The Ghosts of the Driskill Hotel

book a stay in Austin's most haunted hotel

Between a friendly spirit, a cigar-smoking specter, and a full-bodied apparition, this property is crawling with poltergeists. What’s haunting The Driskill Hotel?

Fast Facts

  • Established in 1885
  • Built on haunted land
  • Site of a tragic suicide

Is The Driskill Haunted?

You know you’re spooky when there are books written about your property’s poltergeists. From Samantha the Child Specter to phantom cigars, The Driskill may be Austin’s Most Haunted Hotel.

Walter Gresham, sitting in his library in Gresham’s Palace

The Senator's Daughter

Guests of The Driskill frequently report a young female poltergeist darting along the Grand Staircase of the Mezzanine. According to local lore, this female apparition is a Senator's Daughter.

It all began in 1887, when The Driskill was hosting a special function for that year's Legislative Session. Since the Texas State Capitol was still under construction, the Senate opted to hold their session at The Driskill instead.

During the event, the Senator handed his daughter a ball to distract her while he handled business. With her ball in hand, the sweet girl skipped over to the staircase.

She was bouncing the ball up and down when it went sailing from her grasp. She tried to grab it, but only succeeded in tumbling down the steps herself.

Some believe the little girl died from a broken neck at the base of the stairs.

While her spirit is seen throughout the hotel, she's most often spotted near a fifth-floor portrait of a young girl holding flowers. This young girl goes by the name of Samantha, leading paranormal enthusiasts to believe she’s the hotel’s young poltergeist.

While there's no evidence to tie the spirit to the picture, paranormal disturbances repeatedly occur near the painting.

This friendly spirit is also known to play with children in their room or halls. When parents ask their child who they're playing with, the response is almost always the same: "Samantha."

Colonel Jesse Driskill

The hotel's namesake, Colonel Driskill, is another resident poltergeist.

When Driskill owned the hotel, he was known for standing in the lobby to make small talk with the hotel's guests. His lips were always billowing cigar smoke.

Even though the hotel is non-smoking, many claim to still catch the scent of cigars.

Walter Gresham, sitting in his library in Gresham’s Palace

Could this be the specter of Colonel Driskill?

On one occasion, a security guard was working overtime when he caught the strong scent of a cigar. Leaning over the balcony to see if he could catch the culprit, he heard a male voice behind him say, "Got a match?"

He whipped around to find that he was utterly alone. Rumor has it that the security guard was so disturbed by the experience he quit.

Phantom Smells

There are those who believe this phantom smoke comes from a different source.

In Monica Ballard's True Haunted Tales of the Driskill Hotel, Ballard proposes an alternative explanation. The Driskill once housed a tobacco shop in the lobby, which could account for the hotel's paranormal phenomena.

The Ghost of Peter Lawless

Our next poltergeist takes the form of a full-bodied specter.

In the early 20th century, Peter Lawless worked as a ticket agent for the Great Northern Railroad. When his wife passed away, he decided to move into The Driskill.

He set up shop on the fifth floor of the hotel and lived there for a total of thirty-one-years. Impressive, right? Paranormal enthusiasts claim he didn't leave, either.

Visitors most often witness Lawless exiting the elevator while glancing at the time. With a single nod to the staff at the front desk, his full-body apparition dissipates from sight.

Employees even claim to see his spirit while they do housekeeping. They report tingling sensations before looking up to find an older gentleman watching them. They say he has black hair and wears dark pants, a white shirt, and a pocket watch.

Then, they witness Peter Lawless vanish before their eyes.

Curiously, paranormal enthusiasts sometimes claim to watch Peter Lawless leave The Driskill before stepping in front of a bus. Perhaps he’s attempting to escape his restless afterlife.

Cave Entrace

Hauntings on Hallowed Ground

Before Sixth Street existed, this arid part of the state belonged to the Native American tribes who inhabited the area. According to local legend, one of the most culturally essential springs sat where you can find Sixth and Brazos Streets today.

Much like the one The Driskill was erected upon, the artesian well was considered hallowed ground.

The Apache, Tonkawas, and the Comanche all treated the artesian well as one of the most sacred places within their respective cultures. Each believed that water has the ability to contain both willing and unwilling spirits.

Sixth and Brazos functioned as the apex of the various streams that ran through this part of Central Texas, perhaps explaining the hotel’s hauntings.

The History of The Driskill Hotel

On July 4 of 1885, the first cornerstone was laid for the new Driskill Hotel.

Remember the artesian well? That was Reason Number One as to why Colonel Driskill decided that The Driskill Hotel should be built at Sixth and Brazos Streets. He believed that constructing a hotel on top would provide a hotel's water supply for many years to come.

More importantly, Driskill was convinced that Sixth Street was on the verge of a revival period. (Easy enough for Driskill since he was behind the revitalization efforts.)

Who was Colonel Driskill?

Depending on whom you ask, Colonel Jesse Driskill was either an ambitious man or a reckless risk-taker. Born 1824 in Tennessee, Driskill moved to Missouri at 23.

