The Stanley Hotel: The Haunting Beauty of a Frightening Night’s Sleep
Any big hotels have got scandals. Just like every big hotel has got a ghost. Why? Hell, people come and go. Sometimes one of ‘em will pop off in his room, heart attack or stroke or something like that. Hotels are superstitious places.
— Stephen King, The Shining (1977)
Freelan Oscar Stanley was an American inventor, entrepreneur, hotelier, and architect. School children used the Stanley Practical Drawing Set, photographers used photographic plates, which made him a multi-millionaire, and with his twin brother, created the Stanley Motor Carriage Company. The Stanley Steamer a top speed of 127 mph, which made it the fastest vehicle on earth, at the time.
In 1903, F.O. Stanley was given less than 6 months to live, due to Tuberculosis. The doctor recommended fresh, dry air, sunlight, and a healthy diet, but he would likely be dead before summer’s end. Like many with the same diagnosis, Stanley and his wife headed for the Rocky Mountains. It was not an easy trek from Massachusetts, but his doctor promised to come in September to bring Stanley’s body back for burial. However, within just a couple of months, Stanley was hiking five miles a day and nowhere near deaths door. Naturally, he fell madly in love with the valley in Estes Park that gave him a second chance at life and decided to return every summer.
When Stanley first stepped foot in Colorado, he looked like the walking dead. At 5’11 (which was quite tall at that time), he weighed only 118lbs and had one foot in the grave. Just 4 years later, he was completely recovered and in the best shape of his life! In fact, he lived to be 91 years old!
THE STANLEY HOTEL ESTES PARK, CO
Recovery did not stop the Stanley’s from returning to this healthy environment, but they were a little tired of the rugged lifestyle that the current accommodations allowed. So, in 1907, he was determined to turn Estes Park into a resort town, so he began construction of the famous Hotel Stanley. He also built a hydroelectric plant up in the mountains so as the hotel could be all electric. He even had phones in every room.
The main hotel and concert hall were completed in 1909. Guests that arrived by train were ushered to the hotel by a fleet of specially designed steam-powered vehicles called Mountain Wagons. The Stanley was a summer resort, so heat was not added until 1979. Other than that, the hotel is basically the same as it was when it opened. The Stanley Hotel National Register Historic District contains eleven structures, including the main hotel, the concert hall, a carriage house, manager’s cottage, gate house, and The Lodge, a smaller bed-and-breakfast originally called Stanley Manor.
In the 1970’s, the Stanley Hotel was experiencing a downward spiral. Its splendor had faded and with other accommodations with more modern amenities, like heat and a/c were taking most of the business. It also had a reputation of being haunted, which wasn’t a choice selling point back then. The Stanley seemed doomed for the wrecking ball until 1974, when an up and coming horror author checked in with his wife. That fateful night would not only elevate the literary horror genre and set Stephen King on his path to greatness, but it completely altered the destiny of The Stanley Hotel.
King and his wife Tabitha, were living in Boulder for a short time and King was struggling with his latest project Darkshine. He was looking for an isolated setting for the novel and locals suggested Estes Park for inspiration. The King’s had heard about the Stanley and wanted to check it out. They found themselves the only guests that night, as the next day, the hotel was closing for the season. They were served dinner in an empty room, with chairs on every table but theirs. Tabitha retreated to their room, numbered 217, while King wandered the long empty corridors, listening to canned music, and visited bartender, Grady, in the hotel bar.
The Stanley Hotel’s remote location, grand size, and eerie desolation had King’s imagination running wild. He even claims, “It was like God had put me there to hear that and see those things.” In a re-telling about that night, King said, “I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming. He was being chased by a firehose. I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in a chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of The Shining firmly set in my mind.”
You may notice that in Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation of The Shining film, the famous bathtub scene takes place in Room 237. That is because The Timberline Lodge in Oregon, where the Kubrick’s exterior shots were filmed, did not embrace ghosts quite like The Stanley Hotel and they asked that the number be changed to a non-existent room. While the movie was a huge success and a huge revolution for horror films, it is no secret Stephen King was not a fan. It is easy to understand how Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Jack Torrance is both brilliant and incredible misconceived. King wrote Torrance’s descent into madness as a slower, more surprising plummet. Nicholson, while perfectly capturing the characters final and fatal temperament, was arguably a bit extreme to begin with. Kubrick also portrayed Wendy as a blubbering weakling (not to mention the emotional torture he put actress, Shelly Duval through to produce such drivel). If you are a Stephen King fan, you know that he is well known for writing strong female characters and Wendy was no exception.
In 1996, King, along with Warner Brothers produced “Stephen King’s The Shining”, a mini-series written by King himself. King made sure that filming happened at The Stanley Hotel, where his whole story began. A playhouse version The Stanley, that adorned the lawn of the Overlook Hotel in the series is now on display in the basement of the Stanley.
THE STANLEY HOTEL GHOSTS
The Stanley Hotel has been called “Disneyland for ghosts.” It has hosted countless paranormal investigations, including by teams from Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and SyFy’s Ghost Hunters. Guests can get in on the action with the Stanley’s “Ghost Adventure Package,” where they are assigned a room on the fourth floor, complete with ghost hunting equipment a mug with the famous message “REDRUM.”
