Hauntings at Chicago’s Drake Hotel

Drake Hotel, along with Congress Plaza Hotel, are widely known to be two of Chicago’s most haunted hotels. Drake Hotel in particular, is said to be haunted by two female apparitions who passed away tragically in the building.

The first legend speaks of an entity named by hotel staff as the “Woman in Red”. The story of the vengeful spirit goes back to 1920 when the hotel held its first New Year’s Eve gala as part of the hotel’s opening. Over 2,000 of Chicago’s most distinguished individuals were in attendance, including a woman who attended the party in a bright red dress. However, it turned out to be her first and last night in the hotel. At the gala, the Women in Red chanced upon her husband on the dance floor with another woman. To her dismay, her husband had confessed to an extramarital affair with the woman who was his mistress for the previous two years.. Shattered by the infidelity of her husband, the Woman in Red jumped from a room on the 10th floor.

Today, guests staying on the 10th floor of Drake Hotel have reported seeing a woman in a charming red dress wandering along the hallways. Others claimed to have seen the ghostly apparition of a female with a white dress soaked in blood. Sighting of the Woman in Red have also been reported in other parts of Drake Hotel including the Gold Coast Room and the Palm Court.

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Adele Born Williams | Image credits: Find a Grave

Another horrifying episode that occurred at Drake Hotel centers around the case of the “Woman in Black”, which have been dubbed as one of Chicago’s weirdest unsolved mystery. On 19th January 1944, renown socialite Adele Born Williams and her daughter was returning to her 8th floor suite at Drake Hotel after a dinner at one of the city’s finest restaurant. Upon returning to the room, the pair froze as they locked eyes with a middle-aged woman in a black Persian lamb coat and standing in the center of the suite’s living room. Without warning, the Woman in Black pulled out an antique pistol and shot Adele in the head, killing her instantly. Horrified, Adele’s daughter ran out of the room and sought help from guests staying on the same floor.

In spite of the tight security and vivid details by Adele’s daughter, no suspect was ever identified. The pistol was found only a week later at the bottom of a stairwell which the police had combed through previously. To add on to the enigma, a spare key to Adele’s suite mysteriously reappeared at the front desk after being reported lost a few days before the tragic murder. While the death of Adele is largely believed to be truth, many have casted doubt on the veracity of the Woman in Black.

Today, many guests have reported seeing the spirit of the woman in black as well as Adele on the eight floor. Guests have also reported hearing a sharp, loud thud at night, as if a gun was fired on the 8th floor.

History of the Haunted Drake Hotel

Located in the heart of downtown Chicago, the historic Drake Hotel is a luxury hotel that overlooks Lake Michigan. The history of the hotel dates back to 1919 when the site was purchased by local hotel magnates Tracey Drake and John Drake Jr. The brothers, whose father was notable hotelier John Burroughs Drake, had financed the $10 million purchase from a group of family friends and private investors; this is equivalent to $139 million in today’s dollars. The hotel opened a year later on New Year’s Eve of 1920.

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Drake Hotel in the 1950s | Image credits: Chicago Tribune

Together, the Drake brothers owned two of the most prestigious hotel in Chicago: Drake Hotel and Blackstone Hotel. The hotel was notable for being the original studios of commercial AM radio station WGN during its first few years of operation.

Drake Hotel’s prime location along Michigan Avenue and Oak Street and considerable reputation enabled it to prosper throughout the mid 20th century. This is bolstered by the development of the Magnificent Mile (also known as the Mag Mile) which served as the thoroughfare between the Chicago’s Loop business and commercial district, and its Gold Coast.

Over the years, Drake Hotel was visited by several notable guests including international celebrities, head of states, and Presidents of the United States. This includes:

  • Winston Churchill, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
  • Herbert Hoover, 31st president of the United States
  • Dwight Eisenhower, 34th president of the United States
  • Eleanor Roosevelt, American activist and former first lady of the United States
  • Diana, Princess of Wales. The Presidential Suite was renamed to Princess Diana Suite in honor of her three day stay at the hotel in June 1996.
  • Charles Lindberg, American aviator and inventor
  • Walt Disney, entrepreneur and pioneer of the American animation industry
  • Frank Sinatra, American singer and icon of the 20th century
  • Hussein of Jordan, former King of Jordan
  • Marilyn Monroe, American actress, model and popular sex symbols of the mid 20th century.
  • Juia Roberts, renown American actress and winner of Academy Awards and Golden Globe awards
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Princess Diana at the Drake Hotel| Image credits: Forbes

In 1980, Hilton International acquired Drake Hotel and embarked on an extensive renovation project that to refurbish the guestrooms and install additional facilities such as a conference hall and a fitness center. The hotel eventually became a part of Hilton Hotels Corporation and The Hilton Family of Hotels and is now managed by the Hilton Hotels & Resorts. The historical significance and long lasting success of Drake Hotel as a premier hotel in Chicago led to its eventual listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The hotel also became a member of the Historic Hotels of America in 2016.

At present, Drake Hotel offers 535 bedrooms, a luxurious six-room Presidential Suite, two large ballrooms, and Club International, a members-only closed group only for the most distinguished guests of the hotel.

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Drake Hotel | Image credits: The Registry Collection

Does Drake Own the Drake Hotel in Chicago?

Contrary to ‘popular belief’, Drake the famous Canadian rapper and singer does not own a stake in Drake Hotel in Chicago. Drake also does not own the Drake Hotel in Toronto, Canada, the Francis Drake Hotel in Minneapolis, or the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco.

As of January 2022, the Drake Hotel in Chicago remains owned by the Brashears family and Acore Capital, who collectively own 90% of the property. However, in August 2021, it was announced by brokerage JILL that the historic landmark will be put up for sale on the market. Nonetheless, the management have reaffirmed to the public that Drake Hotel will not be closing, and that it will remain open and operational.

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