Austin's Driskill Hotel
Story and photos by Kathleen Walls
American Roads Travel Magazine
The Driskill lobby with Col. Driskill's picture
It was in
the 1830s the first permanent white settlers established a village they named Waterloo at
the site of present day Austin. By 1839, it was chosen to be the capital of the Republic
of Texas. The city was renamed after Stephen F. Austin, "the father of Texas."
arrival of the politicians, the towns population burgeoned to 856 people. When the
Republic became one of the United States, it clearly stated in two elections that it
wanted Austin to remain the capital of the new state.
a young high roller from Tennessee named Jesse Driskill came to Austin in 1869, the city
was on it way to being a metropolis. Driskill
had already made and lost one fortune during the Civil War. The young Irishman, who held
the honorary rank of Colonel, had furnished cattle to the Confederate Army and the Texas
Rangers. Unfortunately, he had been paid in Confederate money so by the end of the war, he
had no money and no cattle.
1884, he had rebuilt another fortune and decided to invest some of it in a luxurious hotel
to complement the new capital building being erected on the cities highest spot.
Driskill's bar lounging area
purchased an entire city block for his hotel for the outrageous sum of $7,500. When The
Driskill opened in December of 1886, the Daily Statesman called it "One
of the Finest Hotels in the Whole Country." Two weeks later The Driskill began a
tradition by hosting the inaugural ball for Texas Governor Sul Ross. Later governors have
followed this tradition including William P. Hobby, Miriam (Ma) Ferguson, Dan Moody, John
Connally, and Ann Richards who all hosted their balls in The Driskills magnicifence
Driskill, fortunes were Easy come. Easy go. When an early freeze in 1888,
killed off much of his herd, Driskill was forced to sell the hotel. It passed through
several hands until it came into possession of Major George W. Littlefield in 1895, who
proclaimed that it would never close again.
political and entertainment big wigs all stayed at The Driskill. In October 1898, Austins
first long-distance telephone call was placed from the lobby. Over the years The Driskill
has played host to almost every sitting president since it opened. Lyndon Johnsons
first date with Lady Bird was breakfast at The Driskill.
One of The Driskill's suites
the interesting things about the hotel is that every room is different. The art alone is
worth visiting the hotel to view it.
was almost proven wrong in 1969 when the hotel was destined to be razed and a new modern
hotel to be constructed on the site. Fortunately, local citizens banned together and saved
this Texas treasure for posterity and the ghosts that roam the building.
there are more than one here at The Driskill. It is only fitting that Colonel Driskill
should still inhabit his masterpiece. His presence is most often signaled by the phantom
smell of cigar smoke; Driskill was known to always be smoking his cigar. Many people have seen him standing with a hand on a
chair; a common position he assumed when he was alive. Ed Van de Vort, a local historian
told me of a woman who was arranging a meeting of a New Age group at the hotel. One of
hotel staff, Janice, was showing the woman around. When they reached the stair landing
where Col. Driskills portrait hangs, the woman stopped and stared at it for a
moment. She then asked, How did he die?
answered, A stroke.
visitor replied, He was in great pain.
|One of The Driskill's ballrooms
gave me a tour of the hotel. When we reached the Maximilian Room, he pointed out the
mirrors. They had been destined for Emperor Maximilian and consort Carlottas Palace
in Mexico but instead found their way into a Texas pawnshop. In the 1930s the hotel
bought them and had them installed in the grand Maximilian Ball room. The same lady who
had commented on Driskills pain was shown the ballroom as a possible venue for the
meeting. She saw an apparition of a woman with a young boy sitting in the corner. She
claimed the boy was very sad. The woman was wearing a long flowing white dress
of the style popular in France in the mid 1800s.
