Haunting St. Louis II

There are hauntings and there are hauntings. A harsh word spoken to a loved one in childhood can come back to haunt one in old age for it can never be taken back. Who hasn’t such memories? When Sam Clemens was a young man piloting boats on the Mississippi River he could be very brash and opinionated. It’s been said that as a very young writer he effectively if unintentionally silenced a storyteller, Isaiah Sellers, whom he had long admired.

Sellers was considered one of the great steamboat captains of his age. From time to time he used to write little descriptions of places along the Mississippi, river stages and such that would appear in the New Orleans Picayune under Sellers’ pen name – Mark Twain.

On one occasion Sam Clemens satirized him in print with such biting wit that Sellers, humiliated, never published another word. Clemens effectively silenced someone whom he and hundreds of others had immensely enjoyed reading. After Isaiah Sellers died and was buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery, Sam Clemens adopted the pen name, Mark Twain, in tribute to Sellers and so that he might never forget how costly his thoughtlessness had been.

If any place is haunted – every place is haunted – though some places appear more haunted than others. The Soulard Neighborhood, Carondelet, Lafayette Square, Laclede’s Landing, The Cherokee Historic District,  The Central West End and Webster Groves are especially haunting areas to walk. With powerful exceptions such as battle fields and concentration camps which became graveyards, the least haunted places on earth are cemeteries. There are other exceptions however. The monuments at the graves of infants and children are haunting in their poignancy.

As disturbing as The Lemp Mansion on De Menil Place is, The Lemp Mausoleum atop Prospect Hill in Bellefontaine Cemetery, which I will be entering with a tour group on Saturday, is still and peaceful. Whatever haunts the Lemps’ home did not follow them to the grave. After visiting the Lemp Mausoleum we’ll cross the road to enter the exquisite, little tomb designed by Louis Sullivan at the request of Ellis Wainwright for his young wife Charlotte. It’s considered to be one of the most beautiful tombs in North America. When local beer baron, Ellis Wainwright (the Fulton Brewery) wanted a prestigious administration building in downtown St. Louis, Charlotte encouraged him to get Louis Sullivan of Chicago to design it. Sullivan’s design of The Wainwright Building took the architectural world by storm and Charlotte died within a year of its completion.

There is no more remarkable gravesite in any St. Louis cemetery than that of the Famille Chouteau. Situated southeast of the bell tower atop one of the highest hills in Calvary Cemetery it overlooks thousands of graves much as the Chouteau’s Creole Mansion overlooked the Mississippi River and Illinois from Rue Royale/Main Street in Colonial St. Louis. A two-tiered, double staircase leads up the hill to a wide, circular  gravesite outlined in stone. Four narrow lanes like the directional  lines on a compass emanate from a tall, finely carved, center stone cross. Beautifully carved, marble sarcophagi rest in grassy segments delineated by the lanes, engraved with the names of several of Pierre Chouteau, Jr.’s family members, including his grandmother, Marie Bourgeois Chouteau, who was born in the City of New Orleans in 1733 and became La Mere de Saint Louis (The Mother of St. Louis).

There are far too many reportedly haunted houses in the St. Louis area to describe in this blog post but I will name a few. Thomas Danisi’s home on McKay Place off of Lafayette Square is the oldest Colonial building known to remain standing in St. Louis. Dating to between 1770 and 1790 it was an outbuilding belonging to merchant Joseph Motard, whose home in the village proper stood two doors north of Pierre Laclede’s and Marie Chouteau’s home on Main Street. The exact purpose of the stone house (to which a second story was added later) in the Cul de Sac Prairie is unknown but it’s location is certain, confirmed by a precious document that Danisi believes at least one spirit guide led him to uncover.

Many houses in Lafayette Square have haunting tales that relate to The Great Cyclone of May 1896 and the particular havoc it wreaked here and further east in Soulard. What ranks today as proportionately the fourth most damaging tornado in U.S. history laid waste to Lafayette Park, leveled mansions, took roofs and sometimes the top story of three story Victorian townhouses while leaving others untouched. Fortunately, enough “painted ladies” remain for Lafayette Square to rank as one of the most distinguished historic neighborhoods in the nation.

“The Lions House” (so called for the carved, white lions that guard its entrance) at 12th & Sidney Streets in Soulard is famous for its poltergeists – unseen spirits that move objects around in the house on a regular basis. Max Feuerbacher, owner of the Green Tree Brewery, built the house in 1874 of red brick, with twin bays in the front. He was but one of St. Louis’s many prosperous “beer barons.” His view of Frenchtown (Soulard’s earlier designation) and the Mississippi River from the cupola would have been marvelous. 

