Guests mingle with ghosts at historic Stanley hotel
Not everyone roaming the halls of the Stanley Hotel is a guest.
Some, you’ll come to find, are permanent residents — ghostly ones.
Author Stephen King can confirm that spirits dwell within this stately Estes Park, Colo., hotel built by businessman F.O. Stanley in 1909. So can the guides who conduct nightly ghost tours through the property.
The supernatural seems, well, very much a natural part of life here.
“When I first came to the Stanley I did not believe in the paranormal at all,” said Walt Oglesby, who supervises the tours department and serves as a guide. “I thought it was a bunch of hocus-pocus. But after spending some time here … I’ve definitely seen things that I couldn’t explain away.”
As did King, who based “The Shining” on his experiences at the Stanley. He and his wife, Tabitha, were the only guests on the night of Sept. 30, 1974, the last before the hotel closed for the season. They stayed in Room 217, one of the hotel’s paranormal hot spots.
“This was after he’d written ‘Carrie’ and ‘’Salem’s Lot’ and he had writer’s block,” explained John Stoley to a tour group that included my wife, Linda, and I.
“At one point that evening he went down to the bar, and the bartender told him all these stories about the Stanley’s haunted past. By the time he left the next morning, he had his inspiration for ‘The Shining.’”
In the book, aspiring writer Jack Torrance is hired as the offseason caretaker at an isolated Rocky Mountain hotel, the Overlook. He moves in with his wife and 5-year-old son, who possesses an array of psychic abilities — the so-called shining — that provide him with glimpses of a frightening future and the hotel’s dark past. In a memorable scene, a bloated corpse, with eyes “glassy and large like marbles” and “purple lips pulled back in a grimace,” rises from the bathtub in 217 and attacks the youngster. Influenced by supernatural forces in the old hotel, the father descends into madness and the son discovers to his horror the meaning of the word he’s seen repeatedly in his visions: redrum.
King, like young Danny Torrance, came face-to-face with an apparition while in 217. Other guests and employees have regularly encountered spirits over the years, either in the hotel or in one of the other 10 buildings on the property. These spectral entities even join the popular ghost tours.
“I’ve had people feel a presence next to them — touch their hand, maybe play with the hair on the back of their head,” Oglesby said. “I’ve had people actually hear someone whisper to them, but there’s no one there. I’ve had doors open and doors shut on their own, pianos play on their own, things like that.”
Guests on the fourth floor report hearing children running up and down the hallway, open their doors prepared to scold the troublemakers and see … nothing. In some rooms, guests’ personal items are moved from place to place and lights inexplicably turn on and off. Kitchen staff sometimes hear a party in progress in the ballroom, only to find it empty.
Jason Hawes of the Syfy program “Ghost Hunters” spent the night in Room 401 during an investigation, with cameras running. A closet door opened on its own and a drinking glass left on a bedside table shattered with a loud crack. Colleague Grant Wilson and cameraman Kendall Whelpton saw tables and chairs move in Room 1302 of the Manor House, the smaller building next to the Stanley, also known as The Lodge. Unfortunately, Whelpton was changing the film in his camera at the time.
The Stanleys themselves appear on occasion. F.O., who with twin brother F.E. invented the Stanley Steamer automobile — guests fawn over a 1906 Model EX 10-horsepower Runabout parked in the lobby — died in 1940, but it’s apparent he never really left the premises. His wife, Flora, is also seen and is heard to play her beloved 1904 Steinway piano in the Music Room.
“We’ve had some people that have caught Mr. Stanley in photography shots in the lobby,” said Sophie Williams, the senior member of the tour guides. “I believe that’s where he would want to be — to greet the guests, make them feel at home. So to see him in the lobby would make sense.”
F.O. has even been known to interact with guests.
“There’s a story about a little girl who was lost in the hotel and couldn’t find her parents,” Stoley said. “A tall man with white hair and a beard came by and comforted her and told her where her parents could be found, and she was soon reunited with them in the lobby. She told them a man had helped her, and when they asked who it was, she didn’t say anything at first. Then she pointed to a painting in the lobby and said, ‘That’s the man.’ It was a painting of F.O.”
Many of the tour guides have had their own experiences.
“My first year working at the hotel, I saw a full-bodied apparition in the Manor House,” Williams said. “I didn’t tell anyone what I saw for more than two weeks because I figured no one would believe me. I finally decided to share it with the lady doing stories for that evening. I told her, ‘I’m not crazy, but this is what I saw and I just kind of want to get this off my chest.’ Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to go into much detail because the night security man stood up and jumped in on my story and told me I had seen The Preacher. He described exactly the image I had seen in that room, right down to the very last detail.”
Stoley has been converted from skeptic to believer in the paranormal since coming to the Stanley. Once, while conducting a tour, a key on Flora Stanley’s Steinway sounded, so unnerving a member of the group that she bolted from the room. Another time, Stoley and a co-worker were walking through the basement when a stranger peeked around a corner ahead of them and asked, “Hey, how’s it goin’?” When they investigated, no one was there.
His third encounter came while he was helping Zak Bagans and his “Ghost Adventures” crew investigate the Concert Hall, a paranormal hot spot where visitors sometimes see Flora watching from her private balcony box and occasionally detect the aroma of her distinctive rose oil perfume.
“I was with Zak in the basement, and just as we were coming up the stairs, we heard footsteps approaching the door,” Stoley said. “We assumed it was one of Zak’s crew members, who had gone outside. When we opened the door, no one was there. The crew member was still outside, talking on his phone.”
“Ghost Hunters” has ranked the Concert Hall, located about a hundred yards from the Stanley, as one of the most haunted locations in America.
“That’s where we get more documented sightings than anywhere else,” Oglesby said. “Some of it’s residual, but I would say it’s the most intelligently haunted building on the property. There are a number of entities there. We know Lucy is a spirit that’s very active in the basement. She tends to mention that she’s cold, and sometimes she touches people’s hands or plays with their hair. There’s a door into the room that will close on occasion in an intelligent manner. If you ask it to close, it sometimes closes on its own.”
Alas, Lucy did not appear the night of our tour, nor did Flora Stanley or F.O. No one touched my hair or whispered in my ear or played a B flat on the Steinway.
But there’s always next time. If I keep going back, I’m bound to eventually cross paths with one of the Stanley’s spirits. For unlike the guests, the ghosts who roam the hotel’s halls never leave.