Perhaps. Yet the mirrors never had any contact
with her except possibly when they were chosen. The boy presents a confirmation that the
woman was probably Carlotta. During their short but turbulent reign as rulers of Mexico
bolstered only by Napoleon IIIs troops, the couple were childless. In an effort to
legitimatize their rule, they adopted the grandson of a former emperor of Mexico, Agustín
de Iturbide y Arámburu. The child also named Agustín was taken from his home to live
with the royal couple and given the title "His Highness, the Prince of
Iturbide." That is enough to make any child sad.
who ended her days completely insane, would not be very good company with which to spend
eternity. Luckily there are lots of other phantoms in The Driskill. Besides the stories I
gleaned from Ed, I spoke with John Maverick who leads tours for Austin Ghost Tours under
the name Maverick. (This tour is great way to learn more about haunted Austin.)
the most common specters seen at The Driskill is The Bride. Actually, there
are two brides one is believed to have committed suicide after being jilted in
the 1920. She is seen mostly in the ladies rest room.
commonly seen one dates to the 1970s era. She
is often seen on the stairs or in the hall of the fourth floor carrying lots of bags. In
life, she came to Austin from Houston Her fiancé had just informed her that never planned
to marry her. She came to Austin to think things over. The last people who saw her in life
were the bartender who remembered her ordering a diet Coke and the bellman who remembered
her walking across the lobby to the elevator loaded down with shopping bags. To get
revenge, she had hit him where it hurts most; in his pocketbook. She maxed out his credit
cards with a grand shopping spree of more than $40,000 then went to her room, picked up a
pillow to muffle the sound and killed herself with a bullet to her stomach. She wasnt
found until three days later when a housekeeper wondered about the constant Do not
attempted a séance using a ouija board and got an answer from a female spirit with the
initials DB or Deeb. Another instance of a female specter trying to communicate was a bit
more direct. It happened when two women were working late one night in an office with a
curtained window to the lobby. One worker heard someone knocking on the window and opened
it to see what the problem was. They were confronted with an angry gestulating young woman
who disappeared in front of their startled eyes.
1999, two young women came to stay at the hotel. They wanted to stay on the old side but
were told it was under repair. Late that night, they snuck into the historic side of the
hotel. The floors were all covered with black plastic and all the wall trim had been
removed. They noticed a woman get off the elevator and go to room 27. The hall was dark but they saw that the woman was
carrying a lot of bags as if she had just returned from shopping but it was 2A.M.
young guests called down to her, Dont you mind staying in a room with all this
construction going on?
did not turn to face them but replied as if from a great distance, No I dont
mind at all.
frightened by her tone, they quickly left for the better-lit area in the new section. As
they turned the corner, they noticed the woman was no longer by the door and must have
entered the room.
checked out the next morning they complained to the concierge, Why did you let that
woman stay in the old section but not us?
replied that no one was stating in that section but the women were so insistent that they
had seen a guest enter room 27 that he took the master key and brought them over to show
them the room. He opened the door of room 27; there was no furniture in it; plastic draped
the floor. There were not even any fixtures in the bathroom. It was then that the women
realized they had seen The Bride.
the most recent episodes happened to a brand new security guard earlier this year. He was
on his second week on the job and on the stairwell between the fifth and sixth floor. This
is the highest point that the original hotel reached. He stopped and bent over to tie his
shoe when someone tapped him on the back and said in a gruff male voice, Do you have
Having heard the stories he knew Col. Driskill had
smoked cigars. Not daring to turn around he rushed down to the lobby and some human
companionship. The desk clerk remarked Are you alright, you look kind of white.
The terrified watchman replied, I dont
know! I heard all the stories but I never believed them but I think I just met Col.
A manager in the café had to go down to the
basement to get some tins. While he was there, all the generators and lights went out then
a single one went back on and he felt someone brush past him and felt a cold spot. Then
all the lights came back on. Needless to say, he hurried back upstairs and was not anxious
to return to the basement.
Bar at The Driskill
spirits of a different kind visit The Driskill Bar. The bar is a true Texas experience.
The furnishings are plush but masculine. Overstuffed leather couches, light fixtures made
of guns, spurs and little lampshades, a copper-plated ceiling, longhorn cattle mounted on
the wall and bar chairs with cow-print backs make this a really comfortable meeting spot.
Its not crowded and has plenty of Texas style seating arrangements spaced around
that give the feeling of having a drink at Southfork while waiting for J. R. to come
swaggering through the door.
order from the bar menu but I suggest you visit the Driskill Grill to really take
advantage of the superb food prepared under the watchful eye of Executive Chef Josh
Watkins. Have one of their famous beef dishes. This is Texas after all.
lunch or breakfast try the 1886 Café and Bakery located in the front of the hotel. I had
Mama's Meatloaf served with Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans and Mushroom Gravy.
If you enjouyed this story, you will love my book, Hosts
With Ghosts: Haunted Historic Hotels in the Southeast.
Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.