Let’s say you check into your hotel room in Austin, standing in the lavish lobby and enjoying the history around you. Then your eyes fall on a particular painting on the wall. It’s of a bright eyed little girl holding flowers, but something about it sets your teeth on edge. What is it about the pleasant painting that leaves such a bad taste in the mouths of those who view it? Maybe even a nauseated feeling. That night, while wandering the halls of the Driskill Hotel, you come across a young girl that looks pulled out of the very painting. She giggles, then runs away towards the grand staircase. And then she’s gone. Did you really see what you thought you saw, or was it some trick of the light?
Either way, you’ve just met one of the spirits said to haunt the hotel, with half a dozen other specters waiting to make their appearance.
The Driskill Hotel in Austin looks like it’s straight out of a painting from antebellum Texas. Built in 1885, the hotel itself was built with money made on the civil war by a war profiteer, Jesse Driskill, for whom the building was named. Legend says that he made his fortune selling cattle to the confederate army and helping with keeping watch for union brigades. The money made off these ventures funded the hotel, but it would only be open a few months before Driskill found himself financially strained, some say from gambling and philandering.
Two years after its construction, the Driskill hotel had its grand opening. The haunted activity started almost immediately, some saying the land it was built on was cursed long before the cornerstone was placed. While the hotel oozed opulence in the cow town of Austin in the early days, rough and rowdy characters still made their way to find accommodations. Legend says that the hotel proprietor himself played a fateful game of poker, where he lost the deed to his prized hotel. It’s that fateful hand that made the ghost of Jesse Driskill become another ghost of the hotel, wandering the walls he built but lost due to his own hubris.
The hotel has been a staple in Austin, being used for important events throughout its history. Once, the hotel was the site for the meeting of the state legislature, while renovations kept their own building from being ready to be in session. A senator had brought his young daughter with him and gave her a ball to keep her occupied. One wrong step on the staircase as she chased the ball across the hallway was a fateful one. She went tumbling down the grand staircase, her little body bouncing off each step until she landed on the marble floors, unmoving. This is the same little girl you might have caught a glimpse of running past the staircase and disappearing. The tragic ghost of the young girl haunts the hotel to this day.
Others say she’s seen most often next to the painting of a young girl holding flowers, but like other haunted paintings, this one gives far too many observers a crawling and sinking feeling. Some have said the girl in the painting can curse you if you’re not kind enough in your critique. Some people have claimed to experience bad luck after viewing the photo and commenting a little too harshly on the brushstrokes.
One of the most terrifying stories of the Driskill is the legend of the two brides. It’s almost a trope to have a distraught bridge haunting your hotel, but the Driskill has two. The story says that a young woman, distraught over being left at the alter, committed suicide in a bathtub upstairs. Her ghost was said to haunt the room and outside hall afterwards, showing up as a woman in a beautiful white dress, stained with blood. 20 years later to the day, another distressed woman on her wedding day made the same fateful decision. Her body was found in the same bathtub, covered in blood. Today you might see one of the women, or both of them. Either way, staying in that room might be ill advised, lest you have your slumber interrupted by the spirits of two women who should have had the happiest day of their lives, but were snuffed out too soon.
A wild suggestion of a haunting also includes one of our former commanders in chief. President Johnson had his first date with Lady Bird in the restaurant on the first floor of the Driskill and frequented the hotel many times over the years, including spending his election day in the presidential suite, the name never being so apt as he watched the votes come in and addressed his supporters in the ballroom to celebrate his win. Legend says that you can still see the president and his first lady enjoying dinner in the restaurant, often at an empty table with no silverware. Blink once and they’ll be gone again. Does this hotel have the ghost of a president walking the halls? Only experience will tell.
Today you can stay at the historic and bloody Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin, but make sure to have your wits about you– you might just run into someone from the other side of the veil.
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Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.