In 1974, a couple checked into room 217 of The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. While living temporarily in Boulder, an hour or so to the southeast, a vacation to the hills seemed like a welcome respite. The husband, an author of a few books at that point, realized the eeriness of the hotel almost immediately. Not only were they in a huge, 420 room hotel with inspiring views, but they were the only guests in the Stanley that night. “The hotel staff were just getting ready to close for the season, and we found ourselves the only guests in the place— with all those long, empty corridors,” the man said. He and his wife ate alone in the grand dining room, complete with live music and delicious food, but a decided lack of other guests to socialize with. The single night they stayed in the Hotel would forever change pop culture as we know it.
See, the husband and wife pair were Stephen and Tabitha King. You may recognize the idea of being alone in an expansive hotel, closing for the winter season, and the high mountains surrounding the area would feel imposing and claustrophobic with the low winter population and frequent road closures from impassible snow drifts.. That night spent in the Stanley was more than just an eerie feeling of being alone, the Kings even claimed to have experienced terrifying dreams of haunting activity while they rested their heads in room 217.
“”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.” King said of the encounter. “ 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 book firmly set in my mind.”
That book, you might have guessed by now, was The Shining. Widely considered to be the most terrifying horror novel the prolific author put to paper. Only a few short years after he finished the novel, another legend would adapt it for the big screen. Stanley Kubrick brought his signature, and somewhat unhinged directorial influence to the story about malevolent ghosts in the, now renamed, Overlook Hotel. While the movie was an instant success and is still named in lists of the scariest horror movies ever made, King was unhappy with the finished product.
First, he was upset that the big theme of his book, that being struggling with alcoholism and father-related trauma, had been reduced to a few lines of dialogue about Jack not wanting to drink at the ghostly staffed bar in the ballroom. Many large plot points were changed or rearranged in the name of story continuity, including changing the hedge animals to a hedge maze for the final climactic chase of the Torrences through the snowy corridors. Stephen King is reported to have hated the film so much, he decided to create his own version in the format of a mini-series.
This time, the hotel that served as the backdrop for the film was not a hotel in California, but the very hotel that inspired his tale: The Stanley Hotel. Stephen King filmed the version of his story that he envisioned, complete with changes in Wendy Torrence’s appearance and demeanor, and the infamous haunted fire hose from his inspiring and terrifying dream. It’s worth noting that, while the mini-series is nearly an exact adaptation of King’s book, the CGI in the 1990s was not quite up to par.
If you visit the Stanley Hotel today, you’ll notice their long-term plan to finally have a real hedge maze, the hedges growing a couple of inches a year as they pay homage to the history of the Shining. This hotel, however, is more than just the origin of the greatest horror story ever told, it also has its own ghosts from the expansive history of the hotel. More than a few might choose to say hello if you stay in one of the haunted accommodations, or even just visit for a drink or one of the many events the hotel sponsors.
The Night Tour is a must for anyone visiting the very haunted hotel. Featured on dozens of paranormal TV shows, the excitement about potentially seeing a specter was palpable. We toured the ballrooms and carriage houses, even dipping down into the cellars and standing silently to hear any hint of a ghost in the tunnel. As we moved through different rooms, the guide would tell us the circumstances of the haunting activity in the room or hallway. Once, he asked us all to take photos in a haunted mirror which purportedly, guests would sometimes see a figure behind them in the glass.
The ghosts of the Stanley range from harmless pranksters to angry spirits on the other side. Even the original owner who built the hotel in 1903, Freelan Oscar Stanley of Stanley Steamer fame, is said to still walk the grounds of his magnificent hotel. One of the most heartwarming hauntings, and yes those exist, is that of the Pet Cemetery. No word on if this location also inspired Stephen King, but the tale about wagging tails is inspiring. Every pet that has lived on the grounds were buried in a graveyard that would eventually be covered by a new building addition. The staff keep a facsimile of what it once looked like just outside of the building. The building, of course, sees its fair share of ghostly cats and playful ghost dogs that disappear when you turn your back to throw a ball for them.
When I visited The Stanley, I’d come for the night tour, excited about the prospect of hearing all of the ghostly stories of the gorgeous and imposing hotel’s grounds. We took photos on the infamous staircase where a ghostly figure of a woman is said to materialize. We toured the ballrooms, heard the stories of the carriage houses and the apparition they believe holds the spirit of the former owner, and spent time in a room with dozens of memorabilia from both adaptations of King’s stories.
I seemed to have a streak of bad luck while on the grounds. When I got back to my car, I realized I had locked my keys in the car. The closest locksmith was in Boulder, an hour away, so I had some time to kill while I waited. The very kind women at the front desk gave me two drink tickets to enjoy some spirits, but not the spirits I’d come to see. A glass of whiskey in my hand, I people watched in the upscale bar and sat outside near the glowing fountains. Finally, the locksmith arrived and got me into my car— Only to realize that the battery was also dead.
It took a kind gentleman with some jumper cables to get me back on the road to the Air Bnb we’d rented in the woods.
I’m not saying the ghosts of the Stanley played an elaborate prank on me, as I’m typically very prone to chaos like this, but it certainly made my visit to the haunted Stanley Hotel a little more memorable than others.
Today, the Stanley offers the opportunity to stay in the haunted rooms of the establishment, including room 217 where King had his infamous dream about fire hoses. You can also stay in the rooms most interesting to the Ghost Adventures crew that have visited several times to capture evidence of the paranormal. The hotel really embraces its past, history, and hauntings in all of the things they do. Events are put on specifically for fans of the paranormal, or you could catch a local band playing for a night in the ballroom. Either way, a stay at the Stanley is guaranteed to be memorable and exciting.
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Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.