Chicago Hauntings: Hallways of the Drake Hotel

CHICAGO (CBS) — The Drake Hotel has stood majestically at the northernmost point of the Magnificent Mile for over a century as an icon of luxury and high society.

The hotel at 140 E. Walton Pl. is the brainchild of architect Benjamin Marshall and named after financiers John and Tracy Drake. It opened on New Year’s Eve 1920 with a gala attended by 2,000 of Chicago’s most distinguished citizens, the hotel’s website notes.

Queen Elizabeth II was honored with a reception at the Drake Hotel during her royal visit in 1959. Princess Diana stayed at the Drake for her visit in 1996. The hotel’s website points out that Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Diana were keen to take Afternoon Tea at Palm Court – which you can still do today.

The Drake, Chicago's wonderful new hotel, built in 1920 near Lake Michigan, postcard, 1927
Postcard from 1927: “The Drake, Chicago’s wonderful new hotel, built in 1920 near Lake Michigan.”

Apic/Contributor/Getty Images

At Cape Cod room, the iconic seafood restaurant that closed in 2016, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe carved their initials into the bar. When the hotel opened, Bing Crosby, Walt Disney, George Gershwin and Charles Lindbergh could have been spotted having a cocktail while listening to bandleader Herbie Kay in The Gold Coast Room, the hotel’s website notes. ‘hotel.

The hotel is known for its ghosts – and Tony Szabelski of Chicago Hauntings Ghost Tours was back with us this year to tell us about them. You won’t find the ghosts of Princess Diana, Bing Crosby, Walt Disney, or anyone else mentioned in the previous paragraphs at The Drake. But Szabelski says you might encounter the ghost of one of those 2,000 people who attended that opening gala.

The story goes that a woman in a dazzling red dress attended the gala with her fiancé on the count. As Szabelski recounts, the couple broke up and the woman later saw the man dancing with another woman. Other sources say the woman couldn’t find her fiancé and decided to return to their 10th floor suite to see if he was there – only to find him with another woman who it was understood that he was with. he did more than just dance.

Either way, the story claims the woman responded by throwing herself out of the 10th floor window to her own death. Known as the Lady in Red, her ghost is believed to haunt the hotel’s 10th floor to this day, as well as the first-floor ballrooms and event spaces.

A few years ago, Szabelski notes that he took a group on a ghost hunt at The Drake, and a guest, Becky, said she spotted the Lady in Red in a ballroom and snapped a photo.


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“I was forced into one of the darkened rooms, which was a ballroom. As I did so, I took a picture, and when I took the picture, I came across a lady sitting on a chair – and it scared me so much that I threw my phone at my friend and ran out. But I knew I had caught a ghost. There is the silhouette of a woman sitting on a chair. It was really brilliant when I took the picture,” Becky said. “I was a little scared, but I didn’t feel like it was a threat or anything. I just felt like the lady wanted to be seen. I think she wants to be recognized and known.”

Another woman in a dress was also spotted at The Drake, this one known as Lady in Black. It involves a well-documented story about the murder of society matron Adele Born Williams – but Adele Born Williams is not the Lady in Black. His killer is.

As Chicago Tribune records document, Williams – the wife of US State Department attaché Frank Starr Williams – was a guest at the hotel with her adult daughter, Patricia Goodbody. On one occasion in January 1944, Williams and Goodbody returned to the suite where Williams lived at the hotel – only to find the door unlocked and slightly ajar when they had left it closed, Szabelski noted.

Slowly opening the door, they didn’t see anyone at first – but suddenly a woman in a black dress, a black fur coat and a white wig came out of the bathroom and pulled out a small pistol. She fired two shots at Goodbody and missed, but then fired two shots at Williams and killed her, Szabelski said.

A Tribune account from 10 years after the murder said Goodbody shouted, “Stop that madwoman! She shot my mother!” as the woman in the black fur coat ran down the hall in front of her.

Police then launched a four-hour search of the hotel – but found nothing, Szabelski said. They later found an antique firearm in the stairwell that had been dropped from an upper floor and shattered, Szabelski said.

In his book “Chronicles of Old Chicago: Exploring the History and Lore of the Windy City”, Adam Selzer notes other bizarre twists – including that someone, probably the shooter, had phoned a fishmonger and a brewery in the region. about 20 minutes before the violent attack.

The serial number on the gun was assigned to a robber who was in jail at the time but said his sisters stole his guns on several occasions, Selzer wrote. He told investigators that one of his sisters, Ellen Bennett, was a key employee of The Drake – and it turned out that his other sister, Anna, was a “hotel stalker” known to hang around and hope to find rich men, wrote Selzer.

Ellen – who had a checkered past – was questioned and investigators worked out a theory that she came to steal jewelry from Williams and then shot Williams when the company’s matron returned in the sequel, Selzer wrote . Ellen and her sister have both been arrested twice in connection with the murder, and Ellen even admitted she owned a black Persian lamb coat like the one the killer was wearing – but said she didn’t. never been in Williams’ room and had an alibi that she was shopping downtown at the time, Selzer wrote.

No charges against Ellen Bennett or her sister were ever brought, and the case was never solved, Selzer noted. But whoever killed Adele Born Williams is believed to haunt the eighth floor to this day, Szabelski wrote.



Another ghost story involving The Drake involves a better-known crime in Chicago that dates back 20 years before the murder of Adele Born Williams – and it happened nowhere near The Drake.

Nathan Leopold was already a law student at the University of Chicago at the age of 19, and his friend Richard Loeb had already graduated from the University of Michigan at the age of 18. The young men, both from wealthy families, inspired in part by the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and the concept of the superior “Übermensch” or “overman”, the couple embarked on a quest to commit the “perfect crime “.

On May 21, 1924, the couple picked up Loeb’s second cousin – 14-year-old Bobby Franks, upon seeing him walking down Ellis Avenue in Kenwood – and took a chisel to his head.

Bobby Franks


The duo dumped Franks’ body in the Wolf Lake swamps on the Illinois-Indiana border while pouring hydrochloric acid on parts of the corpse to conceal Franks’ identity. They sent a ransom note to the family.

But Leopold and Loeb were quickly captured after a pair of glasses with a rare and special spring were found near Franks’ body, according to an account from Northwestern University. Glasses featuring this specific spring were made by Almer Coe opticians of Chicago, and only three people had ever purchased the glasses – of which Leopold was one.

Leopold and Loeb confessed to the crime, but were spared the death penalty thanks to the defense of brilliant lawyer Clarence Darrow.

Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb plead in court for t
Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb plead guilty in court to the kidnapping and murder of Bobby Franks.

New York Daily News Archive

So what does all of this have to do with The Drake? Several accounts note that after the murder, Bobby Franks’ father, Jacob Franks, sold the family Kenwood estate and moved to The Drake with his wife, Flora. Jacobs Franks died at the hotel in 1928 and Flora Franks also died there in 1937, according to multiple reports.

According to Haunted Illinois, there is a story that the ghosts of Mr. and Mrs. Franks never left. Windy City Ghosts reports that they are seen wandering the hotel, still mourning their brutally murdered son nearly a century later.

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