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Famed businessman/inventor Freelan Oscar (F.O.) Stanley finished construction on the hotel in 1909. Six years earlier, Stanley’s doctor had ordered him to seek the clean, mountain air of the West, in hopes that it would ameliorate his tuberculosis. When his trip to Estes Park, Colorado did just that, Stanley fell in love with the area and vowed to return each summer. Source: The Stanley Hotel
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Stanley built the hotel on land that he had purchased from the Earl of Dunraven, an Irish nobleman. After first visiting the area on a hunting trip in 1872, Dunraven illegally acquired about 15,000 of the surrounding acres and attempted, unsuccessfully, to create a private hunting preserve. Understandably unpopular with the locals, Dunraven left in 1884. Source: The Stanley Hotel
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When Stanley suggested "The Dunraven" as the name for his soon-to-be-finished hotel, 180 locals signed a petition against it.
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Today, some claim that the ghost of Dunraven (above) haunts room 407, resulting in lights going on and off by themselves and ghostly faces being spotted in the room's windows. Source: Miss Grey
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Years before the hotel opened, Stanley and his twin brother, Francis, founded a photographic plate company. They eventually sold it to Kodak, and then invented the “Stanley Steamer” series of steam-powered cars, which made them extremely wealthy. Source: Mille Fiori Favoriti
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Stanley, who didn’t believe in credit and always demanded upfront payment for his cars, paid for the hotel’s construction in cash (well over $10 million, when adjusted for inflation). Source: Strange Escapes
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Many of the Stanley’s original features--including its veranda, billiard room (a favorite of F.O. Stanley himself), and grand staircase--remain in place to this day. Source: Locations Hub
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Courting vacationers from his wealthy social circle back east, Stanley spared no expense on the hotel’s luxuries, including a casino, a trap shooting range, and an airfield.
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Stanley insisted on a high society clientele, turning away those who didn’t measure up. During WWI, when tourism dwindled to almost nothing, still Stanley would personally sit in the lobby and have unsuitable guests turned away, even if the hotel was nearly empty. Source: Wikimedia Commons
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In its early 20th century heyday, decades before it became “The Shining Hotel,” the Stanley hosted public figures ranging from Theodore Roosevelt to John Philip Sousa to Emperor Hirohito of Japan. Source: Travel Channel
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By the time Stephen King visited the Stanley in the 1970s, the hotel had fallen on hard times, only regaining its former glory after new management moved in--and King’s novel, and the subsequent film, gave "The Shining hotel" an entirely new kind of appeal.
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Room 217, the one in which King himself stayed and the one that is haunted in the novel (changed to 237 in Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation), remains extremely popular with guests who want “The Shining hotel” experience and is usually booked months in advance.
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Long before the Stanley became “The Shining hotel,” room 217 (above) had an interesting history. In 1917, chief housekeeper Elizabeth Wilson, fearing that a storm would knock out the electricity, began lighting the hotel’s lanterns. As she attempted to light the lantern in what is now room 217, it exploded, blowing out the floor beneath her and causing her to fall down to the story below. Although she suffered two broken ankles, she survived.
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What's made Wilson's story even more eerie for paranormal investigators is that, at the time, newspapers reported several wildly different versions of the events and with different names for "Elizabeth Wilson." In fact, because the employee records are now gone and because no photograph of "Elizabeth Wilson" can be found, some believe we can never know who was even truly in that room. Source: Flickr
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Jim Carrey asked to stay in room 217 while Dumb and Dumber was filming at the Stanley. The story goes that he checked out after just three hours. “That’s a shady one,” said former tour department supervisor Kevin Lofy. “What happened to him in that room, we don’t know. He’s never spoken of it.” Source: Locations Hub
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Many ghost hunters say that room 401 is actually the most haunted room in the hotel, and the home of the “ghost thief,” who moves and even steals guests’ belongings. However, others point out that the rumbling caused by the adjacent elevator (above)--which plays a central role in the film--is sufficient to rattle guests’ items out of place.
