Tuesday, May 24, 2016

HGB Episode 126 - Driskill Hotel


Moment in Oddity - Mannequins Move at John Lawson House
Suggested by listener: Anna Prado-Frias

There is a bizarre and mysterious thing happening at the John Lawson House. The house is located near the New Hamburg train station in New York. Pass by the porch and you'll do a double take. Those people sitting on the porch seem inhumanly still. Indeed, they are not real, they are mannequins. But these mannequins are not like your run-of-the-mill store mannequins. Because these mannequins are only still when you are looking. Otherwise, they seem to be quite capable of moving. At night, the mannequins change clothes and positions. No living person has been seen at the house, so how are the mannequins being moved? Could they be moving on their own? Or is there something else going on here? Perhaps something paranormal? The John Lawson House was built in 1845. A massive fire destroyed nearly every other house in the area. In the Winter of 1871, a train crashed about 200 feet from the house. Twenty-two passengers were killed on impact. Could these incidents have led to this mystery beginning. The mannequins are observed many times pointing in the direction of the train crash. Many times, the mannequins are holding strange objects like birdcages. They also hold brushes and books and they disappear from the front porch in rain. Curtains are drawn in the windows, so no one can see inside the abandoned house, but occasionally a sliver of light is seen. A vegetable garden is maintained in the back. Is someone moving the dolls when no one sees? Are they enchanted somehow? Whatever the truth may be, the John Lawson House is not only creepy, but it certainly is odd!

This Day in History - Peruvian Soccer Match Becomes Riot
by: April Rogers-Krick

On this day, May 24th, in 1964, a referee’s call in an Olympic qualifying soccer match between Peru and Argentina erupted into a riot. More than 300 fans were killed and another 500 people were injured in the violent melee that followed at National Stadium in Lima, Peru. With only six minutes left in an Olympic qualifying game, Argentina lead Peru 1-0. Peruvians were fiercely cheering on their team in hopes of a win to take them to the Finals in Tokyo. The Uruguayan referee disallowed what would have been a tying goal scored by Peru. National Stadium was filled with 40,000 fans when the call was made causing fans to erupt in anger a riot ensued. The angry mob started breaking down barriers and swarmed the field causing the players and officials to abandon the game. In an effort to stop the rioting, police threw tear gas and released dogs into the crowd.  Hundreds of spectators were crushed and trampled as the crowd charged towards the exits to escape.  Children and women were thrown to the ground, but the uncontrolled mob pushed on.  Some fans broke down a section of the wire barrier surrounding the pitch and set fire to benches and terraces. A wall was kicked down in an attempt to invade the field and get at the referee.  The pitch was littered with stones, bottles, and cushions.  A group of people set fire to buses and cars but scattered when police rode in on horseback.  Soon reinforcements arrived for the outnumbered police and a large number of arrests were made. For three hours, youths rioted and set fire to houses and businesses. Twenty-one prisoners managed to escape from the Lima prison.  Thousands of people swarmed hospital entrances looking to see if their loved ones were among the dead or injured.  The extent of a disaster like this at a soccer match has only been surpassed once and that was at a game in Moscow in 1982.

The Driskill Hotel ( Suggested by and researched by Whitney Land)

The Driskill Hotel was built in Austin, Texas and it's no surprise that this location was chosen as it is the terminus of the Southern most route of the Chisolm Trail. The hotel was built in the late 1800s and serves guests to this day. It emanates a timeless charm and the hotel claims that "every room tells a story." There are stories here for more than just the living. Some consider this to be the most active paranormal location in Austin. There is a legend of suicidal brides and there are spirits of others who have died here. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Driskill Hotel.

Austin is the capitol of Texas. The earliest residents here were believed to be the Clovis Culture who lived here during the Ice Age. The Tonkawa Tribe were here before the first immigrants arrived from Sweden, Germany and Mexico. The original settlement was named Waterloo. Texas fought for its independence from Mexico in 1835 and 1836 and became its own country after winning. In 1839, the government of Texas decided to find a place to establish its capital and Waterloo was chosen and the name was changed to Austin. A fourteen block grid plan was platted out and a one-story capitol was built. Disputes with the nearby Native American tribes ended and growth began to expand the town.

Jesse Lincoln Driskill was born in 1824 in Tennessee. The family was Irish and descended from the O'Driscolls. Jesse moved to Missouri when he was 23 and he met and married his wife Nancy there. They relocated to Bastrop, Texas and got into the merchandising business.That lasted for a short time and the Civil War began, spurring him to enter the cattle business in 1857. He provided the Confederate Army with meat throughout the Civil War, almost going broke after being paid for his product in Confederate dollars. But Driskill built back up his herds and became a well known cattle baron. This helped him to purchase land. He purchased an entire city block that was a corner plot of land located at Brazos and Pecan, modern day 6th street, in Austin for $7,500. This would be the site for his "Hotel of Dreams."

