Ep. 117: The Hauntingly Beautiful Stanley Hotel
Today we are taking a cross country train ride to the great state of Colorado. On a side note fuck John Elway for crushing our childhood hopes and dreams. Anyway, off to Colorado we go… And yes it's for the weed… Well partly. It's also to visit a landmark known to scores of horror movie fans the world over. The Stanley Hotel! Why, you ask? Cus it's creepy, possibly haunted and because we can do whatever the fuck want… It's our show, even if we do get snubbed by our local entertainment paper for best local podcast. Jerks. But we digress. Today's episode is about a hotel but it starts with a man. Freelan Oscar Stanley. And with that we dig into the history and creepiness of the Stanley hotel!
Freelan Oscar Stanley was born, along with his twin brother Frances Edgar Stanley, On June 1st 1849 in Kingfield Maine. Although their family was not wealthy, education was highly valued and knowledge of science, poetry and music were encouraged from a young age. In 1859, At the age of nine, Freelan and Francis started their first business together refining and selling maple sugar. At eleven, their great-uncle, Liberty Stanley, who had raised their father as his own son, taught them the art of violin making. By the age of sixteen, Freelan had completed three instruments. In 1883, Francis developed a machine that coated dry photographic plates. After receiving a patent for their process, the brothers set up a factory in Newton, Massachusetts, to manufacture the plates. In the summer of 1897, they attended a local fair where they witnessed a French inventor demonstrate his steam-driven car. Apparently impelled by his wife's inability to ride a bicycle, Francis vowed to build something that his wife could ride. The French inventor's steam car was the driving force (get it?) Francis needed. After the fair, the brothers began to develop a steam car of their own. The brothers formed a car company in 1898 and produced their first steam car, which was dubbed The Flying Teapot. An instant success, the car was easy to run and achieved a top speed of 35 miles per hour (56 kph), quite fast for the turn of the century. Its major drawback was the need to stop every ten miles or so to refill the boiler. The brothers sold their company after only a few months, but they returned to the business of making cars in 1902 when they formed the Stanley Motor Carriage Company. They staged various events to publicize their steam cars, including racing up mountains and racing against gas-powered cars. Eventually the Stanleys sold their photographic plate business to George Eastman and concentrated on the manufacture of their steam cars, which came to be known unofficially as Stanley Steamers. The brothers continued to build race-winning, steam-powered cars. In 1906, one of their cars--The Rocket, driven by Stanley employee Fred Marriott--set the world's record for the fastest mile: 28.2 seconds, which is a speed of more than 127 miles per hour (204 kph). In 1918, Francis was killed while driving one of his automobiles. He swerved to avoid an obstruction in a mountain road and plunged down an embankment near Ipswich, Massachusetts. At the time of his death, the Stanley Motor Company had suspended automobile production to manufacture engines to pump out Allied trenches during World War I. After The war, Henry Ford's Model T soon came to dominate the American automobile industry. Developments in gas-powered engines, and the limitations of steam cars, signalled the end of the steam-auto era. The Stanley Motor Carriage Company ceased production in 1924.
