Cinematic Haunts #4: Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, CO
Cinematic Haunts #4: Stanley Hotel, Estes Park CO
Article By: Annie Riordan
“Some places are like people: some shine and some don’t.”
~The Shining – 1980
It’s January, which means that I – being a California native – am dealing with sunny skies and temps in the low to mid 60s. Winter is a joke on the West Coast: there’s no snow, little rain and very few nights when the mercury falls below the freezing mark. And yet, I still have flannel sheets on my bed and Duraflame logs stacked up beside my working fireplace. Those of you on the East Coast and in the Midwest are probably reading this and thinking “Pffft, wimp.”
But I was living in a suburb of Philadelphia when Hurricane Andrew’s ass end passed through Pennsylvania in 1992 and excreted a literal buttload of snow, ice and winds in excess of 50mph upon us. For days, we were stranded inside of our tiny apartment without heat or electricity, our car buried in drifts that rendered that poor piece of shit white hatchback virtually invisible. Days later, when the snows finally receded, we found that the car tires had frozen to the asphalt. Yeah, that sucked. I’ve been in tornadoes in Indiana and earthquakes in California, but nothing scared the shit out of me quite like that blizzard did, when the possibility of freezing to death was very real, and the capability of the distraction deprived mind to turn on itself seemed dangerously possible. I can only imagine what a month or more in cold, dark isolation would do to even the most mentally healthy of people.
Fortunately, very few of us will ever be faced with that ugly scenario. And the more morbidly curious have Stephen King to do it for them. In 1974, looking for a change of scenery, King – along with his wife and children – picked up and moved to Colorado purely on a whim. As autumn closed in on the town of Boulder, King and his wife decided that they needed a mini-vacay from the kids. On October 30th, acting upon the advice of locals, the couple made the drive to Estes Park and checked into the Stanley Hotel, a huge and grandiose resort tucked away in the snowy mountains. The hotel was, and still is, a summer resort, and the King’s had a bit of trouble checking in for the evening, arriving as they had on Closing Day. Finding themselves completely alone in the monstrous building, wandering along deserted corridors and dining alone in cavernous lounges, the cold isolation combined with the hotel’s somewhat sad history, and voila!; King’s next book – entitled “The Shining” and released in 1977 – was born.
The tales of ghosts and hauntings within the Stanley are old news these days, thanks to both King and the TAPS team, whose popular reality show “Ghost Hunters” has twice featured the Stanley and has never failed to pick up paranormal activity. Everything from the eerie laughter of children in the basement tunnels to a closet door which opens and closes by itself, the Stanley is a favorite destination for ghost enthusiasts.
It would be at this point in the article that you would expect to find a long-winded account of the Stanley’s history, but what can I tell you that you haven’t already found online, from the hotel’s official website at www.stanleyhotel.com right on down to Wikipedia? Nah, screw that. You couldn’t get any drier or more boring if you were to swipe your dog’s last rawhide chew for a midnight snack.
Instead, let’s do a brief “Reel-To-Real” comparison. And let’s start with the film’s most iconic image: those creepy little girls in the hallway. Partly inspired by a photograph taken by Diane Arbus (simply entitled “Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967”) their presence in the film is based on actual reports of ghostly children who run, yelling and laughing (and causing many a sleepy guest to phone in complaints to the front desk) up and down the otherwise deserted hallways. King himself is rumored to have spotted the specter of a young boy, calling for his nanny. The identities of these children have been lost over time and have never been verified.
Room 217: Out of respect for the Stanley, King changed the number of the room he and his wife stayed in from 217 to 237 for his novelization, but he needn’t have bothered: Room 217 is pretty much booked solid these days and is commonly referred to as the Stephen King room, attracting Shining fans and ghost hunters alike. Apparently, the ghost of a rather helpful individual lurks within this suite, unpacking luggage. Maybe someone ought to try tipping it.
A guest staying at the hotel is rumored to have scrawled the word “REDRUM” on a mirror with lipstick as a practical joke, and later reported that she’d been violently shoved from behind by an unseen attacker after having done so. Can’t say I blame them. Do you know how hard it is to get lipstick off of glass? That shit is a sticky, smeary mess.
All in all, the ghosts of the Stanley seem slightly less malevolent than the ghosts of King’s Overlook Hotel, but they also seem every bit as solid and determined to make their presence known as Delbert Grady. The Stanley Hotel has been enjoying a renewed popularity, and its more actively haunted rooms can be booked…although I suspect the waiting list is probably several months long, if not years. Rooms 217, 401, 1302 and 418 are reportedly the most active, with Rooms 401 and 1302 housing the most demonstrative spirits…which is a nice way of saying that, if you’re easily frightened, don’t spend the night in either one.
The Shining is one of those rare horror films that breaks down the genre barriers to become a time tested classic. Even non-horror fans love it. And speaking as a lifelong fan of horror films, I can honestly say that this is one of the very few movies that still continues to disturb and frighten me, no matter how often I see it. The idea of being swallowed whole and ultimately absorbed by a malevolent structure (see also 1960’s The Haunting, Session 9 and Mark Danielewski’s book “House Of Leaves”) terrifies me just slightly more than the idea of being eaten alive by zombies. And with The Shining’s roots firmly planted in the long, haunted and totally true history of the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, that idea of being wholly consumed by a building seems every bit as possible as losing your sanity in a snowstorm.