“Are you guys part of the band playing for the wedding reception?” asks the irritable receptionist of St. Louis’s Lemp Grand Hall.
“Yes. Where is the hall?” I ask.
“Third floor. You’ll need to unpack your stuff here and take the elevator up, and quickly please… the wedding party will be here any minute,” Miss Irritable coordinates the evening’s progressions.
“What a cool old building,” I relay my observations to our bass player Pierce.
“Yup,” Pierce answers with an introverted nod and a puff of his cigarette.
It all started in 1838 when a man named John Adam Lemp immigrated to St. Louis, Missouri, from Eschwege, Germany. The first generation of Lemp noticed how propitious the natural cave system underneath St. Louis was for brewing a new type of beer called a lager—the first of its kind in the Gateway to the West. John Adam Lemp left the grocery business in the first half of the 19th century and decided it was time to create the Lemp Brewery.
In 1864 a new plant was erected at Cherokee Street and Carondolet Avenue that would one day expand to take up ten city blocks, including the Lemp Mansion.
“I hear this place is haunted,” Pierce portends.
“Really?” I respond.
“Yea supposedly the family members Killed themselves and are haunting the mansion nowadays,” Pierce attempts to make my skin crawl.
In fact, William Lemp, son of John Adam Lemp, committed suicide in the head bedroom of the mansion in 1904, thus ending a three-year grievance over the mysterious death of his favorite son Frederick. Unfortunately, William Lemp’s successors followed in the morbid footsteps of their father. Elda Lemp committed suicide in 1920 after the start of prohibition forced the brewery to temporarily shut down. And William Lemp II shot himself in the same building his father committed suicide in just eighteen years prior. If any building were to be haunted by its preceding tenants, it would be the Lemp Mansion.
“Guess I’ll keep an eye out for ghosts,” I kid to Pierce.
After unloading our gear onto the third floor, Pierce makes a short comment regarding the scenery within the antedated hall.
“It’s antique [Lemp Hall]… not vintage.”
The hard maple-wood floors, white table settings, manservants dressed in tuxedos… the open-air lift (not elevator), Italian marble mantle, hand-painted ceilings and intricately carved mantles of African mahogany spoil the thirty-three-room estate as a Victorian Showpiece. Suddenly I feel like I’ve stepped out of the present and into the post-prohibition era as a guest at the brewery. It’s the roaring twenties again. Tonight, the setting of Lemp Hall evokes an image of slim “Slickers” eyeing promiscuous debutantes through tortoise-shaped glasses. We’ve been transported to a place that Fitzgerald and Brooke once praised as, This Side of Paradise.
“Now I wish we played swing music!” I exclaim.
“Would definitely suit the venue more,” Thaddeus, the guitarist, agrees.
“The bride and groom will be up shortly,” a bitter receptionist announces to us.
“Hey can I get a drink?” Our drummer Paul interjects.
“Are you serious?” The receptionist bemuses. “We’re getting set for the entrance of the bride and the groom and you’re worried about getting a drink? My God . . . you really are a drummer!”
After some not-so-witty banter I decide it is indeed time to grab a drink. Paul and I head to the open bar to grab some refreshments.
“How can I help you sir?” A manservant in a tuxedo takes my order.
“Yea . . . What do you gentlemen have on draft this evening?” I ask.
“We have the local domestic [Bud light, nothing from The Lemp Brewery…] and a hefeweizen beer,” he responds.
“I’ll take the hefeweizen.”
. . .
There is a sense of class at this reception: The King and Queen of the ball enter. She is wearing a white dress, of course, with a silk top revealing an abundance of cleavage. The bottom of her dresses is ruffled in textured harmony with the rest of her outfit. The King is wearing a tuxedo just like the groomsman, but with a fancier corsage and a nervousness to get the ball over with already. A lesser class of Men wear tuxedos adorned with cummerbunds, black patent leather shoes and dainty corsages; accompanying them, women are dressed in bridesmaid gowns colored in midnight lavender. Then comes by far the lowest class of men that ever attended a ball at Lemp Hall. Judging by their attire this class of men spend their days drinking rotgut from the local watering holes in drunken delight. Their attire suggests they might have a penchant for smoking, listening to jukeboxes at obnoxious volumes, and committing all sorts of transgressions against decorum—they certainly aren’t dressed for the occasion. They are already here. They, I am shameful to admit, are us (the band). I recall a conversation that took place only a week prior:
“Hey so I was wondering what sort of dress code—if any—you would request the band to wear?” I ask the soon-to-be-bride.
Her response verbatim:
“Whatever you guys would like! As Long as you [the band] are all comfortable is what matters.”
We, regretfully, take her response to heart.
. . .
Is there a possibility of dressing too comfortably? I ask myself as the wedding party finishes filling out Lemp Hall. What have I done? Of course people dress up nice for weddings. And here I am with a shabby group of men all wearing tattered jeans, old tennis shoes and dull t-shirts. We’re the contrast of dress and class that separates royalty from the bourgeoisie.
“Hey you guys, there’s some food left over if you’d like to grab something to eat before you play,” the authoritative receptionist scares my nerves by calling on us to start the show.
“Ah, thanks. We’ll grab some food shortly.”
We—the bourgeoisie, ostracized to the outside deck—sit, eat and smoke cigarettes while observing the pouring rain from a view underneath the third-floor marquee. What a haunted looking set of buildings. I observe the ten blocks of buildings that once encompassed The Lemp Brewery. Tall towers with spires and gothic architecture seem to place us somewhere on the Princeton Campus in New Jersey. The moons beams are obscured be heavy clouds. The night contains us, makes everything pitch black except the few dim bulbs and a couple cigarette sparks lighting the rain-soaked deck. Here in the third world—on the third floor—I wonder which room William Lemp decided to take his life? Will his ghost or Elda’s greet us during tonight’s reception? I hope not. Stop thinking this way! You are liable to make yourself sick and the stuffed-cheese ravioli is too delicious to excommunicate from your body!
“Hey! You guys can start playing now!” The agitated receptionist scares me away from my haunted reverie.
“Oaky… thanks,” I respond. I need another beer.
I know there’s something in the wake of your smile.
I get a notion from the look in your eyes, yea.
You’ve built a love but that love falls apart.
Your little piece of heaven turns too dark.
The first verse of Tom Petty’s “Listen to Your Heart” rings out across the maple-wood floors and into the ears of high-class patrons. Sonorous sounds of excitement eddy throughout the hall in matter of fact prurience. Bridesmaids tout revelations of bare cleavage with no scruples. Prohibition has ended. The combination of music and alcohol make the lights cheer and cast circular shadows of breasts on to the dance floor. Not-so-innocent men eye the shadows and bare cleavage wishing to grasp them with lascivious hands. Up above, ropes hang adorned with hundreds of glowing bulbs. As the dancing feet get heavier and the music gets equally louder, I see glints of light from above. It’s as if a supernatural presence has entered the hall to cheer us on. I just hope we get out of here before the lights go out and William and Elda descend from the above. Below? From where? Wherever they are, their presence pervades the atmosphere of The Lemp Brewery. Everyone feels it now. It’s getting late. So I have another drink to shake this haunting feeling. Yes, they have entered—The Ghosts of Lemp’s Grand Hall are here.