In 1903, at the age of 54, Stanley was stricken with a life-threatening resurgence of tuberculosis. The most highly recommended treatment of the day was fresh, dry air with lots of sunlight and a hearty diet. Therefore, like many "lungers'' of his day, he resolved to take the curative air of Rocky Mountain Colorado. He and Flora arrived in Denver in March and were followed shortly by his Stanley Runabout which was shipped by train. After one night at the famous Brown Palace Hotel, Stanley arranged an appointment with Dr. Charles Bonney (MD, Harvard, 1889), the preeminent American expert in the disease. Dr. Bonney, a great advocate for home treatment, recommended he leave the hotel for a rented house at the first possible convenience. Stanley spent the remainder of the winter at 1401 Gilpin Street but, when his symptoms had not improved by June, he was determined to summer in the Colorado mountains. Bonney recommended Estes Park whose climate he compared with that of Davos, Switzerland, a posh resort for European tuberculetics. On June 29, Stanley saw Flora off by train and stagecoach while he set out in his steam car. Having gotten lost and spent the night in Boulder, Stanley arrived a day later, on June 30. During their first summer the couple stayed in a primitive cabin rented to them by the owners of the Elkhorn Lodge. Over the course of the warm season, Stanley's health improved dramatically. Impressed by the beauty of the valley and grateful for his recovery, he decided to return every year. By the end of the summer of 1903, Stanley had acquired property in Estes Park and, with the help of English architect Henry "Lord Cornwallis'' Rogers who the Stanleys had recently met, he began the construction of Rockside, his home in Colorado. Completed in 1904, the Stanley cottage was built with four bedrooms, gracious living areas and a modern kitchen, so that Flora could entertain summer guests. By 1907, Stanley had all but recovered and he returned to Newton for the winter rather than Denver. However, he and Flora had become enamored with the beauty of the Colorado mountains, often comparing them in speeches with those "rock-ribbed" hills "ancient as the sun" of William Cullen Bryant's poem, “Thanatopsis”. Not content with the rustic accommodations, lazy pastimes and relaxed social scene of their new home, Stanley resolved to turn Estes Park into a resort town. In 1907, construction began on the Hotel Stanley, a grand hotel catering to the class of wealthy urbanites who composed the Stanleys' social circle in Newton. To power the new hotel, Stanley constructed the Fall River Hydro-Plant which consequently brought electricity to Estes Park for the first time. In 1909, their 100-room, East Coast colonial-style “house” was unveiled. Equipped with running water, electricity and telephones, the only amenity the hotel lacked was heat, as the hotel was designed as a summer resort. A two-thirds scaled-down second lodge was finished a year later. (While this might seem ambitious, it’s worth noting the top floor was dedicated exclusively to children and nannies.) The buildings were designed by F.O. Stanley with the professional assistance of Denver architect T. Robert Wieger, Henry "Lord Cornwallis" Rogers, and contractor Frank Kirchoff. The site was chosen for its vantage overlooking the Estes valley and Long's Peak within the National Park. The main building, concert hall and Manor House are steel-frame structures on foundations of random rubble granite with clapboard siding and asphalt shingle roof. Originally, Stanley chose a yellow ocher color for the buildings' exteriors with white accents and trim. Every guest room had a telephone and each pair of rooms shared an en suite bathroom with running water supplied by Black Canyon Creek, which had been dammed in 1906. The floor plan of the main hotel (completed 1909) was laid out to accommodate the various activities popular with the American upper class at the turn of the twentieth century and the spaces were decorated accordingly. The music room, for instance, with its cream-colored walls (originally green and white), picture windows and fine, classical plaster-work was designed for letter-writing during the day and chamber music at night – cultured pursuits perceived as feminine. On the other hand, the smoking lounge (today the Piñon Room) and adjoining billiard room, with their dark stained-wood elements and granite arch fireplace were designated for enjoyment by male guests. Stanley himself, having been raised in a conservative household and having recovered from a serious lung disease, did not smoke cigars or drink alcohol, but these were essential after-dinner activities for most men at the time. Billiards, however, was among Stanley's most cherished pastimes.