A little further north on 12th Street at Lami Street, the marble-faced home built by Dr. Franz Arzt in 1876 continues in an almost constant state of restoration by the house’s present owners Clark Rowley and his wife. Despite the orbs that have appeared in more than one photo I’ve taken here, Clark tells me the house is not haunted although no matter how carefully they measure the floors the carpets never quite fit when they arrive. Clark Rowley maintains an excellent website for the Soulard neighborhood at: http://stlouis.missouri.org/soulard/

Franz Arzt was a highly regarded physician in 19th century St. Louis and a member of St. John Nepomuk Church, the first Bohemian Catholic Church in the United States. An amateur botanist, Dr. Arzt had a conservatory which does not survive, in which he raised a rare night-blooming cereus. On the one night each year that it bloomed people crowded the garden and street nearby to watch it. The Arzt/Rowley House looks as though Chas Adams might have designed it for a cover of  The New Yorker Magazine but of course the house is older than the famous cartoonist by many years. Nevertheless if Morticia Adams was to walk out the door of any house in St. Louis to pick up the morning paper it would surely be this one.

In terms of haunting appearance The Lemp Mansion and The Arzt House pale in comparison to the ruin of the old Clemens Mansion at 1849 Cass Avenue. Eliza Mullanphy Clemens died five years before her husband, James (first cousin to Sam Clemens), could build their dream house, a Palladian, Greek-Revival Villa (1858 – 1860) designed by Patrick Walsh.

Lest she be forgotten James had her cameo molded in the iron lintels of the windows and carved into the Carrara marble mantle in the parlor. Elinor Matineau Coyle, in her fascinating, Old St. Louis Houses: 1764 – 1865 and the Stories They Tell,* calls The Clemens Mansion “the only house in St. Louis with a built-in ghost.” The marriage between Eliza Mullanphy and James Clemens was an unlikely love match between the most charming and outgoing bachelor in St. Louis society and the shyest, gentlest of the Mullanphy girls, ten years his junior. Eliza gave birth to thirteen children in twenty years of marriage including one set of twins, seven of whom survived childhood. And then as one writer commented, “she died of no apparent reason”. James never remarried.

If you live in the St. Louis area I invite you to share with me a haunting site of your own.

Six nights hence, as the sun goes down and the moon rises on November’s Eve, children of all ages will don costumes and become for one magical evening something they’ve been dreaming of. The custom of not going out after dark on Hallowe’en without disguise – lest the faeries or ghosts as mortal and spirit you away to the Otherworld – originates in Ireland, the Isle of Destiny in Celtic lore.

Poet Molly Capes kindled the mystery of this haunting eve in 1936 when she wrote:

Bolt and bar the front door,                  Draw the curtains tight, 

Wise folk are in before,                          Moonrise tonight.

Halloween, Halloween,                       Chestnuts to roast,

A gift for the fairy,                    A prayer for the ghost.

In addition to the Haunting St. Louis Coach Tour that I am offering on Saturday, October 30th, many other Halloween Events will be going on this weekend:

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is offering Halloween Events on Friday, Saturday & Sunday: http://stlsymphony.org/concert/index.htm#102910 including live performances of the film score as the audience views, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho &

Howl at Powell

Recommended for children ages 5-12.

– Lemp Mansion Halloween Bash 2010 –

OCTOBER 30th, 2010, 8 PM – 12:30 AM
Admission Includes:
4-Hour Open Bar, Soda and Witch’s Brew
Call for Details: 341- 664- 8024

Halloween at The City Museum – Kids may Trick-or-Treat in costume for candy as they play inside the City Museum.

Halloween in the CWE

Saturday October 30th

Children’s Parade and Costume contest at 11 A.M.

Adult Costume Contest and Party at 8 P.M.

Dog Parade and Costume Contest 1 P.M.

Click on the below image for details…

* The Old Houses of St. Louis: 1764 – 1865 and the Stories They Tell, Elinor Martineau Coyle, Folkstone Press, 1979.
Photo Credits: Child Grave Marker in Bellefontaine Cemetery, Interior of the Wainwright Tomb, Famille Chouteau Grave Site – Thomas Kavanaugh, all other photos – Maureen O’Connor Kavanaugh, the author of this blog
Fairy illustration: Public Domain Image from Karen’s Whimsy Website

About stltourguide

I am a walking tour and narrated coach tour guide in St. Louis, Missouri specializing in the history of the area.
This entry was posted in Art & Architecture, Commentary and Criticism, Happenings, Hauntings, History, Neighborhoods, St. Louis and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Haunting St. Louis II

  1. Marie Chouteau says:

    I had no idea. Great article! Thank you!!

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