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Beyond just room 401, many ghost hunters believe that the Stanley's fourth floor is the primary hotbed of paranormal activity. Many claim to have heard the spectral giggling of children running up and down the halls. Source: Jason's Travels
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Another of the hotel's most oft-reported spirits is that of a former maintenance man named Paul, who died of a heart attack while shoveling snow outside the hotel in 2005. Tour guides claim that Paul will interact with guests during the hotel's late-night ghost tours. Source: Flickr
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The hotel plays the film adaptation of The Shining on a constant loop for its guests. Source: The Dissolve
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The hotel interiors shown in the film (which were not actual hotel interiors, but studio sets) are not based on the Stanley, but are instead based on a number of diverse hotels across the country, especially the Ahwahnee Hotel (above) in Yosemite National Park, California. Visitors there often ask if it is “The Shining hotel."
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Because there was insufficient snow in Estes Park at the time, the film did not use the Stanley as a shooting location, but the Timberline Lodge (above) in Mt. Hood, Oregon, which some fans will claim is actually “The Shining hotel.” Source: The Oregon Encyclopedia
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However, when King (who notoriously dislikes Kubrick’s film) adapted the book into a mini-series in 1997, he shot at the Stanley. Source: La Poderosa
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Since 2013, the hotel has hosted the Stanley Film Festival (complete with red lighting), which showcases independent horror films and presents special events. Source: Human Echoes
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At this year’s festival, an immersive, live-action horror game had players searching for hidden clues across the hotel grounds and environs while agents of the game wandered the hotel, steering--and scaring--the players through a story involving rituals, cults, and all manner of evil. Source: Pinterest
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Around Halloween, the Stanley truly becomes “The Shining hotel” as it hosts the annual Shining Ball, where hundreds come in 1920s-era costumes like those worn in the film.
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The hotel draws huge crowds with its four kinds of daily tours, designed for those looking for a haunted hotel experience. Tens of thousands sign up for these tours every year. Source: Magickal Musings
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Some of the Stanley’s tours take guests to the tunnels in the hotel’s basement, where the climax of the novel takes place. Source: Paranormal Investigations
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Paying homage to the novel, one guest wrote “REDRUM” on the attic door. The staff liked it enough to leave it there. Source: Torimask
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Even though the hotel ballroom plays a rather creepy role in The Shining, the Stanley’s MacGregor Ballroom (above) is, today, a popular venue for weddings. That said, amateur ghost hunters who’ve been to the room have claimed to hear the piano playing of Flora Stanley, F.O.’s long-dead wife. Source: Wikimedia Commons
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While Mrs. Stanley supposedly haunts the ballroom, hotel guests and staff claim to have repeatedly spotted her husband in both the hotel's billiard room and bar. Source: Yelp
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While both the novel and the film portray a hotel terrifyingly isolated from civilization, the Stanley is just outside downtown Estes Park, a perennially popular summer resort town an hour outside of Denver. Source: Locations Hub
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The horrors of the novel and the film cast a dark pall over their hotel settings, but real-life guests are struck by the Stanley’s bright, welcoming design palette. "The one thing people notice is we have a much lighter coloring than you'd expect," said former tour supervisor Walter Oglesby. Source: Mille Fiori Favoriti
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Although the film prominently features a hedge maze, the Stanley did not have one--until this year. In late June, after fielding over 300 design proposals, the hotel’s 1,600-foot maze opened to the public. This is but another key factor that truly makes the Stanley “The Shining hotel.” Source: /Film
Inside The Shining Hotel: Real-Life Photos, Facts, And Fear
In October 1974, ascendant horror writer Stephen King and his wife spent a night in a cavernous old hotel at the foot of the Colorado Rockies. With the winter barrage of snow and cold looming, the hotel was about to close for the season, leaving King and his wife as its sole guests. After eating in a grand yet empty dining room - with the chairs up on every table except his - and walking through the endless empty hallways, a new novel began to take shape in King's mind.
That night, King had a terrifying dream about his son being chased through the hotel's halls by a fire hose, and immediately after, he knew he had to write. "I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in the chair looking out the window at the Rockies," he later said, "and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind."
That book, The Shining, introduced that hotel, the Stanley in Estes Park, Colorado, to an entirely new generation. Soon, this faded remnant of early 20th century high life was reborn as "The Shining hotel." Once you step inside the Stanley, you realize just how much life both does and does not imitate art.
See more in the gallery above and learn more about the Stanley Hotel in the History Uncovered podcast:
Listen above to the History Uncovered podcast, episode 10: The Shining Hotel, also available on iTunes and Spotify.
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society of history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.