6:59 pm: It is literally a dark and stormy night.
I’ve just checked into the “Charles Suite” at Lemp Mansion – which, according to Life magazine, The Travel Channel, and myself, is one of the most haunted places in the country. The Lemps are an old St. Louis brewing family, and the mansion they lived in has seen much tragedy. Over two generations, three members of the Lemp family killed themselves inside these walls. Another son, a boy named Zeke who was deformed and likely had Down’s syndrome, also died inside the house. Zeke has the heart of a child, and is still searching the house for his mother; apparently she’s looking for him too, a spirit unaware of her own death. Elsa, another Lemp daughter, also killed herself, though not in the home.
The last surviving Lemp son, Edwin, moved out of the mansion and died of natural causes at the age of 90. According to the ever-trustful Wikipedia, his last order to his caretaker was to destroy his art collection and family heirlooms.
The Lemp Mansion was then transformed into a boarding house. If you’ve read your share of ghost stories, you know that nothing good happens in boarding houses. Some spirits remain from those days, including a young girl named Elizabeth who died a violent death and a man named Oscar (a la Oscar the Grouch) who releases the smell of rotting flesh to announce his presence.
So, this should be fun.
I have a rosary around my neck, some holy water in my bag, and a pendulum to react to energy. I’m not sure I believe it works, but it’s pretty convincing when it’s happing in your hand, right in front of you. The pendulum swings certain directions in response to your questions (for me, it swings clockwise if “yes”, and then stops to swing diagonally if “no”). Maybe it’s crap, but personally I think it’s more fun to believe than not to.
The “Charles Suite” is dimly lit, with a big bed, a luxurious couch, and a delightfully creepy piano. It’s namesake, Charles Lemp, killed himself and his dog in 1949, leaving the note, “St. Louis Mo/May 9, 1949, In case I am found dead blame it on no one but me. Ch. A. Lemp” Old paintings line the wall, and I imagine Scooby Doo-esque eyes watching from behind them.
It’s still light outside, and I don’t feel too unnerved.
Dana just pulled out her dowsing rods, two copper rods that are used to conduct energy, answering yes or no questions in a similar way to my pendulum.
This place is so spiritually active and the rods are going crazy, answering yes or no questions extremely quickly (pointing right for yes, left for no).
Apparently Charles is greeting us, through the rods.
Dana says she feels comfortable here, more comfortable than she has been in about a week. She likes it here, a lot.
Emma, playing with her own pair of dowsing rods, grabs our attention: “Guys? Guys. Guys. I just asked if we’re going to be safe tonight. It said no.”
Dana: What do you think’s going to happen?
Emma: I don’t think anything’s going to happen. I think it’s going to be fun because we’ll make it fun.
Me? Well, I think the night is dark and full of terrors. No, seriously, I think I’ll be fine. I think I’ll get scared. And I think I’ll learn some of the limits to my fears.
But let’s just say, I brought an extra pair of underwear.
Dana: Don’t you just feel better when you walk into this house?
Emma: Maybe, until I have to shit on my own.
8:40 pm: Emma and I nearly jumped out of our skin. We heard noises – a whisper, we thought. Then footsteps. Then CCRAASCSADFK.
It was an ice machine. We were standing right next to it.
We’ve explored the house. The third floor unsettles me. Narrow halls and sharp corners. Sticky, wet heat.
I thought I saw a shadow in the corner of my eye. They say to be aware of your peripheral vision. Maybe it was nothing, maybe it wasn’t.
The third floor is notoriously more active than the second.
I did not like it up there. Not. One. Bit. After hanging out in one of the rooms for near twenty minutes, I was ready to go. I sensed unpredictability. Maybe I freaked myself out, but I’m relieved that our suite is on the second floor.
Back in our room, with the sun down, our room is painted in an amber haze. Dana and Emma sit on the bed, playing with the dowsing rods, while I type to a well-crafted Lemp Mansion playlist: Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and Amy Winehouse.
Every bedroom in the house is booked tonight. Our neighbors have just moved in – our door is open, we’re a friendly bunch.
But as it gets darker, the creepier it gets. Dana’s eyes are lit with a spiritual curiosity. Emma’s are more like mine, excited with a sprinkle of trepidation.
I’m fine, I’m just not buying the “I survived my night at Lemp Mansion” t-shirt just yet. I feel comfortable in a big room where I can see everything, with my laptop under my keys, a lamp shining behind me, and my friends laughing on the bed.
Late night exploring, though…that’ll be different.
9:36 pm: Dana is talking to someone with the dowsing rods. She’s asking him to make the lights flicker. He’s doing it.
I don’t think we’re alone here.
9:54 pm: I coughed loudly. Emma did not enjoy it.
9:56 pm: The house staff leaves at 10pm, and then it’s just us and the other guests. We met a mother and her twin daughters who are staying in the room across from us. They seemed nice, and they totally didn’t remind me of the twins from The Shining at alllllllll.
11:34 pm: I am emotionally exhausted. Scared. Jitters. Nerves.
My overactive imagination is at play. Who are the other people staying in this house? What do they want? Are there other spirits, not the Lemps, who are here? Who are unfriendly?
We explored. Late at night. In the dark. We stared down dark hallways. We forced ourselves around corners. We prowled the old basement, blackened doorways on every side of us.
We sat in a dining area and watched the light flicker over a painting of Billy Lemp’s wife. It only flickers when you talk about his suicide. He killed himself in that room, and the gunshot flung his body against the wall. Sometimes, people still hear the THUD.
I’m done. I’m tired. I want to go to sleep.
I’ve reached a level of fear that I’m comfortable with. I’ve pushed myself. I’ve stood in the dark of a spiritually active place, while no one else was around.
I don’t want to do more.
I want to go to sleep, but I’m afraid of what may go bump in the night.
And I don’t want to wake at the Witching Hour.
12:15 am: Dana and Emma wanted to hang out on a bench outside our door. I wanted to stay in the locked room, and, as per usual, I watched YouTube videos to calm myself down. Thanks, Grace Helbig.
After fifteen minutes passed, I opened the door to check on them. I should have thought that one through, I suppose. They freaked out.
My bad, guys.
Then the phone rang. The phone from downstairs. And one of the creepy twins came from around the corner.
I’ve been happily barricaded in our room since.
The phone just rang again.
Is it morning yet?
7:17 am: …
I am alive.
I feel strangely comfortable in the room we’re in. Something about being behind locked doors. And being next to a major highway provided the reassuring buzzes and zooms to remind me I wasn’t alone.
I didn’t sleep well, but I don’t blame the room. I blame myself, for never being able to sleep well in a new bed. Besides waking up a handful of times, scanning the room to make sure there were no huddled, dark masses plotting from the corner, I was fine.
The majority of the scares we had, we created ourselves. Thoughts of spirits rushing me, grabbing my wrist, pulling me around dark corners and up staircases. The doors to our room violently shaking, with guttural screams of “GET OUT, GET OUT” echoing through the house. Losing control of my body, my senses, my soul. I’ve always had an overactive imagination, and the fear of those possibilities kept me on my toes. But I did it. I survived.
I did almost have a panic attack because someone else was walking with their luggage, though. The heavy sighs of a weary, wandering spirit were really just the exhausted puffs of a tired guest not thrilled about dragging suitcases up a spiral staircase.
Did anything life changing happen? No. But they say life begins at the end of your comfort zone. If I can hang out with spirits here, I can hang out with them anywhere.
If I can conquer this fear, I can conquer others.