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A Lemp Suicide 95 Years Ago Today

March 19, 2015 Featured, History/Preservation 26 Comments

Late last month Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich committed suicide at his home in Clayton.  His was not the first local suicide among those who, by outside appearances, had a lot going fir them.

Foe example, the Lemp family:

In 1870 Lemp was by far the largest brewery in St. Louis and the Lemp family symbolized the city’s wealth and power. Lemp beer controlled the lion’s share of the St. Louis market, a position it held until Prohibition. In 1892 the brewery was incorporated as the William J. Lemp Brewing Co. In 1897 two of the brewing industry’s titans toasted each other when William Lemp’s daughter, Hilda, married Gustav Pabst of the noted Milwaukee brewing family. (Lemp Mansion)

The suicides began in 1904 with the head of the family, William Sr:

Lemp, 68, shot himself on the morning of Feb. 13, 1904, in his second-floor bedroom of the family mansion at 3322 South 13th Street (now DeMenil Place), next to his brewery covering 13 blocks. Lemp had never gotten over the sudden death in 1901 of his son, Frederick, brewery superintendent, from a heart ailment. His depression deepened. When he didn’t emerge from the room that morning, no one took much notice. (Post-Dispatch)

His son, William Jr., took over the brewery. Sales declined and, in 1919, the brewery shut down because of Prohibition.

Lemp Mansion
Lemp Mansion at 3322 Demenil Pl, previously known as S. 13th St, was built in 1860s. It’s over 7,300 sq ft. in size. Click image to see map.

The next suicide I’ve seen listed as March 19th and as March 20th — 1920:

The second in the series of Lemp family suicides was that of Elsa Lemp, daughter of William Lemp (who killed himself in the Lemp Mansion in February 1904) and the younger sister of Billy Lemp, who took over the brewery. She had married Thomas Wright, President of the More-Jones Brass and Metal Company, in 1910 and divorced him in 1919. She was granted the divorce on the same day she filed the request, but almost immediately turned around and remarried him on March 8, 1920. Just a few weeks later, Elsa told her new-old husband that she wanted a quiet night to herself. The following morning, he heard a sharp crack and ran into the bedroom to find she had shot herself. When Billy Lemp arrived at the scene, he was remarked as commenting only “that’s the Lemps for you.” (STL250 via Facebook)

Wow, clearly Elsa, 37, was conflicted. Granted a divorce on the day filed? Remarried less than a year later only to kill yourself 11/12 days later! Her daughter died during birth in 1914.

Here’s the home where the couple lived:

13 Hortense Place
13 Hortense Place, built in 1901, is almost as large at just over 6,500 sq ft

I have the following questions about this house:

  • Who built it in 1901? Her husband Thomas Wright?
  • Or did the couple buy the fairly new home after getting married in 1910?
  • How long did Thomas Wright live in the house after Elsa’s death?

I searched the 1940 Census and found him living nearby at 46 Portland Place with a new wife, Cora, her son, 24 year-old William O’Fallon, and three servants: Dora Six, Emma Light, and Esther Siegerit. This house was 11 years newer, built in 1912; a bit smaller at just under 5,000 sq ft — still large.

Elsa was the youngest of her siblings, she’d just turned 21 when her father committed suicide in 1904. Her brother William, 55, shot himself in the family mansion in 1922 — not long after selling the brewery property. Another brother, Charles, also shot himself in the mansion in 1949 — he was 77 and the last family member to live in the family mansion.  Her sister Hilda Lemp Pabst died, presumably of natural causes, in 1951 at age 74.  The last Lemp sibling, Edwin, died in 1970 at age 90.

Edwin Lemp owned 200 acres adjacent to the Meramec River where he began building his 11,000 sq ft home, Cragwold, in 1911:

Edwin Lemp was born in 1880 and grew up during the time that the American conservation movement was at its height. Being a well educated man, he would have been familiar with the conservation issues of the time and most likely read many of the essays written on the topic. With Lemp’s well-known love of nature and animals, it would be easy to assume that he most likely shared many of the same conservation views as Olmsted, Burroughs, Powell, Muir, and Theodore Roosevelt. Lemp’s well-known love of nature and animals can be traced back to his childhood, when he kept canaries and parrots. As an adult, Lemp’s love of nature would lead him to discover the place where he would build his estate.

About the same time his brother William Jr built the Alswel estate nearby. Neither Charles or Edwin married, Edwin was gay and presumably Charles was as well.

Many Lemps are interred at the Lemp mausoleum in Bellefontaine Cemetery.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "26 comments" on this Article:

  1. Fozzie says:

    Care to cite sources regarding the sexual orientation of the Lemp brothers?