The four story Romanesque style hotel, built by Jesse Lincoln Driskill in 1886, was designed to be the "Finest Hotel South of St.Louis." Half a block in size, it's design features three arched entry ways and carved limestone busts of Driskill and his two sons- Bud and Tobe. Six million bricks went into the building facade plus additional limestone accents. The main hotel has sixty rooms, with twelve corner rooms that each have their own attached baths (an almost unheard of feature for hotels of the region and time). The lobby of the hotel was designed in grand Southern style, with mounted taxidermy adorning the walls, as well as carpet that bears the emblems of different cattle brands. Driskill hired the finest builders of the time, accruing a cost of $400,000!

After completion, a room was available for between 2.50 and 5.00 dollars a night, which was rather steep in comparison to other hotels of the time. The Austin of this era was still very much a frontier town. Native Americans were still living in the area and mostly everything to the West was wild country. The inhabitants of the city of Austin included cattle drivers, cowboys, outlaws and all kinds of miscreants. This might help listeners to understand why the hotel was built with a completely separate entrance for women, enabling them to avoid the rough-and-tumble cattlemen who notoriously occupied the main lobby!

Driskill's success was not long lasting, however. In 1887, barely a year after opening, the hotel was forced to close after half of the staff was poached by the Galveston Beach Hotel. In 1888, adding insult to injury, a late spring freeze on the Northern Plains killed off most of Driskill's remaining cattle. It devastated his finances and his family lost their fortune. Three thousand head of cattle perished and he could no longer afford to keep up his payments. Legend has it the hotel was gambled away in an 1888 game of poker with his brother-in-law, Jim Day, who became the hotel's second owner. Jesse Driskill never recovered from this devastating loss, dying of a stoke only two years later.

The hotel changed hands many times over the years, going through drastic improvements and still always being sold at a loss. In the 1930s, the hotel underwent renovations that led to the construction of an additional 13 story tower that still exists and is in use today. In 1950, air conditioning was added and the grand sky-lit rotunda that had provided ventilation previously, was removed. It wasn't long, however, before the hotel faced one of it's biggest problems yet. Demolition. In 1969, it almost faced the wrecking ball after a planned renovation fell through. Last minute, a non-profit group raised the needed $900,000 to save the hotel and had it designated as a historical landmark. The hotel re-opened in 1972 and has been successful ever since. In 2013, the hotel was purchased by Hyatt Hotels and they continue to operate it under the name Driskill. It is a grand and beautiful hotel that includes elaborate bridal suites, vast ballrooms, and two restaurants. It was used in the movie Miss Congeniality, being represented as the St.Regis in Manhattan.

The Driskill has had it's share of important visitors over the years. These visitors include Amelia Earhart, Louis Armstrong, Michael Jordan, Paul Simon, Sandra Bullock, and the Dixie Chicks. President Johnson and his wife “Ladybird” had a life-long love affair with the hotel and went on their first date in the cafe downstairs. LBJ made the Driskill his election headquarters and awaited the results of his presidential election in the Jim Hogg suite.

While famous guest are interesting, one of the more fascinating pieces of history is the fact that two attempted murders occurred at the Driskill. In 1903, there was the attempted assassination of ex-governor James Steven Hogg in the rotunda of the hotel. It was a poor attempt by a drunken assailant who was a well known rail road attorney. He was angry at having been called a lobbyist. He was apparently disarmed and sent back to his room at the hotel, where he was staying. The second attempt came a few years later, in 1908. Two lawyers had angered each other the previous day in court and after knocking back a few drinks at the hotel bar, they drew their guns and shot at each other in the lobby. They both managed to hit each other, but they survived. Hotel guests are said to have hid behind the large columns in this area of the hotel during the shoot out.

Arguably one of the most beautiful rooms of the hotel- the Maximilian room was originally the men's smoking lounge. In the 1930s eight beautiful mirrors were purchased from an antique shop in San Antonio. These mirrors were originally intended as a gift for the Empress Carlota, from her husband, then Emperor of Mexico, Maximilian the I. His Mexican empire was short lived, however, and many governments refused to recognise him, including the United States, considering his rule of Mexico to be a puppet regime of France. French armies withdrew from Mexico in 1866 and Max's empire collapsed. He was captured in 1887 and executed by Benito Juarez, the president of the Republic of Mexico. His wife fled and their home and belongings were looted.

Carlota apparently loved her husband deeply, and after he was executed,  her mental state rapidly declined. She lived the rest of her life in seclusion in what is now Italy, and then Belgium. She loved her late husband until her death. All this time reportedly treasuring every item that her and Maximilian had shared together. Reports of her insanity vary and are hard to verify. But it is said that as she aged her illness receded. Carlota was struck down by an influenza induced bout of pneumonia at the age of 86, in 1927. It would be only three years until the Driskill would acquire the mirrors that were intended to be gift to Carlota from her beloved husband. Eight gold leaf, sterling and crushed diamond mirrors that now hang in the grand Maximilian ballroom, each one bearing the bust of a young, beautiful Carlota.

