A night at the Lemp Mansion with a sorry excuse for the Mystery Gang
As a self-proclaimed ‘fraidy cat, I’m not sure what I was thinking when I agreed to spend a night in a haunted mansion with friends. I’m the girl who was afraid to be in a room alone after watching “The Others” and the Lemp Mansion in downtown St. Louis is rumored to contain much more than the spirit family of Nicole Kidman and company. Nevertheless, I spent the night before fall break in a house that has landed on “most haunted” lists in CNN’s Travel Blog and Life Magazine.
Today, houseguests of the Lemp Mansion may dine in its restaurant, host events in its banquet rooms, take ghost tours and stay overnight in its bedrooms. More than 150 years ago though, this manor, located on DeMenil Place off of Highway 55, was the home of Charles Lemp and his family.
The Lemps owned a powerful brewery that was in its heyday before Prohibition. The death of Frederick Lemp, the son the family anticipated to be the next owner of the brewery, from health complications was the first tragedy to strike the family. Four members of the family ultimately committed suicide in the house. Visitors to the Lemp Mansion have reported seeing ghostly figures and orbs, hearing noises, and observing phantom movements in its rooms. To add to the eeriness, we discovered that all of these suicides occurred within a week of the birthday of one of my friends (who was also visiting the mansion with me). Go figure.
As the time for our stay approached, I prepared for the trip by discussing the following with my fellow ghost hunters: who in our group would die first if we were the cast of a horror movie? I’m proud to say that in some versions I made it as far as second-to-last alive, and this gives me the opportunity to introduce the other characters of this Halloween tale (if it helps you to imagine us as the Mystery Gang from Scooby-Doo, go right ahead).
Six college students entered the Lemp Mansion at 10:30 p.m.: me, Alex, Gordy, Jad, Lydeah and Mary. Jad came fully prepared in a replica “Ghostbusters” suit, and each group on our approximately 15-person tour received an infrared-capable, night-vision video camera to record the events of the evening (a DVD of this recording, though, costs $10 at the end of the tour). The other tour-goers ranged from true believers in the paranormal to a band of class clowns ready to give our tour guide a hard time.
What I anticipated in a tour guide was more like a historical interpreter—perhaps an old woman dressed in nineteenth-century garb to match the departed Lemp family. What we got was a girl no older than a senior in high school donning a Relay for Life T-shirt. After receiving instructions on how the tour would operate, we all ensured that Alex deleted the recently downloaded Ouija Board app on his iPhone. This experience was pretty ridiculous—but not ridiculous enough that we were taking any chances of communicating with spirits via our cell phones.
We began our tour on the top floor of the house which, according to our tour guide, is haunted by the spirit of Elsa Lemp. Elsa was known as a mother and caretaker, and previous tour-goers reported hearing the voices of children and feeling tugging sensations near their legs. Our tour guide told us of one woman who visits the mansion annually and brings toys for these spirit children to play with. When I heard this, my first though was: Uh, really? My second: Damn, that’s creepy.
On each level of the house, the tour guide would give us a brief history of the suicide that occurred in the room in which we stood and what sorts of paranormal activity had been reported there. After that, we were free to roam the floor with our cameras independent of the tour guide. After the explanation of the first suicide, I was terrified enough that I wouldn’t enter most rooms in the house without clutching to my closest friend. Squeezing Lydeah’s hand for dear life, I entered the Elsa Lemp room where we were all shocked to see the bright glowing light of…a Coke machine.
Yes, our first sighting was not a ghost or rattling door, but a vending machine. At this point it is worth mentioning that the Lemp Mansion is part haunted historical venue, part mediocre hotel. I felt no need to question the tour guide any further when she mentioned that the last renovations to the house occurred in the 1980s. A weird cognitive dissonance occurs when you’re told that a centuries-old spirit haunts the room you stand in but it also contains a bulky CD player and amenities including oversized muffins and bottled juice.
Absurd as this all sounds, I should emphasize that I was pretty terrified throughout the tour—especially when our tour arrived at the Charles Lemp room. Not only was this the room the tour guide claimed was the “most haunted,” but it was also one of the rooms our group booked for the evening. The room bordered a haunted nursery, with a door known to swing open spontaneously in the night.
Scared as we were, most of us got a great laugh out of the guests who believed they saw paranormal activity throughout the night. As we entered a room, one woman reported sensing a strong smell of bananas. I can’t make this stuff up and I also can’t make up the fact that all her friends agreed with her (even the tour guide found this odd). The same group of women claimed to see a moving presence in a bedroom reportedly haunted by a dog spirit. One of the jesters from the group played along, rolling around on the bed and beckoning the dog. Our group looked on seeing nothing but a wrinkled bedspread.
At the end of our tour, we were shown to our suites for the evening. We chatted and ate snacks in the aforementioned dog haunt and most of us felt relatively comfortable. The thing about staying in a haunted mansion, though, is that you can never really shake the thought that you’re in a haunted mansion. When the couple staying across the hall from us knocked at the door, I jumped. When we needed to use the bathroom, we brought a group to stand guard at the door.
We reluctantly split up into two rooms when we needed sleep, but no one in my room slept comfortably. To his credit, Gordy slept through the night, but everyone else complained of a restless night in rooms that were absolutely sweltering. This, on top of our already-scared states, made reading a hotel placard stating the staff wants guests to have “the most relaxing experience possible” laughable.
With the cost for the tour and hotel stay at a total of $80 per person, I would recommend the Lemp Mansion to anyone hoping to have an entertaining experience with friends (we certainly haven’t exhausted our banana-wielding ghost jokes). But the traveler looking for a calming, comfortable evening may be better off on his Tempurpedic on the South 40.