  2. Mark-AL says:

    I really don’t understand why people don’t drop this “gay” thing. What possible difference does it make if Edwin was gay or if he indulged several different women every night of his adult life (or if they indulged him)? It seemed inappropriate (to me) to even mention his sexuality in this article (especially), because the guy lived until he was 90, and his lifestyle obviously didn’t drive him to suicide (which is the focus of today’s blog). Charles lived until he was 77, then shot himself. I can’t imagine his sexuality had anything to do with his suicide either. By that time, he had probably forgotten which sex he was–or ever had been– attracted to, if either. When my dad first started farming a week after he and my mother married, he bought one Billy and three Nannies. Wanted to raise goats and sell goat cheese (one of the few revenue-producing activities he was familiar with, since his formal education ended after 6th grade). Turns out the Billie was gay and would have nothing to do with his girls. In his case, “gayness” made a difference.

    • I know it’s hard for a straight person to understand. Imagine life reversed — you’d be afraid of being fired for mentioning your wife & kids. You’d have to keep them hidden, never mentioning their existance. You’d avoid conversations about relationships. When asked if there are a special man in your life you’d get very nervous about how respond without letting the other person know you’re heterosexual.

      I read today Charles Lemp had been ill, finally unable to take the pain.

      • Mark-AL says:

        I think the scenario you described was pervasive 20 years ago, but not so much today. My 15 year old son has school friends who identify as “gay/lesbian”. No one makes an issue of it. In Frankfurt, Germany, my wife and I chaperoned a freshman h-s dance last year, and two male couples and one female couple attended. They blended in seamlessly. They socialized in the group probably better than those who were seemingly straight. In our immediate neighborhood outside of Frankfurt, there are several gay couples, some raising children. All the kids appear to get along well. With the exception of SOME of the judges in Alabama, young adults and even older Alabamians are beginning to accept the GLT community (maybe not the transgendered community quite so much, come to think of it). If it can happen in Alabama, it is already happening elsewhere.

        • This month: “WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — A former general manager at a Red Robin restaurant has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit, claiming that he was fired from the company’s West Nyack franchise location because he is gay.” http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2015/03/05/red-robin-manager-says-fired-gay/24466277/

          For thpse born earlier life could be awful. See ‘Before Stonewall’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zK5rIcYlhCI

          • Mark-AL says:

            If as a gay man, you don’t accept the injustices of the past and allow yourself to appreciate the gains and successes of the present, your perspective will become as distorted as some of the angry African Americans are who are holding onto slavery as a crutch just to justify their personal lack of initiative and ambition. ……..and we shouldn’t forget that we have to give people time to change. As a straight man, I look at the White Plains link as very much a success story. Good luck with filing that lawsuit 20 years ago!

          • I appreciate the gains every day! The gains I’ve seen in the 27 years I’ve been out are amazing — the 16 year-old me wouldn’t have believed the change.

            This is part of the reason I find Edwin Lemp’s story so fascinating, his wealth gave him freedoms that others of his generation would not have had — but he also had more to lose if discovered. See http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Alfred_Krupp

          • Currently in California:
            “An attorney from Huntington Beach, McLaughlin in late February spent $200 to propose a ballot measure that authorizes the killing of gays and lesbians by “bullets to the head,” or “any other convenient method.””
            Quoted from the article: ‘California proposal to legalize killing gays hard to stop’ http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article15394181.html

          • Mark-AL says:

            We’ll see how far he gets with that!…..probably about as far as JUDGE RAY MOORE of Alabama who is opposed to legalized gay marriage and has temporarily stopped the issue of both straight and gay marriage licenses in certain counties of Alabama (just so that he doesn’t have to issue gay licenses). Once the supreme court finally comes down on this jerk, the issue will go away in Alabama, just as in Huntington Beach. How many times have we heard some idiot proclaim the “end of the world” is imminent? How many times has it happened?

      • Fozzie says:

        I know it’s hard for a gay man to understand, but when you insert random, irrelevant uncited references to sexuality in a blog post about the stadium lease or the Lemp suicides, you lose a lot of credibility in your writing.

  3. Interesting how the only comments have all been about Edwin Lemp being gay. Nothing about the family wealth, Elsa granted a divorced on the very day she files — only to remarry the same guy. Or the idea that Kingshighway & Hortense is the “country”, How the Lemp Brewery could’t survive Prohibition but A-B and some others could.