Yet Driskill sought adventure and perhaps more opportunity than what Missouri had to offer. Four years later, he moved his family to Bastrop, Texas.

It was then that Driskill first went into the merchandising business. By 1857, he'd dived full steam into the cattle business.

During the first three years of the Civil War, his cattle business personally sent beef to both the Confederate Army and the Texas Rangers. That meant Driskill was paid in Confederate dollars, so he was completely broke by the war's end.

The Colonel from Tennessee was once more forced to rebuild from scratch. Through hard work and determination, Driskill slowly climbed the financial ladder again – only to have everything shatter in 1871 when business nosedived.

This time around, Driskill picked up his family and moved them to Austin. He built cattle ranches in Kansas and the Dakota territories and rebuilt his fortune for yet another time.

By the time Jesse Driskill decided to construct Austin's first opulent hotel, he'd once again amassed a massive fortune. The Driskill's foundation sat upon an entire city block and cost the good Colonel a sum of $7,500.

Since history repeats itself, the Driskill family lost their entire fortune again in 1888. Within months, Driskill was forced to sell the hotel to S.E. McIlhenny.

Cave Entrace

The Driskill Hotel in the Early Days

Despite the overturn from Driskill to McIlhenny, The Driskill remained a hot spot for local Austinites.

The first floor of The Driskill was geared toward entertaining gamblers, cattle ranchers, and other blue-collar folks in the hotel's billiard room or saloon. The first floor also housed a barbershop, drugstore, and bank.

The Sixth Street entrance was exclusive to the more upscale patron. This entrance provided a direct hallway to the main elevator, bringing these genteel folk up to the Mezzanine level.

The Mezzanine level was the place to be. It offered luxurious amenities like a dining room, multiple dressing rooms, parlors, and apartments, as well as an exclusive club dining room.

Tragedy at The Driskill Hotel

While hotels are notoriously known for welcoming anything within their walls, it's always a shock to discover the unexpected.

In the early 1980s, The Driskill's staff experienced such a shock.

As the story goes a Houston socialite learned some devastating news in the early 1980s: her fiance was calling off their wedding. The whys and the hows are to history, but the socialite decided that anything was better than crying at home.

She would rather do the crying somewhere else – The Driskill.

She promptly called the hotel and booked herself a five-day stay. After checking in, she made a quick stop by the bar and ordered herself a diet soda. Then, she decided that a shopping spree was in order.

In a matter of hours, she spent a whopping $40,000 – all of which she put on her fiance's credit card. When she returned to The Driskill, it was with shopping bags galore. They hung from her arms, and those that she couldn't carry, she'd instructed the shops to deliver them to the hotel.

With nary a word to the employees, the socialite whirred past them and took the elevator to her room. Allegedly, one of the housekeepers caught a glimpse of the socialite's heartbroken expression and took it upon herself to give the younger woman a ring on the guest room's phone.

"Please let me know if you need anything," the housekeeper told the socialite.

But there was nothing that the housekeeper could do to mend a broken heart. The socialite hung a Do Not Disturb sign on the doorknob and quietly shut the door.

When the housekeeper noticed the sign, she quickly rushed back to the employee desk and called the socialite's room. There was no answer. Panic seized her, and minutes later, she found herself knocking on the socialite's room door. Again, no response.

The manager attempted to unlock the door with the master key but to no avail. The socialite had locked the door from the inside. There was nothing to be done but to take the door off its hinges.

The door was removed, and the housekeeper rushed forth – but the reflection of the socialite in the mirror stopped her dead in her tracks.

The socialite had taken a pillow from the bed and proceeded into the bathroom. There, she clamped the pillow against her stomach to muffle any sound before she shot herself through the stomach. By the time management arrived, there was nothing to be done.

Her body lay half in the bathtub, lifeless.

Cave Entrace

The Truth Behind the Tragedy

Did this happen? Perhaps not. Police reports indicate that Tara, the Houston "socialite," was not so much of a socialite.

Instead of the thousands that she charged to her fiance's card, Tara instead purchased beer, hard liquor, a carton of smokes, and a People magazine. She set herself up in her hotel room at The Driskill, drank herself almost to death, and then grabbed her newly purchased revolver.

The report claims that she would have certainly died from alcohol poisoning if she had not died from a self-inflicted gunshot.

The Driskill Hotel Over the Years

For over a century, The Driskill has hosted countless inaugural balls for Texas governors, including Sul Ross, William P. Hobby, and Dan Moody. Yet it’s most famous for President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Walter Gresham, sitting in his library in Gresham’s Palace

This is where the former President Lyndon B. Johnson awaited to learn if he'd been successful during his 1948 Senate run (he was); his 1960 election to the office of Vice President (another win); and, lastly, he'd camped out on the Mezzanine-level's Jim Hogg room while waiting to hear if he'd been elected President in 1964.

With 189 guest rooms, this Austin hotel was made a member of The Historic Hotels of America. It remains one of the nation’s most opulent hotels.

Visiting The Driskill Hotel

Located at 604 Brazos Street, The Driskll Hotel is the oldest operating hotel in Austin. Let us know if you spot any of their resident specters!

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