Hotels are pretty well primed for ghost stories. They are liminal spaces, in-between spots that are meant to host travelers only briefly as they go about their business. That transience, combined with the general drama of human existence and a century or so of history, is possibly what makes the Stanley Hotel one of the most haunted such places in the nation. If the stories told by hotel staff and guests are to be believed, this spot in Estes Park, Colo., is so packed full of spirits that it may be harder to get a non-haunted hotel room than one without a ghostly occupant.
Truly, the scary tales of the Stanley Hotel have it all, from unseen parties, to eerie animals, to creepy kids, to no less than a modern master of horror feeling unease within its walls. The hotel was built by entrepreneur Freelan O. