Stanley Hotel: Inside The Hotel That Inspires “The Shining”

Stanley Hotel, the famous "haunted" hotel that once was the inspiration for the horror movie "The Shining", attracts many tourists each year to this unusual place.
October 23, 2021 | 16:17

The Stanley Hotel is a 140-room Colonial Revival hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, United States, about five miles from the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. It was built by Freelan Oscar Stanley of Stanley Steamer fame and opened on July 4, 1909, as a resort for upper-class Easterners and a health retreat for sufferers of pulmonary tuberculosis. The hotel and its surrounding structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the hotel includes a restaurant, spa, and bed-and-breakfast; with panoramic views of Lake Estes, the Rockies, and Long's Peak.

The Stanley Hotel inspired the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's 1977 bestselling novel The Shining and its 1980 film adaptation, and was a filming location for the related 1997 TV miniseries.

History of Stanley Hotel

Photo: Agoda
Photo: Agoda

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado is not only famous for its old-world charm and excellent service, but it is also known for its “active” paranormal phenomena and spirit folklore. The 100+-year-old hotel, located about five miles from the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, offers panoramic views of Lake Estes and the Rocky Mountains, and especially Long’s Peak.

This old hotel was built in the early 1900s by F.O. Stanley, who created the Stanley Steam Engine — a steam-powered horseless carriage. The majestic Georgian-style hotel opened in 1909, catering to the rich and famous.

Freelan Oscar Stanley (F.O.) and his wife, Flora, traveled west to Colorado in 1903 because F.O. Stanley’s doctor advised him to seek the fresh mountain air.

F.O. Stanley built the hotel on land that he purchased from the Irish Earl Lord Dunraven. Dunraven came to the area in 1872 while on a hunting trip. He built a hunting lodge, cabin, and hotel for his guests and illegally homesteaded up to 6,000 acres in an unsuccessful attempt to create a private hunting preserve. Dunraven was finally run out of the area after trying to swindle folks out of their land and money.

Photo: USAToday
Photo: USAToday

In 1906, construction started on the Stanley Hotel. Wood and rock were obtained from the nearby mountains and the hotel was built in the Georgian architectural style, which experienced a revival in the early twentieth century. In 1909, the luxury hotel was completed, with no expense spared. Equipped with running water, electricity, and telephones, the only amenity the hotel lacked was heated, as the hotel was designed as a summer resort.

The Stanley Hotelhas hosted many “famous” guests including The Unsinkable Molly Brown, John Philip Sousa, Theodore Roosevelt, the Emperor and Empress of Japan, and a variety of Hollywood personalities. And, of course, the Stanley Hotel hosted Stephen King, whose experience inspired his book, “The Shining.”

Harry Houdini performed in the ornate concert hall; the trapdoor he used for his famous escape act still exists onstage. And while the men shot pool and drank, the women would gather for various letter-writing campaigns. The whiskey bar – now one of the state’s largest – provided a common ground between the sexes.

Photo: Alumina Railings
Photo: Alumina Railings

In 1930, FO sold the buildings to a corporation that transformed the property into a hotel. With the nearby national park still growing, their success was minimal. After attempts at a revival, the property was sold to John Cullen in the mid-1990s. Budgets were so stretched that at the time of the sale, the turndown service comprised of the top bed duvet being placed on nails across the window because they couldn’t afford drapes.

Stanley – The “Haunted” Hotel

Of course, the subject matter of The Shining brings up the biggest question of all: Is The Stanley haunted? Guests seem to think so. In 1911, an explosion in room 217 sent chambermaid Elizabeth Wilson through the floor with two broken ankles. She survived (and had her medical bills paid for), but many believe she still haunts the halls. Likewise, guest lodgers have, over the years, continually reported the appearance of a ghostly figure on the fourth floor with a description loosely resembling Flora Stanley.

Photo: Location Hubs
Photo: Location Hubs

Employees and guests have reported hearing music coming from the room, and when they take a peek in there, they can see the piano keys moving. However, as soon as someone walks across the thresh-hold to investigate further, the music stops and no more movement can be seen upon the keys of the piano.

There are several rooms in the hotel that seem to be particularly haunted. One is Room 407, which is said to sometimes be occupied by Lord Dunraven, who owned the land prior to F.O. Stanley. Reportedly, he likes to stand in the corner of the room near the bathroom door. On one such account, witnesses reported that a light in that corner kept turning on and off. While the light was off, they told the ghost that they knew that he was there, they would only be staying two nights, and would he please turn the light back on. The light turned back on. However, later when the lights were turned off and they were trying to sleep, noises were constantly heard from the nearby elevator during a time when the elevator was not in use. At other times, a ghostly face has been reported to be looking out the window of Room 407, when the room is not booked.

Room 418 gets the most reports of haunting activity apparently from children’s spirits. Cleaning crews report having heard many strange noises from the room, as well as seeing impressions on the bed when the room has been empty. When guests stay in the room, they often report that they hear children playing in the hallway at night. One couple reportedly checked out of the hotel very early in the morning, complaining that the children in the hallway kept them up all night. However, there were no children booked in the hotel at the time.

Photo: Vice
Photo: Vice

There have also been many reports by guests of haunting activities in Rooms 217 and 401. Tour guides tell a story of the ghost of a small child who has been seen by many of the staff in various areas of the old hotel. Reportedly, Stephen King also saw the child, who was calling out to his nanny on the second floor. Other past employees report footsteps and apparitions seen throughout the building.

“The Shining” Movie

Photo: Frequency Machine
Photo: Frequency Machine

In 1974, during their brief residency in Boulder, Colorado, horror writer Stephen King and his wife Tabitha spent one night at the Stanley Hotel. The visit is known entirely through interviews given by King in which he presents differing narratives of the experience. At the time of his visit, King was writing a book with the working title Darkshine set in an amusement park, but was not satisfied with the setting. According to George Beahm's Stephen King Companion, "on the advisement of locals who suggested a resort hotel located in Estes Park, an hour's drive away to the north, Stephen and Tabitha King found themselves checking in at the Stanley Hotel just as its other guests were checking out, because the hotel was shutting down for the winter season.

After checking in and after Tabitha went to bed, King roamed the halls and went down to the hotel bar, where drinks were served by a bartender named Grady. As he returned to his room, numbered 217, his imagination was fired up by the hotel's remote location, its grand size, and its eerie desolation. And when King went into the bathroom and pulled back the pink curtain for the tub, which had claw feet, he thought, 'What if somebody died here? At that moment, I knew I had a book.'"

Photo: Trip to Discover
Photo: Trip to Discover

In a 1977 interview by the Literary Guild, King recounted "While we were living [in Boulder] we heard about this terrific old mountain resort hotel and decided to give it a try. But when we arrived, they 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." King and his wife were served dinner in an empty dining room accompanied by canned orchestral music: "Except for our table all the chairs were up on the tables. So the music is echoing down the hall, and, I mean, it was like God had put me there to hear that and see those things. And by the time I went to bed that night, I had the whole book [The Shining] in my mind." In another retelling, 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 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 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."

The Shining was published in 1977 and became the third great success of King's career after Carrie and 'Salem's Lot. The primary setting is an isolated Colorado resort named the Overlook Hotel which closes for the winter. In the front matter of the book, King tactfully states "Some of the most beautiful resort hotels in the world are located in Colorado, but the hotel in these pages is based on none of them. The Overlook and the people associated with it exist wholly in the author's imagination."

Film location and venue

The haunted Room 217. Photo: Locations Hub
The haunted Room 217. Photo: Locations Hub

In addition to serving as the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's 1997 TV miniseries version of The Shining (see above), the Stanley also served as the fictional Hotel Danbury of Aspen, Colorado, in the 1994 film Dumb and Dumber.

From 2013 to 2015, the hotel property hosted the Stanley Film Festival, an independent horror film festival operated by the Denver Film Society, held in early May. The festival featured screenings, panels, student competitions, audience awards and receptions. The Stanley Film Festival was put on hiatus in 2016 and canceled for 2017.

Bravo's cooking competition Top Chef also used the Stanley as a venue for Episode 10 of Season 15, all of which took place in various locations around Colorado.

Indie rock band Murder by Death have performed an annual series of winter concerts at the Stanley Hotel since 2014, with the 2020 edition being their seventh such event.

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