When Jeanine Plumer founded an Austin history tour company twenty years ago, she never meant for it to veer toward the supernatural. “I had never in my life thought about ghosts, but then on the tour, people would be very interested in ghost stories, so it kind of evolved because of the demand of what people wanted. But then I personally thought well what IS happening? I did a lot of research and reading about different beliefs and how other cultures have treated these unseen forces all over the world.”
She discovered the grisly details of one of the first serial killings in the country, when eight female servants were murdered in Austin in 1886
Plumer’s interest was really piqued when she noticed several sites where blank lots existed in the midst of other thriving places. “I was wondering what could’ve happened here that nothing else could exist or thrive,” she says. Upon further research, she discovered the grisly details of one of the first serial killings in the country, when eight female servants were murdered in Austin in 1886. She became even more intrigued when she found that much of the documentation was missing for some reason. “Someone had gone through Austin history and systematically destroyed all the pages as if it hadn’t happened!” she recalls.
Now, Plumer runs several popular ghost tours and investigation experiences through Austin Ghost Tours. When she conducts an investigation, Plumer says she first tries to get the history of the building and its inhabitants and then she begins interviewing the people who work or live there to see what signs of paranormal activity they might have witnessed or experienced.
“I use talk therapy,” she explains. “Pretty much everywhere, people are having independent experiences and they don’t talk about it. Either they forget or they don’t want to think about it or don’t want to seem crazy. But when you start asking people what happened– through people’s collective experiences, you start to get a picture.”
a change in temperature, a vibration, the ringing of a bell… are all common signs
Plumer then goes to the site when its quiet and begins to narrate the ghost’s story and wait for communication from the other side — a change in temperature, a vibration, the ringing of a bell or a mysterious wind are all common signs she has seen. Four of her tour guides often bring along instrumentation with them, such as the K-2 meter, which measures electromagnetic energy, a digital thermometer, audio recorders, and still and video cameras with night vision capabilities.
However, Plumer calls herself “a big non-equipment person,” and often leads investigations with nothing more than herself. “Your greatest, greatest tool is your body,” she explains. “You can feel it if you stop looking at your equipment and just pay attention…We’ve always had what’s there show up for us.”
Read on for a list of some of the most allegedly haunted spots in Austin…and then why not go check things out for yourself?
Texas State Capitol
1100 Congress Street
Austin TX 78701
“A lot of people don’t know that the Capitol was built with prison labor,” says Plumer
“A lot of people don’t know that the Capitol was built with prison labor,” says Plumer. “The state wanted to build the fanciest capitol in the states, so they used what was then called convict labor and many of them died– five of them even died all at once.”
Plumer says she’s heard multiple accounts of strange orbs of light appearing in people’s photos of the Capitol, cameras turning off for no apparent reason, or images appearing upside down.
The Capitol is also rumored to be haunted by Governor Edmund Jackson David (1827-1883) who has reportedly been seen standing in front of a first floor window and even walking the grounds with an icy stare.
604 Brazos Street
Austin TX 78701
Some have said the Driskill is one of the the most haunted hotels in the entire country. Many supernatural stories have come from guests through the years: bathrooms mysteriously filling with steam, illegible scribble suddenly appearing on notepads. The original owner, cattle baron Colonal
Room 525 is home to an urban legend known as the “suicide brides”
Driskill, is said to still wander the halls followed by a hint of cigar smoke. But perhaps the most common sighting comes from the first recorded death in the hotel, which occurred in 1887, when the daughter of a Senator fell down the grand staircase while chasing a ball. Guests have reported seeing a similar little girl playing with a ball on the stairs, the upstairs women’s bathroom, and at the reservation desk.
Room 525 is home to an urban legend known as the “suicide brides”– they say two brides on their honeymoon committed suicide twenty years apart on the same day and in the same room. The room was bricked up and shut down for many years, then reopened in the nineties during a renovation. The bathtub was supposedly filled with crystal clear water when the bricks were torn down, the walls required multiple layers of paint because it kept peeling, and an air conditioning vent laying on the floor blew cold air despite no electrical connection.
201 East 6th Street
Austin TX 78701
Right across from the Driskill is a building that was once the site of Austin’s first boarding house in 1861, the Missouri House (also rumored to be a brothel at some point). Employees report constant paranormal activity, especially in the upstairs rec room and behind the stairs, such as freezing cold spots, floorboards creaking on their own, whispers from the darkness, bar stools that shake one at a time, and the feeling of a presence.
The shadow of a small boy has been glimpsed running through the kitchen doors, and small, child-sized chalk handprints printed all over the pool tables. One employee has even seen the full bodied apparition of a woman in a white dress upstairs.