With no central heating or ventilation system, the structure was designed to facilitate natural airflow; the Palladian window at the top of the grand stair could be opened to induce a cross-breeze through the lobby, French doors in all the public spaces open onto verandas, and two curving staircases connecting the guest corridors prevent stagnant air in the upper floors. Although the main hotel is now heated in the winter, guests still depend on natural ventilation for cooling in the summer. Within a few years of opening, a hydraulic elevator was put in operation. In 1916, the east wing of the main building was extended in the rear adding several guest rooms. Around this time, the alcove of the music room was added. In 1921, a rear veranda was enclosed forming a room that currently serves as a gift shop. Around 1935, the hydraulic elevator system was replaced with a cable-operated system and extended to the fourth floor necessitating the addition of a secondary cupola to house the mechanical apparatus. Originally, a porte-cochere or a covered entrance large enough for vehicles to pass through, extended from the central bay of the front porch, but this was removed when the south terrace was converted into a parking lot. In 1983, a service tunnel was excavated, connecting the basement-level corridor to the staff entrance. It is cut directly through the living granite on which the hotel rests. The concert hall, east of the hotel, was built by Stanley in 1909 with the assistance of Henry "Lord Cornwallis" Rogers, the same architect who designed his summer cottage. According to popular legend, it was built by F.O. Stanley as a gift for his wife, Flora. The interior is decorated in the same manner as the music room in the main hotel and vaguely resembles that of the Boston Symphony Hall (McKim, Mead & White, 1900) with which the Stanleys would have been familiar. The stage features a trap door, used for theatrical entrances and exits. The lower level once housed a two-lane bowling alley which was removed during the ownership of Maxwell Abbell. It possibly resembled the bowling alley at the Stanley's Hunnewell Club in Newton, pictures of which are archived in the Newton Free Library. The hall underwent extensive repair and renovation in the 2000s. Once called Stanley Manor, this smaller hotel between the main structure and the concert hall is a 2:3 scaled-down version of the main hotel. Unlike its model, the manor was fully heated from completion in 1910 which may indicate that Stanley planned to use it as a winter resort when the main building was closed for the season. However, unlike many other Colorado mountain towns now famous for their winter sports, Estes Park never attracted off-season visitors in Stanley's day and the manor remained empty for much of the year. Today it is called The Lodge and serves as a bed-and-breakfast that is off-limits to the public. To bring guests from the nearest train depot in the foothills town of Lyons, Colorado, Stanley's car company produced a fleet of specially-designed steam-powered vehicles called Mountain Wagons that seated multiple passengers. Upon opening, the hotel was alleged to be one of the few in the world powered entirely by electricity. However, lack of available power induced the installation of an auxiliary gas lighting system in June 1911. On June 25 – the day after the pipes had been filled – an explosion occurred that injured a maid and damaged the structure, though contemporary newspaper articles differ on certain details. An article from a newspaper at the time started the following
"The Stanley Hotel, built at a cost of $500,000, was partly wrecked last night by an explosion of gas. Eight persons were injured, one seriously. None of the guests were injured. Elizabeth Wilson, of Lancaster, Pa., a hotel employee, was hurled from the second to the first floor, and both ankles were broken. The other seven are negro [sic] waiters."
When the Lancaster paper reprinted the story, the editor noted that Elizabeth Wilson's name did not appear in local directories and she could not be identified as a Lancastrian. Similar accounts in local Colorado papers give the maid's name as Elizabeth Lambert and convey various dramatic details that are not confirmed by other articles. The most comprehensive and detailed article on the incident appeared on June 29 in the Fort Collins Express and seems to be the most accurate – positively refuting that the maid had been "hurled from the second to the first floor.” That article said this is the incident
"The chambermaid, Lizzie Leitenbergher, had both ankles broken, it is thought from the concussion of the explosion, and was thrown into a hole in the floor. She was not, however, thrown through into the dining room, being caught by the timbers and held until rescued. She was taken to a hospital in Longmont. She had been in the employ of the hotel ever since it was built and came here from Philadelphia."
The only other injuries mentioned in that article were as follows "Two waiters also sustained slight injuries, one suffering a dislocated hip and the other being struck across the face by a flying plank. Neither of these, however, is in serious condition."
Stanley operated the hotel almost as a pastime, remarking once that he spent more money than he made each summer. It was an invite-only gathering place for friends, and haut monde of the time. Haut monde meaning “for fashionable society”. The boujie bastards. John Philip Sousa, the renowned former US Military composer, directed the band at the house’s opening. His autograph on the bottom of Flora’s piano, which Sousa tuned himself, was mistaken for graffiti by a tuner in the 1990s and removed.
Harry Houdini performed in the ornate concert hall; the trapdoor he used for his famous escape act still exists onstage. And while the men shot pool and drank, the women would gather for various letter writing campaigns. The whiskey bar – now one of the state’s largest – provided a common ground between the sexes. Yay, whiskey!
In 1930, Freelan sold the buildings to a corporation who transformed the property into a hotel. With the nearby national park still growing, their success was minimal. After attempts at a revival, the property was sold to John Cullen in the mid-1990s. Budgets were so stretched that at the time of the sale, the turndown service consisted of the top bed duvet being placed on nails across the window because they couldn’t afford drapes.
