Austin's Best Ghost Stories: The History Behind A Harrowing and Haunted Past

In the late 1800’s Austin was rapidly evolving from cow town to burgeoning metropolis and was well on its way to becoming the educational, cultural hub of Texas. The spirit of the Old West lives on in historical sites across the city, as do many spirits of the post-war era. If you are drawn to stories of the macabre, nearly every street corner in Austin has a story to tell. A walking tour of Austin is the perfect way to experience these tales of murder, mystery, unrequited love, and of course many ghosts. You may have heard about the haunted Driskill Hotel and the ghosts of Speakeasy Austin, but few tell the gruesome tale of the Austin axe murderer who later became known as the Servant Girl Annihilator. These are a few of the highlights you’ll experience on Austin’s 5-star rated walking tour, Ghost Walk Austin.

 

Servant Girl Annihilator

The January 1, 1885 headline of the Austin Daily Statesman read, "Bloody Work. A fearful midnight murder on West Pecan.” Thus, began a ruthless reign of terror by the Servant Girl Annihilator. Over the next twelve months, five domestics would be viciously murdered by an unknown midnight assassin all within the city center. The victims were attacked in their homes while they slept, dragged outside, and bludgeoned to death with sharp objects. If that doesn’t send chills up your spine, you might be dead already.

Molly Smith was the first to lose her life on West Pecan, otherwise known as 6th Street—the center of the Austin live music scene. Four months later, Eliza Shelley fell victim to butchery at the corner of San Jacinto and Cypress. Later that same month, Irene Cross was found mangled across the street from Scholz beer garden. The youngest casualty, 11-year-old Mary Ramey, was brutalized on East Cedar Street, exactly one block north of where Eliza Shelley was killed. Gracie Vance was the fifth servant girl to be slaughtered in the shadow of then two-year-old University of Texas. She was found on San Marcos Street, now known as Guadalupe, the local haunt of current UT students. Some claim to have encountered a ghostly female figure in 1880’s garb, near the old John Henry Faulk Central Library on Guadalupe. You can learn more about this heinous crime spree and walk by several of the murder sites on a spine-tingling walking tour called Ghost Walk Austin. America’s first serial killer went on to slay three other victims. This terrorizing true crime story remains a mystery to this day. One theory proposes that Austin’s Servant Girl Annihilator escaped to ravage London as Jack the Ripper.

 

The Infamous Driskill Hotel

Two blocks northwest of the site of Mary Ramey’s gruesome murder, the “Hotel of Dreams” was under construction. Cattle baron Colonel Jesse Lincoln Driskill opened his spectacular hotel on December 20th, 1886. After investing a staggering $407,500 into the work, rumor has it he lost his pride and joy in a high-stakes poker game. He died in the hotel but has never checked out. He makes his presence known through the heady scent of cigar smoke, lights which mysteriously turn on and an occasional appearance to the ladies.

The second oldest hotel in Texas, another stop on Ghost Walk Austin, is also home to a pair of jilted brides, who apparently killed themselves in the same bathroom of the same hotel room on the exact same date. The first of the suicide brides was staying in room 525 when her soon-to-be-husband called off their wedding the night before the nuptials. Heartsick, she hung herself over her unrequited love. Twenty years later to the day, a young woman from Houston drove her cold-footed fiancé’s car to Austin, rented a room at the Driskill and did some serious shopping with his credit cards. Despite her retail therapy, a hotel maid found her in the bathtub with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. She has been seen loitering the halls of the Driskill with shopping bags in tow.

The most documented Driskill ghost story, and one of Austin’s best ghost stories is that of Samantha—the four-year-old daughter of a senator who died in 1887. In a freak accident, she tumbled down the marble grand staircase to her death while chasing a ball her father bought her. In the first recorded paranormal activity at the Driskill just one week after her death, she was reported giggling with delight as she bounded after the bouncing ball. Visitors report the sound of her laughter and “boing-boing” of a ball springing down the stairs.


 

Speakeasy Austin

On July 23, 1916, the Austin Fire Department fought its first major fire in the Kreisle Building at Congress and 4th. The building was a total loss. Also lost were the lives of two women unable to escape their elevator cage. Slamming doors and blood-curdling screams have been heard, accompanied by the sound of running up and down the 59-step staircase—perhaps the ancient cries and footfalls of valiant firefighter James “Jimmy” Glass, whose spine was crushed inside the burning building. Would you like to take a guess at his badge number? A most unlucky 13. The Kreisle Building was rebuilt and is now home to Speakeasy Austin. During a recent renovation, workers complained that their tools and supplies were shuffled around the spooky speakeasy. Several people claim to have seen a woman’s apparition in the antique elevator—the only item that survived the fire—now located inside Speakeasy Austin’s swanky prohibition era vibe Kabaret Room.

If you want more of Austin’s best ghost stories visit touratx.com. Tours are handcrafted by historian, actor and master storyteller, Jim Miles. His passion for story enhanced by a master’s degree in Southern History, make for an incredible experience for all ages. Walking Tours of Austin combines expert storytelling with the weirdness of Austin to offer a hauntingly good ghost tour.


Ghost Walk Austin tours run 75-90 minutes every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 8:00pm. Tickets are $20 per person and $10 for kids 10 and under. Book your tour today!