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October 29, 2008
Hot Haunts in the Mid-West
Halloween always means a full house at Lemp Mansion Restaurant & Inn. All six rooms book up a year in advance at the historic St. Louis property, where three descendants of the Lemp brewery empire killed themselves in the early 1900s.
One of them, Charles Lemp, shot his dog before turning the gun on himself. The eerie sound of barking can still be heard, insist guests who've stayed at the inn. Some report piano music wafting from an empty room. Others have snapped photos showing mysterious orbs looming in the background.
Locals say the cries of a jilted chambermaid can be heard from the Hotel Baker in St. Charles.
At the Lemp Mansion and other "haunted" hotels, the idea of spending the night with specters and spirits doesn't scare people away. Quite the contrary.
"A good 50 percent of our B&B guests are coming because of the haunted aspect," said Mary Wolff, whose father bought the mansion in 1975. Wolff answers diplomatically when I ask if she thinks the 19th century mansion is haunted.
"I think if you're perceptive and open minded, spirits may try and communicate with you," she said. "I guess that means I'm narrow minded and cynical."
Ditto for me. But not for Joy Hanson. She can barely keep track of all the ghosts she shares a roof with at Mason House Inn in Bentonsport, Iowa. There's Morris, the boy who stands at the top of the stairs and waves. And Harold, the Civil War soldier. The hotel's previous owners, Mary Mason and Frank Clark, may be dead, but their incessant bickering lives on. And an invisible cat likes to leap onto guests' beds.
"A ghost hunter told us there are at least 65 spirits here," said Hanson, whose nine-room inn on the Des Moines River was built in 1846. It once served as a hospital for Union soldiers, an Underground Railroad station and a boarding house where the town doctor lived -- and died.
Four times a year, Mason House Inn hosts "Ghost Hunter University," where students get a primer on paranormal phenomena and try to make contact with the other world on the "telephone to the dead," a device used to communicate with the home's spirits.
"Ghosts are good for business," Hanson said. "Haunted seems to be pretty hot right now."
The spirits that supposedly lurk in Milwaukee's Brumder Mansion B&B are the friendly-but-mischievous sort, said Cheryl Deppe, who took over as innkeeper in January.
"They'll take something off the wall or move something around," Deppe said. "One guest said she knows she hung her towel on the hook, but it was on the floor when she woke up."
That ghost is in my condo, too.
Unlike innkeepers who tout their property's spooky reputations, Deppe learned to keep her mouth shut -- unless guests open theirs first.
"I said something to this one couple about it being haunted," she said. "The next morning I had a note from them . . . the wife wasn't comfortable with it, so they didn't stay the night."
LANDMARK INN: 230 N. Front St., Marquette, Mich. Various Michigan-based paranormal societies have staked out this 62-room hotel overlooking Lake Superior. It's said that a broken-hearted librarian can be seen looking out the Lilac Room's window, searching for her beloved sailor who drown during a storm. Rates from $124 to $399. (888) 752-6362; www.thelandmarkinn.com.
HOTEL BAKER: 100 W. Main St., St. Charles. Local lore claims that the cries of a jilted chambermaid -- who supposedly drown herself in the nearby Fox River -- can be heard coming from the former employee dormitory in this 1928 Spanish-Moroccan styled inn, where the 53 rooms start at $149 and go up to $495 for the penthouse suite. (800) 284-0110; www.hotelbaker.com.
MASON HOUSE INN: 21982 Hawk Dr., Bentonsport, Iowa. Nine rooms and at least 65 spirits, so they say. Rates from $69 to $100. Scaredy cats can stay in the unhaunted caboose cottage or two annex rooms. Ghost hunting weekend retreats four times a year, murder mystery weekends and popular Halloween ghost story suppers in late October and early November. (800) 592-3133; www.MasonHouseInn.com .
BRUMDER MANSION: 3046 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee. This 1910 mansion has six B&B rooms; the Gold Suite is supposedly the most haunted. Innkeeper Cheryl Deppe says the main ghost is Aunt Susan, and don't worry -- she's friendly. Rates from $99 to $199. (866) 793-3676; www.brumder mansion.com.
LEMP MANSION: 3322 DeMenil Pl., St. Louis. Mysterious barking and other noises are some of the oddities guests say they encounter at this six-room mansion, site of three suicides several decades ago. Rates $115 to $205. Betsy Belanger leads haunted tours of the property on Mondays; call (314) 752-5035. Lemp Mansion also offers murder mystery dinner theater. (314) 664-8024; www.lempmansion.com.
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