    • Mark-AL says:

      ….well, Steve, I’ll bite on that bait:
      1) The family wealth is a non-issue. If I owned a major brewery, I’d be wealthy too, but the fact of my wealth would be largely unremarkable because wealth comes with that territory.
      2)Elsa’s divorce: either it was a slow day at city hall….or some clerk in city hall needed a bonus and put Elsa’s divorce application at the top of the pile at her request (one of several benefits of wealth, I suppose)…or the guy she had been married to called in a favor to expedite the divorce..
      3)Elsa’s remarriage to the same guy: She obviously couldn’t live without him, or none of her other “gentlemen callers” were as skilled under the sheets. Why knows why she remarried the guy. Maybe she was so butt-ugly that no other man would look at her.
      4) Kingshighway in the country? In the early 20th C….no secret there.
      5) Prohibition’s effect on Lemp? It’s survival of the fittest!!! Obviously Lemp didn’t adapt/redirect their focus like Anheuser Busch and others did.

      While I think this blog is among one of the most interesting you’ve produced, I think the aside referencing Edwin and Charles’ alleged sexual preference was so foreign to the content of your blog that it became distracting….and for what reason? No one cares anymore!

      • Was the “heiress” Elsa Lemp the Paris Hilton of her day? What happened to her money after she died? Had her money run out? Remarry then krill yourself a week later! I’m curious enough about Elsa I’m going to look at books on the Lemp family and probably review newspaper stories from the time.

        Yes, the gay question was distracting to many — that tells me to many it does matter.

        • guest says:

          Distracting in that no one cares. They want to read about things other than the sexual habits of anyone. People have known about the Lemp story for generations. They have built a legend around the haunted aspects of it. But now a gay angle? Who cares?

    • Fozzie says:

      Unlike the gay references, the other items are pretty verifiable. Write what you want — just don’t pretend that these notions are facts when you cannot produce links to corroborate your assertions.

      • The first person to write something, verified by s relative, can’t provide a link. I’m not certain why you can’t understand that.

        • Fozzie says:

          Your unsubstantiated and distracting comments are causing a hullabaloo. I’m not certain why you can’t understand that and continue to dig in your heels further.

  4. guest says:

    I think the general consensus when it comes to “gay” or “not gay” is, truly, no one cares. That’s a good thing, right? So, seriously, can we move on now? Please?

    • JZ71 says:

      I’m one of those people who simply doesn’t care what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, and thus, I try not to be another voyuer when it comes to history. Bottom line, we’ll never, ever, know if Charles or Edwin (or Abe Lincoln) were or were not gay (or bi), nor should we care – it’s what they did in their public life that matters to “history” – what they did in their private lives matters (or should) only to their partner(s) and close family and friends. The same applies to people’s religion and religious beliefs . . . “Judge not, lest you be judged”!

  5. guest says:

    In a similar vein, there are now stories going around about the idea that Abe Lincoln was gay. The original log cabin Republican you might say. Again, who cares? What difference does it make that he was gay? If he was gay? Should all the history books be changed? Should his presidential library and historic home in Springfield, IL, have their histories re-written? How do you even prove such a thing? I will agree though, I suppose, it’s an interesting idea. I heard one man on NPR talking about it. He was fascinating with the theories and stories, about Lincoln sleeping with other men. However, if I’m not mistaken, a lot of people shared beds in those days. It’s not proof they were gay. Do we really need to know? Do we need to change history one way or another? Maybe we should be exploring whether George Washington, Bill Clinton, or even Jesus Christ is or were gay? Personally, again, I could care less. I don’t think it matters to people any more.

  6. Steven LaChance says:

    There is and always will be a lot of different types of speculation about this family. It is one hell of a story. The problem is that there is so much speculation out there which is put out as fact that you find there are all of these conflicting reports. Does it make some sort of sense that Charles and Edwin were gay? Yes, absolutely. Can it be proven without a doubt? Unfortunately it cannot. It is hearsay and even if it is in print you have to take it for what is worth. There are whole books written on the Lemp family. The majority of them claim they have the truth. Very difficult thing to “out” history Steve. In this case, I think you could get away with saying rumored. I also think you could say it is speculated. I do not think it is something you can say is fact. I have been doing a ton of research for a paranormal book I am writing on St. Louis. Where the Lemp research is involved, I have been amazed at the cross section of differing ideas which none of them should ever be given as fact. I would even go as far as being able to question whether the deaths were not suicide at all, but murder. I could make a very convincing case, but in the end it would only be speculation. All I am saying as authors we need to be careful not to put speculation out as fact. Does it mean we cannot put forth differing ideas and theories? No it doesn’t, but we need to label them as such. When we put theory out has fact what we do is to cloud history which is the absolute opposite of what we want or should want to do. Now with that said, do I agree with you that the brothers might have been gay? I think there is a strong possibility they were, but there is just simply no way to base that claim in fact at this time. I am with you Steve on this one. I just want to stress to you that it is very plausible but not yet one hundred percent provable.


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