6 things I saw during my stay at the ‘haunted’ Stanley Hotel
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I was expecting lots of snow, monotone twins in blue dresses inviting me to play and, perhaps, a small boy on a tricycle. While the iconic Stanley Hotel delivered on the weather, the property that inspired Stephen King’s “The Shining” missed on the ghost sightings and blood-filled bathtubs.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a noteworthy visit, though. Since high school, when “The Shining” was required reading for my 11th grade English class, I’ve dreamed of staying at the Stanley Hotel.
Although possibly a letdown for ghost hunters, it was still a movie geek’s dream. When I wasn’t spending time exploring Colorado’s Estes Park, a gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park (which we decided not to visit, due to the weather), I was busy taking tours of the historic 1909 building and staying the night in one of its rooms.
From dark, drafty hallways and old-world ballrooms to shops selling keychains and shot glasses, my experience at the Stanley Hotel was equal parts creepy, classy and kitschy. Here are six notable things I saw during my visit.
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Snow, snow and more snow
My late-December stay at the property was a one-night pit stop on a road trip from Denver to Salt Lake City with my boyfriend. To his dismay as a Florida native, we were met with temperatures in the teens and big, fat snowflakes worthy of the fictional Overlook Hotel.
What was not similar, however, was the number of guests. When I booked our room, the main building was nearly sold out, despite the time of year and the frigid forecast.
Thankfully, we were prepared with weather-appropriate clothing, but we did have to make an emergency run to a local hardware store to buy a snow brush for the truck. By the time we parked and walked to the front entrance of the main building to check in, my hands were so numb that I needed help removing my credit card from my wallet when we got to the desk.
A theatrical central lobby
Crossing the threshold into the hotel’s main lobby felt like stepping back in time. Its rich colors, ornate carpeting and multiple fireplaces still decorated for the holidays made it easy for me to imagine how the other half lived in the early 20th century — until I found out the aesthetic wasn’t at all authentic, that is.
On the daytime tour we took, the guide told us the original lobby was done up in light colors and looked much simpler than it appears today. (If you’ve ever seen the movie “Dumb and Dumber,” you can catch a glimpse of its previous state in the scenes from the Danbury Hotel, for which the Stanley Hotel was used.)
From the beginning, King was unhappy with Stanley Kubrick’s version of “The Shining,” which was filmed at the Timberline Lodge in Oregon. In the 1990s, King decided to remake the movie into a television special, with filming taking place at the Stanley Hotel.
Wishing to capitalize on the opportunity, hotel management agreed to anything King wanted, including a full remodel of the lobby’s decor and color scheme. The room was darkened to King’s specifications, including the painting of its plaster beams to look like wood. Even the grand staircase (which also appears in “Dumb and Dumber” during the “race you to the top” scene) was altered to make it appear more ominous. Personally, I think it’s an improvement.
I couldn’t get enough of the display of vintage room keys behind the front desk or the rickety elevator, from which I kept expecting an undead bellhop to emerge.
A hedge maze that’s nonlethal (to most of us)
When we checked in, I was delighted to find that we had been given a room on the fourth floor, which is rumored to be the most haunted. (Sadly, we didn’t have any ghostly encounters, but there were plenty of loud teens running up and down the halls searching for ghosts at all hours.) Our window was in one of the main building’s front-facing dormers, offering a perfect overhead view of the famed hedge maze. The property didn’t always have one, though.
What started as a terrifying figment of King’s imagination became something guests asked about so often that one was planted on the property in 2015.
On one of our tours, we were told that during its first two years, the maze was completely eaten by local elk. As a result, the original plants were replaced with juniper, which is mildly poisonous if eaten.
The vegetation is only about 4 feet high, and in its entirety, the maze is fairly small. (Read: There’s no chance you’ll get lost.) It’s still a fun way to spend a few minutes, though.
While I was in our room, I opened the window to snap some photos of the maze. To my amusement, several people below saw me and started screaming, “There’s someone in the window!” I just chuckled and waved. On my next trip back, I’m planning to don some early 20th-century garb and let out a few bloodcurdling screams for added effect.