And this is where our ghost stories begin. There are tales of Carlota's ghost haunting the Maximilian room. A wedding photographer setting up his equipment one day thought a bride had entered the room prematurely. Wondering why she was wearing a period costume instead of traditional bridal wear he turned again to speak with her, but she was gone. It was then that he couldn't help but notice the young ladies resemblance to the busts that adorn each mirror.

The spirit of “The Colonel” (a nickname bestowed upon Driskill by the Confederates during the war) supposedly still haunts the hotel. He leaves behind the smell of lingering cigar smoke in guests rooms. He has appeared to a few guests as a full bodied appartion as well. He apparently appears to show himself to females. He even has a song attributed to him. In 1992, Concrete Blonde released their album- Walking in London, which included a song called “Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man”. This song is a musical homage to Col. Driskill. The band's lead singer, Johnette Napolitano, recounted in an interview with the Houston Press, that she told her band the hotel was haunted because someone kept turning the lights in her room on and off when she stayed there. Incidentally, the drummer for Sting was hanging out with the drummer from Concrete Blonde in the hotel bar and said that he'd heard a woman tell the exact same story the night before, except this woman said the ghost had grabbed her.

Napolitano is not the only musician to have experiences of a supernatural nature at the Driskill. Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics tells a story about staying at the Driskill while on tour. Having laid out two different dresses on the bed, unable to decide which to wear that night, she took a shower. Upon getting out she discovered only one dress on the bed, the other now packed away. She took this as a sign and wore the dress left out on the bed. And one has to wonder who made that choice for her.

One of the most prevalent, yet hard to verify stories, is about room 525 and it's double suicide brides. The brides took their lives, both in the same room, yet twenty years apart. The first story goes that following her groom calling off the wedding, a Houston bride drove his car to Austin and rented a room at the Driskill. She then went on a shopping spree with his credit card. Guests reported seeing a woman overloaded with shopping bags exiting the elevator on her floor. That was the last time she was seen alive. A few days later a hotel maid, noting that the woman had not left or been seen in several days, went into room 525. Upon entering the bathroom she found the bride, dead in the tub. Apparently of a self inflicted gunshot wound that she muffled with a pillow. Adding credibility to this story are the hotel's 18 inch thick walls, which Driskill built for privacy as well as fire prevention.

Her ghost has been seen by guests at the hotel when that area was under renovation. Two women saw a female guest, overloaded with shopping bags making her way to the room on a floor with heavy construction going on. One of the women asked her “Doesn't all the noise bother you?” to which she replied “no, it doesn't”. Upon checking out she asked the front desk why someone would be staying in a part of the hotel undergoing renovations he assured her that no one would be staying there. Insistent that she saw someone enter a room, and now becoming alarmed, the desk clerk took her to the room to investigate. Upon opening the door there was no furniture and everything was covered in plastic.

The second suicide bride is from an earlier time. This is the best we could do as the hotel does not give specific dates for either of the infamous jilted brides. She was staying at the Driskill in preparation of her wedding. Her husband-to-be called everything off the night before they were supposed to be married and she hung herself in room 525. Whitney also found Room 427 in some resources. This room of the hotel was sealed off for many years due to “renovations” but is now available again to stay in. The brides are believed to have taken their lives in the bathroom and this is where most people claim to have experiences. Room 525 is rumored to be the most haunted area of the hotel.

One of the most famous ghostly tales claims that in 1887, a senator's four year old daughter named Samantha was playing with a ball on the main staircase when she fell to her death on the marble floor below. Guests report hearing a child's laughter and what sounds like a ball bouncing near that staircase. There is a painting of a pretty young girl in the hotel that is linked to this tale. It's said that it was commissioned and hung after she died, but this painting is a modern day replica of another painting called “Love Letters” by British artist- Charles Trevor Garland. Replicas of it can be found on many items, including mouse pads. People claim that staring at the portrait makes them nauseous and some claim they feel as though they are lifting upward.

Another suicide is reported to have happened at the hotel on the fourth floor. It was apparently a woman, but no one knows which room or why she killed herself. Guests report hearing a woman whispering on the fourth floor when there is no one around. Hotel staff claim that they hear the disembodied cried of a woman on that floor. The spirit of a female is glimpsed out of the corner of the eye by many people.

The Driskill Hotel has stood here for well over a century and despite many times when it could have been lost to the wrecking ball, it has survived as a Texas landmark. Its legends have survived as well. Does the man who built the hotel of his dreams still stay here in the afterlife? Are there ghosts of jilted brides here? Is the Driskill Hotel haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:

Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man video- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69BozyMnVSg


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