Nestled on the edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park is a hotel that’s been there since before the Rocky Mountain National Park.
And it’s haunted.
The Stanley Hotel – originally built by F. O. Stanley and his wife for the sole purpose of entertaining friends from back East – has stood in Estes Park, Colorado since it opened July 4, 1909. The Stanleys had originally moved to Colorado to relieve Mr. Stanley’s tuberculosis. When he didn’t die their first summer in Estes Park, they made a home there and began building what would be a state-of-the-art hotel (and it still has the original 1909 Otis elevator in service). It was one of the first hotels to use hydro-electric power, supplied by the plant built by F.O. and used until it was destroyed by a flood in 1982.
The hotel has a rich history, including the fact that Mrs. Stanley’s piano was tuned on a regular basis by none other than John Philip Sousa (before he got busy with the marches and such). And the piano is said to be one of the haunted artifacts. Some claim that Mrs. Stanley still plays when there’s no one in the room. Mrs. Stanley is also believed to be in attendance in the Concert Hall as well. Back in the days when the Stanleys would entertain in the building, Mrs. Stanley frequently stayed in the balcony watching the guests. When she saw someone standing off alone, she would move to the stairs and make her way over to the guest and make sure they had company. Today, a shadowy form (that smells of Mrs. Stanley’s preferred perfume) frequently makes the same move from the balcony to the stairs before disappearing.
Besides Mrs. Stanley, there are several ghosts on the fourth floor of the hotel, and one of them likes to feel up the women-folk in the closet of room 401. This would be Lord Dunraven, the original landowner and one of the founders of Estes Park. Three children – Billy, Emily, and Matthew – have a habit of getting into the candy up around room 418. Room 428 houses the ghost of a cowboy, whom the staff speculates may have been a man hanged for murder – and then exonerated the very next day.
On the second floor, near what used to be the Governor’s Suite, housekeeper Mrs. Wilson makes sure the rooms are turned out properly and guests are tucked in at night. Mrs. Wilson’s story is tragically triumphant. Back before natural gas had an odor additive, the hotel used gas lamps as a backup to the hydro-electric power. Mrs. Wilson’s job included lighting these lamps. Near the Governor’s Suite, the gas had been left on after the pipes had been tested, and the resulting explosion took out most of that part of the hotel, leaving Mrs. Wilson on the ground floor with broken legs and major burns. The story goes that Mr. Stanley was the first one by her side at the hospital. When she awoke, he told her she was guaranteed a job at the hotel every year she decided to come back. This was before the days of employee benefits and pensions.
Mrs. Wilson remained an employee. She died at the age of 92, beating her boss by a year.
In the Concert Hall, there are at least two ghosts: Lucy, a homeless runaway who was found living in the basement when the current owners started to renovate the building; and Paul, a maintenance employee who died of a heart attack. Paul worked at the hotel during the time they had an 11pm curfew, and he still enforces it. Last summer, the hotel hired a contractor to refinish the floors in the Music Hall, but he had to do the work at night because of the event traffic during the day. One night, the contractor was physically lifted off his feet by an invisible force, and he promptly refunded the remainder of his fee and walked off the grounds. Speculation is that Paul got tired of hearing the noise of the sander after curfew…
Lucy’s story is more tragic. A homeless 20-something runaway, she was found living in the basement of the Music Hall when Grand Heritage Hotel Group owner John Cullen did an inspection prior to restoring the building in 1977. She wasn’t going to be able to live there anymore, with the demolition and renovation work (even if they’d been amenable to letting her stay, she was still trespassing…) and so she left the grounds, only to be found that winter – frozen to death in the city park.
Callea Sherrill, the hotel’s “Resident Paranormal Investigator”, says the hauntings are a big draw, but not for everyone. “People often visit the Stanley Hotel because they are interested in the supernatural, many because they have seen either Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures or both. However, we do have a lot of guests who stay with us simply to appreciate the beauty of Estes Park and to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. We do almost 300 weddings a year, numerous corporate meetings and other types of large gatherings. We have much more to offer than just ghosts.”
Modern science fiction and horror buffs know it for the story of room 217, where Stephen King stayed one fateful night and got inspired to write The Shining. Writes King of that fateful night:
In late September of 1974, Tabby and I spent a night at a grand old hotel in Estes Park, the Stanley. We were the only guests as it turned out; the following day they were going to close the place down for the winter. Wandering through its corridors, I thought that it seemed the perfect—maybe the archetypical—setting for a ghost story. That night 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 fire-hose. 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 the chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind.
It’s not known if King experienced any of the ghosts in the hotel, but it’s clear the condition of the place at the time made an indelible mark on his work. And King isn’t the only one to have an experience at the Stanley. According to tour guides at the hotel, actor Jim Carrey spent one night in room 217 during the filming of Dumb and Dumber. The rest of the shoot, he was at the Holiday Inn. He has never spoken about what he saw or heard that one night he spent at the Stanley.
When Warner Brothers optioned The Shining for the Stanley Kubrick version, King urged them to shoot the film at the Stanley. But the lack of deep snow and surrounding housing developments made the WB brass look elsewhere, because the hotel didn’t look isolated enough. So they shot exteriors at the Timberline Hotel in Mt. Hood, Oregon and went to London for the interiors.
Side note: The Shining was shot at Elstree Studios, and a set fire delayed production so much that another film almost didn’t get made: The Empire Strikes Back.
But when Warner Brothers and ABC re-visited “The Shining” on network TV (in the version starring Steven Weber), they went to the source. Sherrill says, “I heard one story about an incident during the filming of the miniseries. There are pictures of Mr. & Mrs. Stanley above the key cabinet at the front desk. There is a small ledge about six inches wide below the key cabinet. During filming, a lot of fake blood was used and it didn’t always get cleaned up in the employee-only areas as quickly as it should have. Apparently there was a fake bloodstain in the carpet behind the front desk for several days. Each night, in the middle of the night, Mr. Stanley’s picture would fall off the wall, missing the ledge below and land next to the bloodstain. As soon as they cleaned up the blood, the picture never fell again.” The general assumption is that Mr. Stanley was trying to tell someone to get the job done.
So, why are there so many ghosts at this particular spot? Sherrill says, “There are many different theories about why we are so haunted. One of them is from Bill Murphy of Syfy’s Fact or Faked. He believes it could be related to the minerals in our mountain which is said to be made up of limestone and quartz. Both of those minerals are often found in or near locations with a large amount of reported activity. Some of us also believe that the spirits simply choose to return to the Stanley because this is where they spent some happy times. I know I’m on the reservation list to haunt the place after I die.”