References to “Redrum” (“murder” spelled backward) are common throughout the hotel. A small shop in the lobby offers mugs, shot glasses, shirts and postcards emblazoned with the word, and the hotel’s attached Cascades Restaurant & Lounge features a pricey “Redrum Punch” cocktail made with framboise, rum, blackberry liqueur, agave, lime and pineapple. (Try it. Thank me later. And, while you’re there, venture into the restaurant section to see if you can spot the framed moon landing newspaper article Jim Carey’s character makes a fuss over in “Dumb and Dumber.”)
The hotel basement’s Colorado Cherry Company also has a “Redrum Latte” on its menu, mixing cherry, vanilla and butter rum flavors with a traditional latte. It was a tasty if overdone morning pick-me-up. (The cafe is also the place to go for excellent breakfast sandwiches.)
Unfortunately, nobody managed to scrawl “Redrum” on our hotel room door using red lipstick — an oversight, I’m sure — but it popped up just sparingly enough throughout our time there that it felt like smart marketing instead of a tacky cash grab.
A totally unremarkable Room 217
Playing tourist isn’t usually my bag, but I just couldn’t resist seeking out Room 217, where King stayed for one night before coming up with the idea for “The Shining.” The room is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of a maid who was caught in a gas explosion there during a 1911 power outage.
As the story goes, King and his wife were headed out of town for a weekend getaway when weather derailed their plans, forcing them to spend the night at the Stanley Hotel. At the time, it was only open during the warmer months. Because the staff was just about to close for the season, the only room that still had linens was Room 217, so that’s where they stayed.
In the middle of the night, King woke from a dream in which his son, who was not on the trip, was being strangled in the hallway by a fire hose — a scene that fans of “The Shining” will surely know by heart. (Following the success of the film, the hotel removed the fire hoses from its hallways for safety reasons after finding parents staging photos of their children wrapped up in them.)
In “The Shining,” the room is haunted by the ghost of a former guest who committed suicide after an affair with an unfaithful bellhop.
Adding to the mystery is what allegedly happened to actor Jim Carey when he stayed in Room 217 while filming “Dumb and Dumber.” He woke up in the middle of the night, stumbled down the stairs in his boxers and insisted that the front desk not only switch him to a different room but to another hotel entirely, according to our tour guide. To this day, he won’t talk about what he saw.
Although there are several other reportedly haunted rooms at the Stanley, the popularity of Room 217 is legendary. In Kubrick’s film, the number was changed to 237 at the request of the Timberline, which was worried guests wouldn’t want to book Room 217 if they thought it was haunted.
Unfortunately for them, Room 237 doesn’t exist at their property, and the Stanley says 217 has become its most requested accommodation, with reservations currently on the books for the next several Halloweens.
We sought out the room, but it was disappointingly normal, at least from the outside. The only difference I noticed is that it has a number plate that doesn’t match the ones for the other rooms. (We’re told that’s because so many people have stolen it over the years that the wall behind it is permanently damaged. If you’re tempted to steal it, don’t. Grab a replica at the gift shop instead.)
Staying in the room is now a bucket list item for me; should it happen, I’ll report back on what, if anything, I experience inside.
Underground tunnels (where someone actually died)
As part of the Historic Stanley Night Tour, we were able to step inside part of the tunnels that used to run beneath the property’s several buildings, allowing workers to move between key areas without being seen by the hotel’s well-to-do guests.
Although the tunnels were filled in years ago for safety reasons, parts of them are still used by staff to this day, mainly to access their break room. The part that’s shown to visitors is only accessible by tour, and it creates a dark, dank place for the guide to spin ghost stories, including one about a French cook who was killed when part of the tunnel collapsed on him while on his way to the women’s dorms. He’s said to roam around down there from time to time, but he must have been on vacation when we visited.
The most startling thing I saw on the nighttime tour was a CPR dummy that someone had hidden off to one side near the ceiling.
Ultimately, I’m not convinced the hotel is as haunted as thrill-seeking visitors hope, but it does make for a fun weekend away, especially if you’re a fan of “The Shining” or “Dumb and Dumber.” The tours are worth the price of admission, as is a stay so you can experience the historical building for yourself.
If nothing else, you can take advantage of the breathtaking scenery, good food and adorable shops in the town of Estes Park. And who knows? If you’re lucky, you might even spot a ghost or two.
Featured photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy.
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