The Cursed History of the Lemp Family Mansion

The powerful Lemp family seemed destined for greatness – until a string of tragic deaths left their dynasty in ruin.

By Stephanie Almazan
The Cursed History of the Lemp Family Mansion

At the dawn of the 20th century, the Lemp family name was synonymous with grand financial success in the beer industry. Their signature brew – Falstaff Beer – could be imbibed across the world. But the untimely death of a beloved son presaged disaster. Soon, suicide struck – then again, and again, and again.

By 1950, four Lemp descendants had killed themselves, three of whom perished inside the gloomy Lemp family mansion in St. Louis.

The Lemp dynasty began with patriarch Johann “Adam” Lemp. Adam immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1836, settling in St. Louis, Missouri, where he opened a mercantile shop and sold his own vinegar and beer.

Adam was one of the first in America to produce German lager. The Bavarian suds were so popular that Adam focused solely on growing his business, Western Brewery. He even utilized the caves beneath St. Louis to naturally refrigerate his brews.

william lempA photo of William J. Lemp, Sr. (St. Louis Public Library)

After Adam Lemp’s death on August 23, 1862, his son William J. Lemp, Sr., took over the family business. Under William Sr.’s watch, the brewery blossomed into St. Louis’ largest beer manufacturer. He was credited with installing the first refrigeration machine in an American brewery and later developed refrigerated railway cars to distribute their chilled product across the United States.

In 1892, Western Brewery rechristened itself William J. Lemp Brewing. William Sr. served as president; son William Jr. was Vice President; and son Louis, superintendent. William Sr.’s fourth son, Frederick, was his golden child – the chosen one who stood to inherit his empire.

lemp familyAn vintage beer advertisement depicting the Lemp brewery in St. Louis

Then, tragedy struck. Young Frederick, who had thrown himself into his new role as heir apparent, died suddenly of heart failure on December 12, 1901. He was 28 years old. The death devastated William Lemp, Sr. When his good friend, Frederick Pabst – of Pabst Brewing fame – passed away on January 1, 1904, it was too much for the tycoon to bear.

On February 13, 1904, William Sr. shot himself in the Lemp family mansion.

Tragedy next struck Elsa Lemp-Wright, William Lemp Sr.’s youngest daughter. She shared a rocky, high-profile marriage with Thomas Wright, the president of a metal company. In 1919, Elsa finally filed for divorce, citing mental and physical damage. The couple seemed to reconcile soon thereafter, remarrying in March of 1920. But a few weeks later, Elsa committed suicide – also by gunshot – while in bed at her nuptial home.

lemp mansionA photo of William “Billy” Lemp Jr. (Missouri History Museum)

The family’s business, meanwhile, was in serious decline. The cause? America’s march toward Prohibition, which had been eating away at their sales.

William “Billy” Lemp Jr., who became president after his father’s death, was forced to shutter the family brewery in 1919, selling the operation at auction price for nowhere near its original worth.  His personal life was equally tumultuous – Billy went through a messy divorce and lost custody of his only child William III.

Unable to manage the burden, Billy shot himself in his office inside the Lemp Mansion on December 29, 1922.

Charles Lemp was the third son of William Lemp Sr. He had abandoned the beer business in 1917 to pursue a career in banking, but moved back into the mansion in 1929. There he lived out his days with his dog and two servants as the last Lemp family member to reside in the estate.

lemp mansionAn early photograph of the Lemp family mansion (Missouri History Museum)

Charles grew increasingly reclusive in later years. In 1941, he reportedly sent detailed funeral instructions to a local funeral home.

Then, in 1949, Charles Lemp committed suicide. First he shot his dog then himself in the head in the Lemp family mansion. He was the only Lemp suicide victim to leave a note: “In case I am found dead blame it on no one but me.”

William Sr.’s remaining two children died of natural causes. Louis Lemp, William’s second oldest son, passed away in 1931. Edwin Lemp died at 90 in 1970. After walking away from the brewery business in 1913, Edwin retired to his sprawling estate in Kirkwood, Missouri. There he surrounded himself with animals and devoted his life to charitable causes such as the St. Louis Zoo.

The Lemp Mansion still stands in St. Louis as an eerie reminder of this dark American tragedy. The historical home operates as a restaurant and inn offering dining, performances, and overnight stays.

lempThe Lemp family mansion as it stands today

Guests who spend the night at the mansion speak of paranormal experiences and midnight encounters with the restless spirits of the Lemp family – unsurprising for a house so steeped in death.

[via St. Louis Dispatch; Missouri History Museum; St. Louis Public Library]

Feature photo: Mark Grapengater / Flickr

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