If you were to ask any Chicagoan, paranormal enthusiast or not, “what is the city’s most haunted hotel?” chances are they would say The Congress Plaza Hotel. For decades, this elegant Michigan Avenue hotel has enjoyed the reputation of being the Windy City’s most haunted. Be that as it may, the Congress is not alone in opulence or ghosts. A mere two-mile drive north on Michigan Avenue will bring you to the doors of the Drake Hotel which is just as luxurious as the Congress, and just as haunted.
Fourteen years after the death of Potter Palmer, the man responsible for State Street, John and Tracy Drake purchased a plot of land at East Walton from his estate. The Drakes sunk every penny they had in building the hotel and its lovely decor. The hotel would act as a transition between the exclusive Gold Coast community and Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile. The hotel would stay in the Drake family until the economic downturn of the Great Depression. The Drake clan lost everything they owned, including their beloved hotel in the heart of Chicago.
Throughout its history, the Drake attracted both the famous as well as the infamous. In 1924, the hotel was the headquarters for WGN radio, a media company that is a long-standing Chicago institution. The Drake has also attracted the elite of Hollywood. The chairman of the board, Frank Sinatra, was a frequent guest, as well as the blond bombshell, Marilyn Monroe. And what Chicago story would be complete without brushes with organized crime? Frank “the enforcer” Nitti maintained an office at the Drake when he ran the Chicago Outfit in the 1930s and 1940s.
There is no denying the Drake has a provocative history filled with both heroes and villains. Although the Drake has a reputation for hospitality, it is also well known as one of Chicago’s most haunted buildings. As far as the hauntings are concerned, the Drake would give the Congress a run for its money.
Typically, a building has to wait a number of years before acquiring a resident ghost. This is not the case with the Drake. The first known haunting originated in its early days of operation. On New Year’s Eve 1920, the hotel hosted a gala for some of Chicago’s powerful influential citizens. According to the story, a woman in a crimson dress happened upon her husband dancing seductively with another woman. The green-eyed monster of jealousy took hold of her reason and she ran up to the roof. Moments later, she plummeted to her death on the concrete sidewalk just outside the hotel’s doors.
Not long after the suicide, the ghost of a woman in a red dress had been seen in the lobby and on the sidewalk by the main entrance. Staff and guests alike have also encountered the scarlet clad ghost in the Gold Coast Room, Palm Court and on the tenth floor. Her distraught form appears to be sobbing as she wanders towards the roof where she ended her suffering decades earlier.
Anyone familiar with Chicago’s history of crime and punishment might be familiar with the name, Bobby Franks. If not, Bobby Franks was a fifteen-year-old boy who was viciously murdered by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, Chicago’s thrill-killing duo. When the two affluent young men were brought to trial, it split the city asunder. The majority of Chicagoans demanded the two swing for their sadistic crime. Instead, they were sentenced to life which some might say was hardly a fitting punishment for the horror they committed.
When the trial was over, Bobby’s parents found they could no longer live in their home. Their lives were devastated by the slaying of their son and their house held to many painful memories of their boy. So, the Franks sold their home and moved into a suite of rooms at the Drake. Death would once again strike the Franks when Jacob, Bobby’s father, unexpectedly died of a massive heart attack. Nine years later, Flora, joined her husband and son in the silent embrace of the grave.
It would seem that something of the Franks’ heartache has imprinted itself in the walls of their suite where they spent the remaining years of their lives. Guests have claimed that after spending a few days in the room, they are consumed by a feeling of deep despair. They have further claimed to hear the unmistakable sound of a woman crying. Even long after their deaths, Jacob and Flora Frank are grieving the death of their beloved boy stolen from them by the hands of sadistic murderers.
While not paranormal, Drake Hotel sits at the center of one of Chicago’s greatest murder mysteries. A real whodunnit that has gone unsolved for almost 80 years. On the morning of January 19, 1944, the words, “Woman Shot At The Drake” screamed from the front page of the Chicago Tribune. A shooting that threatened to close the ritzy hotel down for good.
Adele Williams, a wealthy socialite, and her daughter were returning to their 8th floor suite when the unexpected occurred. When they entered their room, an unknown woman stepped out of the bathroom and fired a single shot at Adele. The bullet struck Adele in the head and she died before her body hit the floor. When the shot rang out, several guests opened their door and watched as a woman in a black coat swiftly fled the room with a gun in her hand. Whoever Adele Williams’ murderer was successfully fled the hotel and disappeared without a trace.
While investigating the crime, Chicago’s finest made two odd discoveries that only made the crime weirder. Moments after they arrived, they searched a stairwell for any sign of the murderer. A few days later, they checked that same stairwell, and found the gun used in the murder, and more even more bizarre, the spare room key the assailant used to gain access to the room was found at the front desk where it belonged. Historians to this day believed it was an inside job and the perpetrator was more than likely a member of staff in disguise.
Chicago’s ritzy Drake Hotel is truly a place of mystery and it’s a serious contender for the most haunted hotel with Chicago city limits.
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