The hotel was not really in a great place for a while. That would change thanks in part to someone we've talked about before… this weird guy named Stephen King. King has told the story many times over the years. In a 1977 interview by the Literary Guild, King recounted "While we were living [in Boulder] we heard about this terrific old mountain resort hotel and decided to give it a try. But when we arrived, they were just getting ready to close for the season, and we found ourselves the only guests in the place—with all those long, empty corridors." King and his wife were served dinner in an empty dining room accompanied by canned orchestral music: "Except for our table all the chairs were up on the tables. So the music is echoing down the hall, and, I mean, it was like God had put me there to hear that and see those things. And by the time I went to bed that night, I had the whole book [The Shining] in my mind." In another retelling, King said "I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming. He was being chased by a fire-hose. I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in a chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of The Shining firmly set in my mind.
In the front matter of the book, King tactfully states "Some of the most beautiful resort hotels in the world are located in Colorado, but the hotel in these pages is based on none of them. The Overlook and the people associated with it exist wholly in the author's imagination."
So not only was this hotel the institution of the book the Shining, it was the location of the doll shot for the 1997 tv miniseries of The Shining. Not only that, the hotel was the filming location for another fantastic movie. It serves as the hotel that the dynamic duo of Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne stay in the critically acclaimed, and one of my personal favorite movies; Dumb and Dumber. Several tv shows have also recorded episodes there and the band Murder By Death have played an annual winter show at the location since 2014. I highly recommend their track “As Long As There is Whiskey in The World”.
King's novel is based on the famous Stanley Hotel in Colorado, but the exterior shots in the movie are of Oregon's Timberline Lodge. Kubrick agreed to change the infamous room number from 217 to 237 (which does not exist) in the movie because the hotel was worried people would not want to stay in the room in the future.
Ironically, room 217 is most often requested at Timberline Lodge, according to the hotel's website.
Ok so all of that is well and good but let's be honest, We're here for another reason, the creepy shit! Oddly enough the history of the hotel didn't hold much to attribute to possible haunting or paranormal activity. But that hasn't stopped the belief by many people that the hotel is haunted. Let's check out some of the haunted spots and some stories.
Perhaps the most famed spot in the Stanley Hotel, this is where horror writer Stephen King spent the night and got the inspiration for his 1977 bestseller "The Shining." You can soak up the same Rocky Mountain views that King got when he stayed there. An added amenity? The room has a library of King novels. The room is thought to be haunted by Elizabeth Wilson, AKA Mrs. Wilson. She was the hotel’s head housekeeper and, during a storm in 1911, was injured during an explosion as she was lighting the lanterns in room 217. She survived, though broke her ankles and her spirit seems to be a regular in the room. Guests have reported items moved, luggage unpacked, and lights being turned on and off. Oh, and Mrs. Wilson is old-fashioned: She doesn’t like it when unmarried guests shack up together, so some couples have reported feeling a cold force come between them. One of the biggest myths about the room is that it’s never available. Not true! You can actually book it and stay there if you have the balls to. We’re in!
From an architectural standpoint, the staircase between floors in the hotel’s main guesthouse is a stunner. But the area has also been dubbed “The Vortex” a natural spiral of energy. It’s also known as the “rapid transit system” for ghosts that are known to haunt the hotel.
There’s a lot of paranormal hubbub said to be happening in this famed concert hall. Paul, one of the well-known ghosts haunting The Stanley, was a jack-of-all trades around the hotel. Among his duties? Enforcing an 11 p.m. curfew at the hotel, which could be why guests and workers hear “get out” being uttered late at night. The area is also a favorite spot for hotel founder Flora Stanley’s ghost to play the piano. A few of Paul’s antics: A construction worker reported he felt Paul nudge him while he was sanding the floors and tour groups on The Stanley ghost tour have reported he flickered a flashlight for them. Another ghost known to wander about the Concert Hall is Lucy, who quite possibly was a runaway or homeless woman who found refuge in the hall. She entertains the requests of ghost hunters, often communicating with them with flashing lights. Stanley historians, however, aren’t quite sure about her pre-death connection to the hotel.
More than a century ago, the entire fourth floor was a cavernous attic. It’s where female employees, children, and nannies stayed. Now, today’s guests will report hearing children running around, laughing, giggling and playing. Plus, there’s a famous closet that tends to open and shut on its own in this room.
