In search of spirits—both liquid and metaphysical—I arrive at The Stanley Hotel in Colorado. The 142-room hotel looms ominously high above the town of Estes Park, located just five miles from the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.
On October 30, 1974, Stephen King and his wife Tabitha checked into room 217 of the hotel. It was late in the season and they were the only guests for the night. Inspired by the eerie atmosphere, King wrote his best-selling novel The Shining, set in a similarly desolate and grand hotel (several popular film and TV adaptations, including the 1980 Stanley Kubrick classic, followed).
I climb the hotel’s original staircase to the Whiskey Bar, where I forgo the Redrum Punch and sip a Stanley Seventy Seven instead. Fortified, I head to what was once the basement of the hotel to join a nightly ghost tour.
The tour guide, Kody, begins with a bit of history. The Stanley twins, Freelan Oscar (F.O.) and Francis Edgar (F.E.), were born in Kingfield, Maine in the mid-1800s. They made a fortune manufacturing dry photographic plates, and eventually sold the company to George Eastman, who started Eastman Kodak, in 1903. The brothers are best known, however, for founding the Stanley Motor Carriage Company, which produced steam-powered automobiles—known as “Stanley Steamers”—until 1920.
When F.O. fell ill with tuberculosis in 1903, his doctor suggested that he and his wife Flora spend the summer in Estes Park to take advantage of the fresh, dry air and plentiful sunshine. The change of scenery helped and F.O. vowed to return every year. Though they lived in a modest cottage, F.O. and Flora decided to build a grand hotel down the street to host their friends. The Stanley Hotel opened its doors on July 4, 1909.
Our first stop on the tour is the ice house. Before indoor refrigeration, this outbuilding did exactly what the name suggests: house large blocks of ice. The ice house is also, according to Kody, where Billy spends his afterlife. Billy was once a kind, shy boy with dark brown hair; in photos, he appears only as a misty figure. He allegedly shares the ice house with the spirit of another gentleman, who sports a large bushy beard and white hair.
We follow a path to the hotel’s pet cemetery, which existed well before King’s intentionally misspelled version. Here, Kody shows us the grave of Cassie, a golden retriever. Guests have reported hearing Cassie pawing at their doors, eager to deliver the morning newspaper. Camanche, a fluffy white cat whose spirit is said to wander the property, is also interred here.
In front of the hotel, Kody shares stories from the its fourth floor. In the Stanley Hotel’s heyday, children would run, play, laugh, and bounce balls in the hallway. Once or twice a year, a guest will report waking to find that their room door is wide open and a child is standing in the doorway staring at them; when chased, the child disappears.
The other spirits
Elizabeth Wilson was The Stanley Hotel’s head chambermaid. On July 25, 1939, she was nearly killed in an explosion. It took three hours to free her from the rubble. Wilson continued to work at the hotel until 1951 when she died in her sleep—but some say her spirit never left.
According to Kody, Wilson particularly likes married couples. Unmarried couples who dare to share a room may find that they have Wilson as a “chaperone for the evening,” Kody says. During Wilson’s tenure, single men not permitted in the main hotel were relegated to The Lodge next door. Today, if she finds a single man staying in the main hotel, Wilson might pack up his bags and leave them outside his door.
F.O. and Flora Stanley may not have left their hotel either. Sightings of F.O. have been reported in the former billiards room—and although the tables are long gone, guests have heard the sound of balls breaking. The scent of roses often precedes Flora, who reportedly still keeps an eye on the guests. Keen on good posture, it is said that she pinches guests or runs an icy finger down their back to remind them to stand up straight.
I’m not staying the night at the Stanley Hotel, and maybe that’s for the best. As I scroll through the photos I took during the tour, I spot a flowing figure dressed in pink. The photo was taken while we were outside, looking in through a window of the ice house. Kody had turned off the building’s lights and closed the doors behind the group. The building was empty, but I can clearly make out a young woman in the photo; she appears to be twirling. In another photo, I spot the shadow of a man in a hat at the pet cemetery. No one fitting that description was on the tour.
Back in the dark and quiet of Estes Park, the only sounds come from elk bugling in the distance. I turn off my phone for the night, then quickly and tightly close my eyes before I can spot any more unwanted guests.
If you go
In addition to nightly tours, the Stanley Hotel is hosting The Shining Ball 2019 on Saturday, October 19, a Murder Mystery Dinner on Friday, October 25, and a Masquerade Ball 2019 on Saturday, October 26, collectively known as Twin Terror Weekends.