Written By: Angela DiLella
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Everyone knows of Stephen King’s famous novel The Shining, or at the very least the Stanley Kubrick movie starring Jack Nicholson based on King’s novel. It is about a haunted hotel in Colorado, where an alcoholic with a troubled past, acts as caretaker, with his family in tow over the course of one winter. The isolation—not to mention the ghosts—worm their way into everyone’s heads to disastrous results. What everyone does not know, however, is that the Overlook hotel is based on the very real Stanley hotel in Estes Park, Colorado and was the inspiration for The Shining.
The Stanley Hotel was built in 1909 after Freelan Oscar Stanley wanted to expand on his personal property to accommodate friends and impress wealthy visitors. It seems that almost from the start there were reports of ghosts, though they are much more benign than the ones in Stephen King’s tale.
You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave
Sources indicate that one ghost by the name of Elizabeth Wilson, a chambermaid who sometimes folds guest’s clothing and puts them away. According to website, TripSavvy, she is also said to send blasts of cold air between unmarried couples staying at the hotel. She is supposed to haunt room 217 specifically. She didn’t die in the room, though—she merely triggered a gas explosion in the room one stormy night in 1911. She recovered, returned to the hotel to continue working, and apparently holds no grudge against the room itself. Maybe she wants to stick around to make sure no one else has an accident with a gas leak like the one that could have very easily done her in back in 1911.
Stanley and his wife Flora are said to be around, and sometimes guests say they can hear Flora playing piano in the concert hall. The piano’s keys are said to move as well, though everything stops when curious guests stray too close. Other ghosts enforce curfews, telling guests and workers to leave rooms late at night. Supposedly the whole fourth floor is haunted by the ghosts of female employees of the hotel and their children. Although the sound of people walking around and moving items and children playing and laughing can be eerie, there are no reports of any harm coming from these ghosts.
Other reports include ghostly girls and women on staircases and even a friendly cowboy—perhaps a bit too friendly. He is usually reported sitting on the corner of the bed in room 428, waiting to greet new guests! Unsurprisingly, reports of ghostly activity have increased following the publication of The Shining and its subsequent film adaptation by Kubrick. Whether these reports are just a hoax is difficult to say.
The King Connection – Inspiration for The Shining
Based upon the official website of Stephen King, the author himself attributes the idea for the setting of The Shining to the Stanley hotel, but that seems to be thanks to some lucky timing. The King family arrived at the Stanley at the very end of the season, when most of the other guests had left or were leaving, and the furniture and other items were getting cleaned up and packed away. This was eerie enough in its own right.
The Kings stayed in haunted room 217 as well, which is why the room is named specifically in the book. (It was changed to room 237 for the movie, as the lodge used for exterior shots was concerned that guests would not want to book room 217 after seeing the film. The lodge had no room 237.) There’s no word on whether Elizabeth Wilson’s ghost folded the King family’s clothes, but rumors persist that King saw a fourth-floor child-ghost. King generally only references the eeriness of the empty hotel and a nightmare he had about one of his sons running through the empty corridors away from a possessed fire house when he talks about his inspiration for The Shining.
Ghost Hunting at the Stanley Today
If you’re curious about the Stanley Hotel’s ghosts, you can check things out for yourself. The hotel offers several different tours throughout its grounds, though only the night tour focuses on supernatural phenomena specifically. Tickets can be bought online, and it seems that tour attendees don’t actually need to be staying at the hotel to go on the tours.
The Stanley Hotel also makes full use of its famous connection. Not only has it recently added a hedge maze to the grounds, like the one seen in Kubrick’s film, it has hosted a “Shining Ball” for several years. The ballroom is set up with décor reminiscent of the story, and guests are encouraged to dress up as well. This year (2019), the ball falls on October 19. The next weekend features a more general masquerade ball.
Finally, if you can’t make it to Colorado in the foreseeable future, you have one other option. It’s well-known that King did not like Kubrick’s adaptation of his book. King ended up greenlighting a television miniseries that was more faithful to his original story. The 1997 series—also titled The Shining—was shot on location in the Stanley Hotel. You’ll get a good look at the real deal, though be warned: the 1997 adaptation is considered inferior to both King’s original story and Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation by most. But, it is worth viewing if you are curious about seeing the real Stanley Hotel and the inspiration for The Shining and Overlook Hotel.
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