St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri on July 28, 1996 · Page 157
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St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri · Page 157

St. Louis, Missouri
Issue Date:
Sunday, July 28, 1996
Page 157
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By John M. McGuire Of the Post-Dispatch Staff The heavy rusted door yanks open, and there it is the Lemp-Cherokee network of caves, one of the most storied places in the city's world beneath. At this point, we are somewhere under south St. Louis, not too far from the bowels of the old Lemp Brewery-International Shoe Co. complex, hard by Interstate 55, and not far from the DeMenil Mansion. things in the caves below his house a theater, swimming pool, even a bowling alley. What we see in the cave this day raises serious skepticism. Although it's quite something. Tiny stalactites and stalagmites are forming. And there are amazing colors, traces in the ceiling of a faded cobalt blue, smears of cadmium yellow and, of course, no end of earth tones. It is wet Mostly, it looks like a cave with improvements, some man-made tin- caries, armadillos, and an extinct subspecies of a woodchuck, thought to be 20,000 years old. In 1946, geologists from the American Museum of Natural History in New York came here to explore the cave and examine the bones. They even named the woodchuck subspecies after Hess, Marmota Monax Hessi. The entire expedition was titled "Bones in a Brewery," or "Pig Bones in a Brewery," for the peccaries found in the walls of the caves. Down below, there are sounds of A Morning In The Cave The subterranean rooms, several subbasements below, are massive stone wonders. And the adjacent network of caves is a long-running source of myth and mystery, and scientific discovery. In the last century, the brick complex was the largest manufacturing facility west of the Mississippi, covering 16 square blocks. Today, sections of it serve as a haunted house. Given the spooky nature, it's a perfect use. The area we are about to enter is under what was the site of a mansion belonging to William J. Lemp Jr., husband of Lillian Handlan, the "Lavender Lady." Everything the eccentric railroad heiress wore, and the horses and carriages she rode in, carried the color purple. The story is that she was inspired to do this by a czarina. Their flamboyant lives merely added steam to the myths and mysteries of the caves below. Their divorce created an international scandal. Their home, which was razed years ago, is not to be confused with the existing Lemp Mansion at 3322 DeMenil Place, which is also over a cave actually a continuation of the same cave. The Lemps were the sort to produce a lot of stories. Four of them father William Sr., two sons, William Jr. and Charles, and a daughter, Elsa committed suicide. The male Lemps killed themselves at the Lemp Mansion on DeMenil Place during a span of years from 1903 to 1949. The daughter was found dead at her residence on Hortense Place in 1920. All this adds to the mystique of the lost caves of the Lemps. For decades, the prevailing version was that William Lemp Jr. built wondrous kering. There are stone archways. And what might have been a pool of some sort, and the ruins of a cast-iron, spiral staircase, the access route to old Lemp property. Cast-iron pieces are strewn about a wall of the cave. Spelunkers smashed the staircase in an effort to prevent entry; it has been a forbidden attraction for years. Apparently, it still is. Busch beer cans, in pristine condition, line a wall in a narrow, natural branch of the Cherokee Cave, running in various directions off the larger rooms, identi- I br decades, the prevailing version was that William Ij'inp Jr. built wondrous things in the caves below his house a theater, swimming pool, even a bowling alley. If hat we see in the cave this day raises serious skepticism. fed as the theater and pool. These smaller subterranean tributaries are the late Lee Hess' old Cherokee Cave, a commercial attraction, that had an opening at 3400 South Broadway until construction of the interstate highway caused it to be sealed in 1961. But in its day, Cherokee Cave achieved its share of renown. After Hess, who owned a chemical company, bought the cave in 1945, workmen clearing the passageways came across prehistoric bones pec- running water and signs that someone tried to build a fire. Our guide, Paul Pointer, one of the owners of the Lemp Mansion, says he doesn't know how intruders gain entry. But they've been here. No shortage of muck and slime and wonderment. There are 2,500 feet of passages in the old Cherokee Cave sections, which twist and turn off the larger Lemp Caves. Where the theater once was is now a pile of materials that could have been the tangled remains of a theatrical backdrop. And there's a fixture in the ceiling, about 14 to 16 feet above, for holding lights. And that's it. No sign of anything that could pass for a bowling alley. What passes for a pool must have been a wading pool. But who knows? In the old files of the Post-Dispatch are articles that throw a major wet blanket on the idea that this was once the Lemps' underground entertainment palace. On July 15, 1941, police at the now-boarded-up Lemp Street Station got a call about smoke coming out of the ground at 13th and Cherokee streets. They thought it was a hoax. It turns out boys had forced their way into one of the boarded-up entrances to the old Lemp Beer caves, 60 feet below, and built a fire. The following day, workers from the International Shoe Co. bricked up the entrance. Here's the paragraph from the 1941 story that suggests this wasn't all it was made to be: "Residents of the neighborhood like to tell stories of gay parties held in the cave a half-century ago, but these are probably legends. Continued on page 8 The City's Beer Caves Mi issouri Speleology, a journal of the state's speleological survey, published a list of beer-cave sites 26 years ago that's one of the most comprehensive listings of known city cave sites. It includes a number of unnamed caves in the Lafayette Square and Soulard areas. Here are some of those caverns, most of them inaccessible or extinct Anheuser-Busch, 920 Pestalozzi. "We had some caves, but ours were very small, "said William J. Vollmar, A-B's corporate archivist .and historian. "Adolphus Busch was one of the very first to use refrigeration. The few that are in existence are now used as utility tunnels. " The brewery does have videotape of Green Tree Brewery caves at 10th and Sidney, taken in 1981 when the company acquired some of the property. 'You know, there were eight or nine breweries, all with caves under them, within a 12-block radius of the brewery, "he said. Anthony & Kuhn Brewery cave, 7th and Sidney. Benton Park (English) Cave, Benton Park. A beer, wine and mushroom cave that once had a small (heater and beer garden. Ezra English made a malt liquor (ale) here; the English Brewery went out of business in the mid-1840s. In 1873, the city considered opening the cave to the public Consumer Cave, 1920 Shenandoah. The old beer cave for Falstaff, Lemp, Consumers and Stumpf breweries. Gast Brewery Cave, North Broadway and Homsby. Glasgow Cave, Cass and Garrison. Awinery and beer cave. Green Tree Brewery cave (shared with Anthony & Kuhn), 9th and Sidney. Home Brewery Cave, 3600 Salena. Hyde Park Beer Cave, North Florissant and Salisbury. Klausmann Brewery Cave, 8639 South Broadway, also a former beer garden. Lyon Park Cave, Lyon Park, across from Anheuser-Busch. During the Civil War, it served as an ammunition storage area under the old city arsenal Phoenix Brewery Cave, 18th and Lafayette, in Lafayette Square. Schneider Beer Cave, Chouteau and Mississippi Also an underground beer garden. Stifel Beer Cave, 17th and Market Streets (under Union Station). Wainwright Brewery Cave, 10th and Gratiot Cherokee Brewery Cave, Cherokee and Iowa. Below an old optical building that was the Cherokee Brewery's gravity-fed brewhouse. City motorcycle traffic policeman Gary Melker, 47, went down in a beer cave, probably a section of the Cherokee, last January. "Every turn was mazelike, and we were chest-deep in water part of the time," he said. "That's when we weren't crawling and digging through little openings." His photographs show a classic beer cave with arched stonework. "I would have taken more photos, except my hands were caked with mud and slime." ST. LOUIS Post-Dispatch Magazine, Sunday, July 28, 1996

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