A walk through the Lemp haunted mansion

| Staff Reporter

BOO! Gotcha, didn’t I? This past weekend, I had a date with the St. Louis Paranormal Research Society (SLPRS). I went on a nighttime walking tour of the Lemp neighborhood, alleged to be one of America’s most haunted neighborhoods. I gave out a disclaimer to each of the five brave souls who generously agreed to accompany me that this could go one of two ways: It was either going to be the spooky adventure of a lifetime, or us being led down some poorly lit streets by people slightly off their rockers. Either way, it was bound to be entertaining.

The tour group, which consisted of around 15 people, congregated in the Lemp Mansion—an edifice, we learned, that was the site of three suicides committed by members of the once prominent Lemp family and later a hospital to around 200 terminally ill people who passed away on the premise. Now, it serves as an inn and restaurant with all-you-can-eat chicken dinners (!!!) on Sundays.

Our tour guide was SLPRS member Mark Farley. From the Lemp Mansion, he led us down dark streets and alleys, showing us the neighborhood haunts (pun intended) and explaining the history and hearsay associated with each one. He gave us the lowdown on a church, school and convent that all at one point operated in conjunction with one another. The school induced the most heebie-jeebies: a janitor-turned-child-molester, suicides in the basement and mysterious cases of missing students were all among the charming stories Mark shared with us. We searched in vain for the little girl he and other tour members have previously seen appear in one of the school windows which, despite the building having been on sale for 10 years and counting, still had the original creepy, velvet curtains hung up, concealing anything—or anyone—who might be lurking inside.

A highlight was learning about Francis Tumblety, the second most suspected individual in the Jack the Ripper case, who had temporarily lived in that neighborhood during the Civil War era. Tumblety was specifically known for handing out jars containing different kinds of female anatomy, labeling each one with a different defect of the female sex. Yikes. I’m guessing he didn’t get invited to many dinner parties.

Originally, I was expecting the tour to take place in some deserted, as-still-as-death type of neighborhood, but instead we found that the area was quite developed and occupied by real, living people. The result was a steady series of disruptions to the creepy vibe so that it really wasn’t all that creepy. Like that time when we walked 20 feet away from the Lemp Mansion only to find ourselves on top of Interstate 55. Or that moment when Mark used a small red pointer to highlight a window on one of the “haunted” homes and my friend leaned over to me and whispered, “Wouldn’t the people who currently live here find this slightly annoying?” The universe comically answered her when, while stopping in front of a modern residence containing a former Underground Railroad stop turned speak- easy in its basement, a 20-something year old dude casually passed through the parting crowd and entered his home, greeting us with “What’s up guys?” on his way in. I was tempted to respond with “Not much, bro. Waz up with youuuu?” but I exercised some self-control.

After walking around the grounds of the old brewery where a big haunted house is set up in October, the alley where the Screaming Lady lurks and the once cholera-infested graveyard which has since been converted into a children’s park, I did get to briefly chat with Mark and hear a little bit of his perspective on the supernatural side of St. Louis.

“For me, ghost hunting is more of a personal exploration than some kind of scientific endeavor,” Mark said. “I realized years ago that it’s impossible to prove to people that ghosts exist, so I gave up…as long as I can have the experience myself, I’m happy, and if I can share it with others, great.”

He told us that some of SLPRS’s future projects include investigations into Fox Theatre and the Peabody Opera house. I was surprised to hear that both had originally approached the society. So yeah, this paranormal society is pretty legit.

Anyone who is interested in getting involved is welcome to go to SLPRS meetings, and the investigation teams assemble from there. According to Mark, investigations require a variety of talents: supernatural enthusiasts, photographers, audio professionals, equipment-builders and so on.

Mark was kind enough to say that, if possible, he would be happy to invite me to come along during one of their future investigations so I could give readers like you a little insight into what really happens. Considering the all the goose bumps, giggles and knowledge gained during this experience, I may just have to accept.

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