lemps were celebrities of the industrial world and idolized in St. Louis. However, their "Camelot" would not last.
In 1901, at the age of just 28, Frederick Lemp, William Lemp's "favorite son" and heir to the Lemp Brewery, died suddenly of heart failure. Only a few years later, in 1904, Lemp's dear friend and fellow brewer Frederick Pabst (yes, that Pabst) died as well. Having never fully found a way out of the grief for his son, this was too much for William Lemp, and he fatally shot himself in a bedroom of the mansion.
Tragedy continued to follow the Lemp family. William Lemp's successor, William "Billy" Lemp Jr., inherited the family business but had to close down the brewery when prohibition took hold in 1919. Having gone through multiple divorces and loss of custody of his son, Billy Lemp shot himself in his office inside the mansion in 1922.
Just two years earlier, William Lemp's daughter, Elsa Lemp-Wright, shot herself in bed (not in the mansion), perhaps due to an unhappy and likely abusive marriage to a Thomas Wright.
The last Lemp to live in the mansion was William Lemp's third son, Charles. Charles moved back to the estate in 1929 and lived there until his death in 1949. Living only with his dog and his servants, Charles was rather reclusive. In 1941, he "sent detailed funeral instructions to a local funeral home," and in 1949 he shot himself inside the mansion — along with his dog.
He left a note reading, "In case I am found dead blame it on no one but me."
So as you can see, the Lemp Mansion is shrouded in pain and despair. To be honest, I feel a little conflicted writing about the Lemps here, but I do believe that the Lemp Mansion (from what I remember and have read), as well as the city of St. Louis, treats the memory and history of the Lemps with respect. While the mansion does not shy away from its dark history and haunted reputation, it also does not make it the only thing worth mentioning about the Lemps. I do think they offer an honest, if gentle, history.
This brings me to my experience at the Lemp Mansion.
My boyfriend at the time took me there for a big, fancy night out. I'd been dying to go there for years.
We took part in a murder-mystery night (silly, good fun) and a pretty damn delicious dinner. After dinner we went on a tour of the mansion that told stories of its history and haunts. All spooky feelings aside, I though the staff of the Lemp did a lovely job of being straightforward with the history and grounded but enthusiastic with the ghost stories. I never felt like I was being "forced" into frights.
At this point I should mention that I felt "off" from the moment we stepped foot into the Lemp Mansion. I was excited to be there, yes, but the quality of this excitement was different; I just couldn't relax. And you know I'd tell you if I was spooked from the get-go — I was not. In fact, I was quite happy, just...on edge.
Part of the tour included a peek into the bedrooms that people can book for overnight stays. Ornate suites, decorated in period style, gave us tour-goers a glimpse of the wealth and privilege that the Lemps once had. Then we went to the attic room.
The Lemp family's history, though celebrated, is far from perfect.
Zeke, son of William Lemp (it's hard to determine if his mother was Lemp's wife or a mistress), was reported to have been born with deformities, and due to the family's public image, was hidden from sight up in the mansion's attic room. While the exact details of Zeke's life are foggy, it seems that the child (who may have had Down syndrome) lived mainly with the Lemps' servants and died at the age of 16 when he fell down the servants' stairs.
People say that Zeke's face can be seen in the attic window, looking out, and that toys left for him in the attic bedroom move on their own.
Others say Zeke is just legend. They say that Zeke's existence has been dramatized, exaggerated. I wonder if such things would be perpetuated by a family that wished to hide their "embarrassing" child?
Anyway, our little tour group of about eight people started up the stairs to the attic bedroom, "Zeke's room."
I got about halfway up the stairs when my heart started to race. At this point, our tour guide hadn't said much about the hauntings surrounding the attic room, so I had no reason to be frightened. As we climbed the stairs, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up (one of the few times that has actually happened to me), and I felt a lump in my throat start to grow. I was fighting back tears, and I couldn't figure out why.
Writing this now, I know this sounds like the beginning of a panic attack. I know this feeling so well now. But, remembering so clearly that moment on the thickly carpeted, twisting staircase, "panic attack" is close...but not quite right.
By the time we got to the top of the stairs, I was covertly wiping tears from my eyes. One of the women who I had started chatting with on the tour turned to me and said, "Oh, honey! Are you OK?" I tried to smile and said, "Yeah, just feeling weird."
The tour guide proceeded to tell us about Zeke, then let us peek into the dimly lit attic room. When I stepped up to the doorway, I just couldn't take it and let out a sob. I backed away from the door and headed for the stairs, my boyfriend in tow.
As I passed her, the woman said, "Oh, honey, you're just too sensitive" and patted me on my back. I can't decide if that was a judgment or sympathy.
I hurried down the servants' stairs, then the main stairs, crying tears that made no sense to me; I was just so sad. To this day I can't quite tell you why. It was more than sadness; it felt like loss.
All I knew was that I HAD TO GET OUT OF THERE.
Scurrying out the front door, I stood in front of the mansion and took deep breaths of the hot, humid St. Louis air. My heart wasn't really racing anymore, but I was shaking, and the tears wouldn't stop.
My boyfriend caught up to me and asked me what I wanted to do. I apologized to him for cutting our night at the Lemp short but asked that we drive over to a favorite dive bar so I could calm down. He sweetly obliged.
For the next few days, I felt exhausted. I was fine, maybe a little more emotional, but more than anything, baffled at my behavior. It was, and is, very unlike me. Such outbursts of HUMAN EMOTION in public, among strangers, is just not how I operate.
I should also note that I was not unacquainted with the Lemp properties when I visited the mansion. I'd spent most of that summer working down the street in the former Lemp Brewery's historic warehouse — it was the rehearsal space for a play I stage-managed. The warehouse was way creepier than the mansion, but never once did I react so strongly.
What happened to me at the Lemp Mansion? My first foray into uncontrollable anxiety? An external stress that I wasn't aware of?
Something energetically "unexplainable" that I was picking up on?
I just don't know. But I'm very curious to visit the Lemp Mansion again one day, to see what happens.
Has anything like this ever happened to you? Have you had a strong emotional or physical reaction to a place that defied reason or logic?