Really, you get a badge of bravery for staying in any room on the fourth floor. But, bonus points if you can book room 428. Guests have reported hearing footsteps above them and furniture moving about. But that’s actually physically impossible given the slope of the roof, tour guides say. The real haunt in this room, though, is a friendly cowboy who appears at the corner of the bed.
From antique mirrors and portraits, there’s plenty to distract the eye on the grand staircase at The Stanley. But it could also be a popular passageway for the hotel’s resident ghosts. In 2016, a visitor from Houston snapped some photos on the grand staircase and, upon returning home and reviewing them, spotted an apparatus at the top of the staircase. The thing is he doesn’t remember anybody else being on the staircase at the time he was taking the photographs. The ghostly image of a woman is at the top of the stairs.
If you go on the 75-minute night spirit tour at the Stanley (you don’t have to be a hotel guest to get in on it, but you should book in advance!), your tour will come to an eerie halt at the end with a visit to the underground cave system. Workers moved about the hotel through the caves in the early days so it makes sense this is a popular haunt. Skeptics will pass off the haunts as breezes from the historic piping and ventilation systems. But, beneath the hotel is a higher-than-average concentration of limestone and quartz, which some ghost hunters believe help capture energy at the property.
Well, now that we've talked about some of the hotspots, let's check out some stories about things that have happened there!
This first group comes from Kirin Johnson. He has had three separate incidents!
Now I will share the three separate paranormal experiences that have changed my belief in ghosts. Despite being a former skeptic, I came to the Stanley with an open mind. While I’ve seen orbs and have had several strange experiences that I can’t explain, what I experienced on Friday, May 26, 2017, was certainly the most intense and frightening experience of them all.
Experience #1: A Trolley By The Door
At approximately 8:00 p.m., my partner and I came back from a quick trip to the grocery store. Out of nowhere, we heard the sounds of what seemed to be a trolley that was outside of our door. My partner immediately walked over to the door to see who it was. I thought to myself that perhaps it was room service, but I knew we didn’t make any requests. Shockingly, my partner looked through the peephole, and there was no one in sight. Although what happened was certainly a shock to us, it wasn’t enough to convince me that it was a ghost.
At around 11:00 p.m., we decided to reach out to Ms. Elizabeth Wilson (or any other ghost that may have been hanging out in our room). I figured that even if nothing were to come out of it, I can at least say “I tried.” I said to Ms. Wilson: “If you are really here with us, prove it.” I repeated this a couple of times. This was the last thing I had said before I finally went to bed.
Experience #2: A Big Bang That Woke Up Other Visitors
It was around 2:30 in the morning when I was woken up from a loud noise. Despite my partner being a heavy sleeper, the noise was loud enough to wake him up as well. The loud noise sounded like it came from someone who picked up a large and heavy object, and then slammed it to the floor.
Interestingly, it wasn’t just my partner and I who woke up from this mysterious noise. Just a moment or two after we woke up, we heard other guests around the hotel speaking and whispering. I was so scared, I asked my partner to put the television on so I could just forget about it and go back to sleep. However, he didn’t want the television on. He was more interested in finding out where the noise came from, then going back to sleep.
A Strange Discovery The Next Morning
When I woke up the next morning, I saw a 20 oz. bottle of Mountain Dew on the floor. My partner’s soda somehow fell to the floor in the middle of a quiet night. What’s even more odd is that this bottle was loud enough to wake up not just my partner and I, but also other guests who were near our room. I don’t believe it was the soda that caused the loud noise. I believe it was a ghost responding to our request to prove it really exists.
Other Guests Who Say They Heard A Loud Bang
Before we left room 217, I overheard a conversation between several people outside of our room. They were talking about hearing a loud noise late in the night. I spoke with a woman who told us she was staying in a room directly above ours. After I asked her about the loud noise, she said it woke her up around 2:30. The woman described the noise as the fall of a “large barrel.” According to the woman, there was another guest in room 324 who also heard the noise.
While on our way to check-out, we ran into a young man who stayed in room 326 with his father. In addition to taking pictures of orbs that were floating outside of room 217 the previous night, he too said he was woken up from what he described as a “loud boom.”
Experience #3: The Creepy Laugh Of A Woman