What can haunted houses and their history tell us about American history and culture? Writer Colin Dickey sets out across America to investigate America’s haunted spaces in order to uncover what their ghost stories say about who we were, are, and will be.
Below is an excerpt from Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places. In this excerpt, Dickey sleeps over in the purportedly haunted Lemp Mansion in St. Louis, Missouri, the historic home of a 19th-century beer brewer whose suicide sent a family into a tailspin of horrific tragedy. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor A. N. Devers.
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It is, quite literally, a dark and stormy night. A summer storm has settled over St. Louis: gray-black clouds turning the air yellowish and electric, the rain pulsing down in waves. The sprint from the parking lot to the front door of the Lemp Mansion—no more than fifty feet—leaves you soaked. The thunder is following on the heels of the lightning; it is right above us. In the bar the stained glass portraits of William Lemp, Jr., and his first wife, Lillian Lemp—the Lavender Lady—flicker to life from the lightning outside with disturbing frequency, the accompanying thunder coming fast afterward. It is the perfect night for a ghost hunt: the air already electric, everyone already a bit on edge. In his portrait, William Lemp looks prematurely old; the glass artist has added shading to his face to give the appearance of three dimensions, but the result instead is that he appears haggard, black pits around his eyes, deep creases in his skin.
As if he knows he’s going to die.
The owners of the Lemp Mansion seem quite content to capitalize on the building’s reputation. Ghost hunters come here regularly to take tours, use KII meters and ghost boxes, and record for EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon) and orbs. I’m here for one such tour, led by a local ghost-hunting group. I’m also here to spend the night, since the Lemp Mansion operates as a bed-and-breakfast—though I won’t be able to get into my room until 11 p.m. My room, the Elsa Lemp Suite, is itself part of the tour: the most haunted room in this most haunted house.Continue reading “The Family That Would Not Live”