The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado

One of the most chilling books I ever read when I first became interested in horror novels was “The Shining”. The premise of a large hotel, abandoned by everyone for the winter except a caretaker and his family set the stage for the insanity and murder that followed. Many years later, I discovered that the author, Stephen King, had stayed at a hotel right before they were about to close for renovations. The hotel was nearly empty, and King’s imagination was fueled to write the tale of terror.

The lodging in question was the Stanley Hotel, overlooking the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Finished in 1909, the Georgian structure is an opulent sight that has entertained many well known people besides King. Construction of the hotel began in 1907 and was overseen by Freelan O. Stanley (co-inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile). Stanley had been forced westward in 1903 due to poor health from tuberculosis. He ended up in Estes Park, and was immediately enchanted by the beautiful scenery and fresh, clean air. His health began to improve greatly and he set upon a quest to build a magnificent hotel that would draw people from all over to the beauty and charm of the Colorado Rockies.

According members of the staff and guests, it may be that some continue to be drawn there, even in death.

Legends of hauntings at the Stanley are a large part of the hotel’s history, and many people have reported the usual apparitions and footsteps. The ballroom in particular seems to be especially active, even when completely empty. Kitchen staff often speak of hearing laughter and music coming from the ballroom when no one is there to make the noise. In the golden age of the 1920’s, there were many lavish events held at the Stanley, and the ballroom was often filled with the happy sounds of guests thoroughly enjoying themselves in an age after the Great War and before the Great Depression. In this time, people of means were carefree, thinking that the ride would never end. Is it possible that for the rest of their lives, they never found the happiness that they experienced in those happy days? If so, it leaves one to wonder if they have returned to a place that gave them so much joy in life.

Another unexplained sound that has been reported by staff and guests is the sound of a phantom piano player in the ballroom. Even when the room is completely empty, strains of beautiful piano music can be heard only to disappear just as quickly. It is interesting to note that Stanley’s wife was an accomplished piano player who enjoyed entertaining guests with her talent. If you believe the reports and legends of the Stanley, it could be that she continues to do so.

One alleged spirit is said to be responsible for missing jewelery and luggage, although the human element certainly cannot be eliminated there. This is thought to have been the same spirit that guests have seen standing in their rooms, only to disappear quickly. A convenient excuse for a thieving employee…or a mischievous spirit playing a prank?

The hotel has become very popular in “haunted” culture, particularly since being the inspiration for Stephen King’s horror novel, “The Shining”. The Atlantic Paranormal Society came to the Stanley to investigate the reports of hauntings in 2006 for the SyFy channel’s show “Ghost Hunters”. They were able to debunk some of the events in the hotel as being caused by sounds in the pipes and wind from outside, however they couldn’t find an explanation for the occurrences in the ballroom. The television shows “Ghost Adventures” and “Ghost Hunters Academy” have also filmed there.

Haunted or not, the Stanley Hotel continues to fascinate people to this day with its magnificent scenery and luxurious accommodations. Looking around the vast expanse of the building itself and the surrounding land, it is not hard to see how Stephen King was inspired to write his best-seller. Maybe someday the spirits of the Stanley will be able to tell their story as well.