In 1974, famed US horror writer Stephen King and
his wife Tabitha lived for a year in Boulder, Colorado. In late October, they spent
a night in the mountain resort town of Estes Park, 40 miles northwest of
Boulder. They checked into the historic 155-room Stanley Hotel – and
found that they were the only guests for one of the last nights of the hotel’s
King’s imagination went wild as he
wandered the abandoned hallways, ate alone in the grand dining room and talked
up the bartender. By the end of the night, he knew he had enough material to
start writing his next book.
The Shining, published in 1977, quickly
became a horror classic, in no small part due its scarily secluded setting: a
snowed-in hotel with a haunted history, hidden away in the Rocky Mountains.
Ghosts of the past
Though King called the hotel in his
book The Overlook, the fictional Overlook and the real-life Stanley not only
look alike, with sprawling front porches and crisp Georgian architecture, but
both were completed in 1909. Founder FO Stanley, who invented one of the era’s best
selling steam-powered cars, The Stanley Steamer, in 1897, came to the Rocky
Mountains from Massachusetts in 1903 to find treatment for his tuberculosis. He
and his wife Flora fell in love with the region and founded the hotel six years
later. During its early heyday, the resort hosted celebrities including former
US president Theodore Roosevelt, Titanic survivor Molly Brown and Emperor Hirohito
Listed on the National Register of
Historic Places in 1977, the Stanley has retained many of its original features,
including the entrance’s sprawling veranda, its founder’s favourite billiard
room and the grand staircase that graces the lobby.
The Stanley’s original MacGregor
Ballroom, with its raised stage and large windows showcasing
expansive mountain views, was reincarnated in the pages of The Shining. Late
one night, main character and hotel caretaker Jack Torrance finds himself at a
magnificent masked ball attended by 1940s-styled guests – even though he, his
wife and son are the hotel’s only inhabitants, and all the roads to the hotel are
blocked by snow.
Apparitions are nothing new for the
Stanley’s ballroom. People report seeing the keys on the room’s piano being
pressed with no one there, and hearing music fill the space. Hotel historians
believe the musician is Flora Stanley herself: she loved the piano and often
played it for guests.
“It was a perfectly ordinary door, no
different from any other door on the first two floors of the hotel,” King
wrote. “It was dark gray, halfway down a corridor that ran at right angles to
the main second-floor hallway. The numbers on the door looked no different from
the house numbers on the Boulder apartment building they had lived in. A 2, a
1, and a 7.”
In the book, the room beyond door 217 turns out to be far from ordinary
– it is the site of a gruesome haunting. In real life, it was the room where
Long before King’s stay, the room had a history. In 1917, the chief housekeeper
Elizabeth Wilson was lighting the hotel’s acetylene lanterns during a storm in
case the electricity went out. When she went to light the one in what is now
room 217, the lantern exploded, blasting out the floor beneath her feet and sending
her falling down to the storey below.
She survived (albeit with two broken ankles). Even so, guests of 217
report her spirit stops by on occasion – usually to tidy things up, sometimes
putting stray items away or unpacking a suitcase.
The hauntings, both the fictional and the ostensibly real, hardly deter guests.
In fact, room 217 is usually booked months in advance. That said, the fourth
floor rooms receive the most reports of unusual activity, from the sounds of
children playing in the halls to lights turning off to faces appearing in
Embracing its reputation as one of the United States’ most haunted
hotels, the Stanley offers regular 90-minute ghost tours of its most supernatural sites. The
hotel even offers a five-hour paranormal investigation, complete with
specialized ghost-hunting equipment like EMF (electromagnetic field) detectors,
once a month for die-hard ghost hunters.
Forget the film
classic in its own right, the film adaptation of The Shining – directed by
Stanley Kubrick and starring Jack Nicholson – has long been disparaged
by King for not
being true to his story’s characters.
does not feature any scenes from the Stanley; there was not enough snow in
Estes Park at the time to recreate the snowed-in Overlook. The exterior shots
instead show the Timberline Lodge in Mt Hood, Oregon. Even
so, the Stanley plays the original movie on a constant loop for guests on its
own channel 42.
King adapted his book into a mini-series. He shot it on-site at the
Stanley Hotel as a tribute to his original muse.
In September 2013, King’ published Doctor Sleep, the long-awaited sequel
to The Shining, which follows Jack Torrance’s son Danny, now in his 40s – all
the way back to the site of the Overlook. The Stanley Hotel found itself in the
spotlight once again.
But the excitement was overshadowed by the devastating floods that
struck Estes Park and Rocky
Mountain National Park that same September. The region received more
rainfall over two days than it usually sees in an entire year; 11,000 people
were evacuated and more than 1,500 homes destroyed.
Thanks to its elevated location above the valley, the hotel itself
suffered relatively minor damage. However, much of the US Highway 36, the main
road between Boulder and Estes Park, was washed away, and with it went much of
the tourism the town depends during its elk-showcasing fall months, when hundreds
of elk descend from the mountains and make their mating calls near prime
viewing areas (one of which is the Estes Park golf course).
The town of Estes Park has mostly recovered; most businesses have
re-opened, though some have closed completely while others are still working to
repair property damage. US Highway 36 also reopened in late November 2013, but
construction is expected to continue throughout 2014, causing regular delays
until its completion in 2015. The Colorado Department of Transportation has construction updates for those making the drive, and suggests
visitors take the more northern US Highway 34 or Colorado Highway 7 entrances
Meanwhile, the Stanley, which is open year-round, has continued to draw
visitors from around the country. As part of its effort to attract even more guests,
the hotel is offering a special “Doctor Sleep Package” through the end
of 2015, including copies of both The Shining and Doctor Sleep and possible upgrades
to room 217 by request. Ghost sightings are not guaranteed – but in this hotel,
and with one of King’s books in hand, a few scares certainly are.