The Stanley Hotel

by Laura Pennace | E-Mail
All images copyright Laura Pennace and the New York Paranormal Society

On Tuesday, July 13th, 2010, I took a ghost tour of the famous Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. The Stanley Hotel is best known as the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write “The Shining,” and is also frequently investigated by SyFy’s Ghost Hunters as well as the various Ghost Hunters spinoff shows and specials.


The Stanley Hotel hauntedThe hotel was financed by F.O. Stanley and built by workers using only hand tools. This is important to note as the basement of the hotel (where the “tunnels” are) is literally full of quartz rock, believed by many paranormal researchers to be a type of rock that is better able to “hold” or “capture” paranormal energy and activity.

F.O. Stanley was a businessman and made his fortune through his various inventions, the biggest being the Stanley Steamer. In 1903, Stanley came to Estes Park to take in some much-needed fresh air. Stanley was suffering from tuberculosis and his doctors predicted he would not live past the first summer, but recommended he go to Estes Park because, as the tour guide put it, he would be able to enjoy the air and the spectacular views before he died.

Needless to say, Stanley lived past that summer and made a full recovery, returning to Estes Park each summer afterwards. His many friends and associates, enchanted by the stories of the beauty of Colorado, wanted to visit. Thus the Stanley Hotel was built, to accommodate in a proper fashion those wealthy enough to “summer” outside the hot cities of the East.

The Ghost Tour

Surprisingly, the standard Stanley Hotel ghost tour is actually more history-based than haunting-based. The parts about the hotel’s history, including the important players in the making of the hotel and Estes Park, were very interesting. The haunted part of the tour was, I feel, understandably biased. I’m sure a large part of the hotel’s revenue is now due to people wanting to come to stay in hopes of experiencing something paranormal. More on that in a bit.

Room 217, where Stephen King stayed in the Stanley HotelStephen King was inspired by the Stanley Hotel to write “The Shining.” In the story, a man and his family stay in a hotel very much like the Stanley for a winter as caretakers. The hauntings in the hotel lead to his insanity and attempt to murder his family. It certainly sounds very creepy, and many on the tour were fans of Stephen King and the story. A couple of facts about all this:

Stephen King stayed in the Stanley Hotel for one night. He stayed in room 217 (which now books 6-7 months in advance and the rate for this room starts at over $500 a night) with his wife on the last night of the season in October of 1974. He had a bad dream that night about the hotel, which served as the basis for the story. After the one night, Stephen King left. He did not stay for an extended period of time and did not actually experience anything paranormal.

All movie versions of “The Shining” were not filmed in any part of the Stanley. The exterior is based on the Stanley, but the interior is somewhat different.

Room 217 is supposedly haunted by the ghost of Elizabeth Wilson, who was a maid at the hotel when it first opened. The story goes that Wilson was injured in a freak accident involving relighting a gas light, though she didn’t die, made a full recovery, and was showered with money and gifts as an apology from Stanley himself. Supposedly, sometimes, if she likes the person or people staying in room 217, she will put their clothes away for them. If she doesn’t like the person/people, she will throw the clothes all over the place. I’m not quite sure why someone who didn’t die at the hotel would continue to haunt it, and the claims that the room is either fixed up or messed up is too easily attributable to the hotel’s own staff, looking to promote the “haunted” motif.

Everyone else in the tour group was impressed with this. At this point, people started to ask if we would all have an experience while on the tour. When the tour guide said that we might very well see something paranormal, there was a buzz amongst the group. She then said that the spiral staircase immediately outside room 217 was a vortex full of “positive energy.” With no story or evidence to back up the claim, we moved up to the fourth floor.

The guide then talked about Lord Dunraven, who haunts the right side of the center stairway leading up to the second floor and also room 401. Lord Dunraven, an Irishman who bought his noble title, was a bit of a creep in his time, and he is known for pinching women’s bottoms and touching their hair.

Moving on from room 401, we rounded a bend and came to an opening in the hallway that included a small love-seat. So far I had been somewhat on board with everything going on, finding the history very interesting, but what happened next is when I became suspicious of the tour, and the guide.

Staircase at the Stanley HotelThe tour guide said that we were going to try an experiment. She said anyone who wanted to participate should come into the opening of the hallway (while the rest of us stayed on the periphery) and to hold out their hands. About half the group crowded in. She then instructed everyone to hold out their hands in front of them, palms towards the floor, and led this smaller group in a round of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

She then asked if anyone felt any different. Then, before anyone could answer, the tour guide said that the ghost of a young girl was behind her, peeking out at the rest of the crowd. At this moment, the guide pointed out that the lanyard hanging on her belt loop had started to swing back and forth slightly. This sent the entire group into a frenzy, and everyone crowded around to take photos (except me).

The tour guide claimed that the fourth floor of the Stanley was, at any given point, home to anywhere between 100-150 spirits of children. I’m not sure how they know this, exactly, but that’s the claim. By way of explanation, she said that while no children had ever actually died at the Stanley (and, in fact, it should be noted here that nobody has ever died in the Stanley), their spirits were “carried back” to the hotel as it was a “place of happiness and positive energy” for them.

While I am of course open to the possibility that the Stanley is haunted, I thought what had just happened on the tour was more for entertainment purposes than to actually educate the group. It seemed like a tool of distraction (holding out hands and then singing) so that the guide could start her lanyard moving before anyone could notice.

When she asked if anyone had any questions, I raised my hand and asked, “Do you have an experience on every tour you lead?”

The tour guide said (and this is pretty much verbatim), “No, of course not. I’ve found the children seem to have a nap-time between 2 and 4 p.m.”

Concluding Thoughts

The current surge in popularity of ghost hunting TV shows has, I think, polluted what used to be something of a quaint, rare phenomenon: the legitimate ghost tour. Whereas places like the Stanley would often have tours that focused mainly on history and would lightly touch on supposed claims of ghosts and hauntings, we now have tours that are more akin to Disneyland attractions. The tour guides go through the same motions on every tour, tout unreliable and vague evidence, and generally try to promote the fact that their business is indeed haunted, so that the ghost tours will continue to bring in the paying customers, and so they can charge paranormal investigators exorbitant fees to come in and do what we used to be able to do for free. When I asked about conducting a professional investigation at the Stanley, I was referred to the sales department.

I enjoyed my stay at the Stanley Hotel, and it truly is an intriguing slice of history. There are reasons to believe that the Stanley may indeed be haunted, such as the fact that Mrs. Stanley’s original piano is still on site, but unfortunately the ghost tour seemed too interested in magic tricks than in actually educating people as to the haunted history of the hotel.

Laura Pennace at the Stanley Hotel