Impressively dressed in saloon-girl style with a skull-emblazoned bustier, our guide, Carissa Chopeles, asked a pivotal question: “How many of you believe in ghosts?”
Most of our hands shot up. We do believe in spooks. We do, we do, we do. And if not, we would by the end of this Austin Ghost Tour. The hour-and-a-half tour, just $20, took a couple dozen of us random ticket buyers on a trek to some Warehouse District haunted havens.
After starting at Moonshine Patio Bar and Grill on Red River Street, where ghosts are said to pester the female staff and occasionally throw bottles and glasses, we walked briskly to a cute little Third Street house a block away where tenants report smelling the beedi cigarettes of a former resident who hanged himself.
At the notoriously haunted Speakeasy bar on Congress Avenue, built at the site of a deadly 1916 fire, we heard about a female ghost seen peering out of an elevator. At 411 E. Fifth St., we visited the house of Alamo survivor Susanna Dickinson (originally a block away but moved to make room for a hotel) and were told to watch for ghosts parting the curtains to look out. (We didn’t see any.)
Farther west on Fifth is the 1880 Heierman Building, originally the Provident Hotel and eventually the site of Austin’s first cremation. It’s haunted, too, we were told, and its empty elevator often makes trips with no human occupants.
The most haunted building we visited, though — and the only one we went inside — was the Driskill Hotel, said to house at least 19 ghosts including a little girl, several suicidal brides and a supervisor who arranges ghost flowers.
Here, we encountered a bit of weirdness. At an out-of-service elevator, we detected a hot smell that came and went. Then, one of our group captured on her phone a large, distinct blue orb. It sort of looked like the bubble Good Witch Glenda of “The Wizard of Oz” showed up in, only blue. Apparently that’s a big ghost sign.
I happen to have a Ghost Radar app on my phone, so I turned it on. It registered the presence of two ghosts, then intoned, “Science.” I do believe the Driskill ghosts were mocking my app.
Austin is filled with ghosts, so every tour is a little different. And, obviously, you’re not guaranteed to see one. Probably won’t. But the guides deliver lots of good stories, and you’ll learn some Austin history while you walk its streets in the dark.