Ghostly occurrences are reported in almost every room of this vast hotel. From shadowy figures, eerie laughter, flickering lights to items moving on their own, the Stanley Hotel has all your favorite phenomena. If you get too spooked, just fined a member of the cleaning staff. Apparently, the ghosts hate vacuum cleaners. Every time someone vacuums, the machines go haywire and turn off, or the plugs come flying out of the wall!
Though the Overlook Hotel from The Shining is fictional, as are the characters within, Room 217, the one that the King’s stayed in and is prominent in the novel, remains the Stanley’s most requested accommodation. I can assure you, there is no woman in the bathtub, but that doesn’t mean that the room isn’t haunted.
In 1911, during a large storm, the head housekeepers, Mrs. Wilson, was lighting the lanterns in Room 217 when there was an explosion. Elizabeth was blasted through the floor into the MacGregor Dining Room below. Believe it or not, she survived with only broken ankles. Now she spends most of her afterlife, still taking care of the room. Guests have reported items moved, luggage unpacked, and lights being turned on and off. Mrs. Wilson is very old-fashioned. She isn’t a fan of unmarried guests sleeping in the same bed, so some couples have reported feeling a cold force come between them. When they wale up, they often find that the man’s things have been packed with his luggage by the door.
Actor, Jim Carrey stayed in Room 217 when The Stanley Hotel was used for filming in his film Dumb and Dumber. He reportedly got so spooked, that he ran from the room, half-naked, in the middle of the night! Some of the films crew also got the creeps in this room.
The stunning staircase between floors in hotel’s lobby has been dubbed “The Vortex.” It is a tornado of spiritual energy, sort of a paranormal portal for all the ghosts that visit the hotel. Guest report cold spots and feeling dizzy on the stairs, as though something has just walked right through them. Orbs and Distortions have been caught on camera. Mr. and Mrs. Stanley have even been seen, hand in hand, watching over the hustle and bustle from the grand staircase.
The Concert Hall
The concert hall was built by F.O. Stanley as a gift for his wife, Flora. The stage features a trap door, used for theatrical entrances and exits. The lower level once housed a two-lane bowling alley. The hall underwent extensive repair and renovation in the 2000 but it is a favorite spot of Flora Stanley’s. She has been known to play the piano well in to the night.
Another spirit fond of the concert hall is Paul. Among other duties, Paul used to enforce the 11pm curfew in the hotel’s early days. Guests and employees report hearing someone telling them to
“get out,” late at night. A construction worker was doing some work on the floors in the concert hall when he felt someone nudge him several times until he left. Paul is a big fan of the tour groups, often flickering their flashlights upon request.
THE FOURTH FLOOR
Guests staying on the fourth floor report hearing children running around, laughing, giggling and playing. The closet doors tend to open and shut on their own. More than a century ago, the entire fourth floor was a cavernous attic. Later, it became lodging for female employees, children, and nannies. Could it be that the Grady twins are more than fabrications of King’s macabre imagination?
Room 428 has reports of the sound of footsteps and furniture moving about, but the real haunt is a friendly cowboy who appears at the corner of the bed. Obviously, many friendly cowboys have spent a night or two at the Stanley Hotel over the years, but there is no indication of one dying in the building. Those that know their Estes Park history believe this to be the spirit of “Rocky Mountain” Jim Nugent. This is especially because he mostly appears to the ladies, sometime giving them a ghostly kiss.
Before indoor refrigeration, the Stanley Hotel had an outbuilding to house large blocks of ice. The icehouse has been remodeled into a museum containing some of the original Stanley Steamer Cars. It also has two spirits that have been seen inside. Billy is a shy kid that shows up as a blurry figure in photographs.
Existing long before King’s novel, Pet Sematary, there stood an actual Pet Cemetery outside of the Stanley Hotel. There are two beloved pets interred here that like to make appearances around the hotel. Cassie, the golden retriever, and Camanche, a fluffy white cat, have both been seen and heard all around the property.
If you take the 75-minute Historic Stanley Night, you will get an in depth look at the underground cave system beneath the hotel. The caves have a high concentration of limestone and quartz, which some believe help capture paranormal energy. It has been used by employees to get around the hotel and it would seem that at least one of them is still down there. Current employees say that the smells of home-baked goods linger in the tunnel with no apparent source. They attribute this to the pastry chef who worked for the Stanley’s when the hotel opened. There is also a grey cat seen stalking about with bright green, glowing eyes. He is not known to be from the pet cemetery, so perhaps he came from wherever those mysterious tunnels once led.
THE HEDGE MAZE
The open area in front of the Stanley Hotel was originally a long driveway for Stanley Steamers and a promenade for guests to enjoy the views. In 2015 it was replaced with a hedge maze. They held a competition where they chose the design from 300 global entries. This was done to connect the hotel to Stanley Kubrick’s film version of The Shining, which introduced the suspense provoking hedge maze. In King’s novel, the lawn of the Overlook Hotel, was adorned with topiary animals. While no specific ghosts have been reported inside, people to tend to get panicky and have trouble breathing while navigating the maze.
The Stanley Hotel is a top destination for ghost hunters, horror fans, adventure-seekers, health enthusiasts, and nature lovers alike. You don’t have to stay overnight to experience all that the hotel has to offer. Tours are available daily and each restaurant, bar, museum, or spa offers a unique experience. Literally brought back from the dead, thanks to one of the most famous and successful writers of all time, it’s no wonder that The Stanley Hotel is considered among the most haunted hotels in the world. If you are brave enough to visit, the Stanley is waiting with arms wide open.