1917 Manor Road
Austin TX 78722
Long before it was Salty Sow – or Red House Pizzeria, El Gringo, or J Mueller’s BBQ – the space on Manor Road was a grocery store and barbecue restaurant named the Stop n Swat. The business was owned by Robert Shaw, a successful blues musician who pioneered a style of barrelhouse piano which he used to play for his customers. The back house, now a bar area called The Trough area, was where he lived, right next to his store.
Late one night when Salty Sow’s manager Peter Van Etten was closing, he saw a man in a vintage fedora lingering in the back corner of the restaurant. When he stepped inside to tell the man they were closed, he had vanished. When he described the man to another employee, they looked up a picture of Robert Shaw and found that he matched the description quite exactly. Bartender Jonathan Pacheco walked to the back house one day and heard a voice very distinctly introduce themselves as Robert. He walked back up to the front, slightly confused, inquiring about the “new guy.”
Other employees have reported a cold draft by the very same window, even in the middle of the summer, and a door that will occasionally slam, despite the fact that it doesn’t even pull closed very easily…another fun fact: Salty Sow serendipitously opened on May 16, 2012, the 27th anniversary of Shaw’s death.
Stephen F Austin InterContinental Hotel
701 Congress Ave
Austin TX 78701
The historic Stephen F. Austin was originally built in 1924, yet does not have nearly the amount of tales surrounding it as the Driskill does. “There’s not a ton of death that occurred there,” says Plumer, but she assures,”there’s a ton of ghost activity.”
In fact, she recalls the first and only time she’s ever seen a full bodied apparition– and it was while sitting upstairs in the hotel. “I was sitting at the bar and hadn’t had a drink,” she stresses. “If you look to the right, there’s a hallway that passes over to a balcony and a hall with a men’s and women’s bathroom. I looked across and saw a man– he just appeared and he was in a blue jumpsuit, like from the 70s’ and he had black hair. He came out of a room and went right into the men’s bathroom and the door didn’t move. I just saw his back walk right into the door.” She asked a man to check the bathroom for her afterward, just to confirm– and sure enough, he said there was nobody in there at all.
5507 Parkcrest Drive
Austin TX 78731
Parkcrest Cleaner was one of the first businesses in the neighborhood of Allandale. In the 1950’s, it was built by a man who had learned the laundry business while serving in World War II. His son still owns the shop and the same two women have worked there for over 30 years. When they began noticing strange things happening, they called on Austin Ghost Tours to come lead an investigation on the space. Plumer had the owner begin to speak about how his father built the shop and suddenly a curtain started blowing although there was no source for wind or motion in the room.
A woman battling cancer had been a regular at the cleaners for years and years. When she passed away, they also began seeing a glimpse of the apparition of a woman, and a little boy has appeared on occasion as well.
Austin Groups for the Elderly
3710 Cedar Street
Austin TX 78705
“Over 2000 women died in that one spot,” says Plumer.
Plumer says the most “charged” areas are usually places where there’s been a lot of emotion. The AGE building off 381/2 Street in Hyde Park is the perfect example of just that. It was once the Fanny Mae Memorial Hospital for indigent wives of Confederate soliders (from anywhere in the state). “Over 2000 women died in that one spot,” says Plumer. “You can definitely feel it and you can see it. I’ve gotten audio of voices in there.”
I couldn’t help but ask Plumer if ghosts are always tormented beings. Is there such thing as a friendly ghost or is the act of haunting itself inherently negative?
Plumer explains that while “there are people who don’t have settled souls” who are “so heavy they can’t break out,” there are much happier reasons spirits from the other side might send us signals.
“The genius that has created the human body, the universe, and animals– it seems too easy to say that everything’s that happening around us is just a spirit we can’t see. There’s more than that going on. When someone loses a child, they gain a guardian angel. It’s too hard to get through the grief. It seems like children stay. And sometimes people just stay because they love us. They might be in a better place. This earth is the heavy, hard place- this is the difficult earth where we are and wherever we go when we die is way better. But when a being loves you– and I usually hear this about grandparents– they kind of hang out and they do something that speaks to you…and you just know what it is.”
Want to learn more? Take an Austin Ghost Tour this Halloween.
This article originally published in The Wander Issue of Citygram Austin Magazine.
Explore the full issue on your desktop here or download the FREE mobile issue designed specifically for your iPhone or iPad in the App Store today.
Food & Beverage Columnist
Veronica Meewes is a freelance writer and photographer in Austin, TX.
Specializing in lifestyle, travel and food her work has appeared in several outlets including Forbes Travel Guide, Serious Eats, and The Today Show.
Veronica spent her childhood in New Jersey, and traveled around the country before deciding on the sunny capital of Texas.
Photography: Veronica Meewes