AUSTIN -- An Austin landmark is rumored to be alive with the ghosts of the past who reveal themselves to guests of the present.
Some claim The Driskill Hotel is one of the most haunted hotels in the United States. Colonel Jesse Driskill opened the luxurious hotel in 1886. The wealthy cattle baron bought the corner lot of Brazos and 6th Street for $7,500.
The Driskill has welcomed high society events and historic political events over the years. In 1934, Lyndon Baines Johnson met his future wife, Lady Bird, at The Driskill. He later used the hotel as his headquarters for the White House Press Corps.
Today, guests say the hotel is haunted by Colonel Driskill’s spirit. He was known as an avid cigar smoker, and at times guest report the smell of cigar smoke despite the fact the hotel has been smoke free for several years. They also say Colonel Driskill has a fascination with lights.
“It could happen by his portrait or anywhere in the hotel. It’s very likely Colonel Driskill is checking in on his property,” said Monica Ballard of Austin Ghost Tours.
Ballard has listened to so many paranormal stories over the years she is writing a book about it entitled “True Haunted Tales of the Driskill Hotel,” which she plans to release in the coming weeks.
Among the stories is the legend of Peter Lawless. He was a railroad man who lived at The Driskill for 31 years until his death in 1917. Some say his spirit still haunts the hotel today. Guests and employees have reported seeing Lawless in hotel lobby elevators.
“He can often be seen walking out of the elevator, checking his railroad watch, nodding to the staff, and then disappearing,” said Ballard.
Others report that the elevators have a mind of their own, taking guests to the correct floor without anyone pushing a button.
The spirit of a little girl is also said to haunt The Driskill Hotel. In 1887, four-year-old Samantha Houston was chasing a ball when she fell to her death on the grand staircase. She was the daughter of a Texas senator.
“It's incredibly sad and one of the only tragedies we've really had here at The Driskill,” said Driskill Hotel marketing manager Laura Pettitt.
Guests have heard the unexplained laughter of a little girl and the sound of a bouncing ball in different areas of the hotel.
Samantha's father paid for someone to paint her portrait shortly after her death. It now hangs on the fifth floor of The Driskill. Some say she tries to communicate through it.
“People say once in a while you can catch her giving a smile, and her expression will change in the painting,” said Pettitt.
These mysterious happenings are why The Driskill is known as the most haunted hotel in Texas. It attracts guests looking to encounter visitors from the other side.
“They are playful, mischievous, very quirky senses of humor when it comes to playing little tricks on people,” said Ballard.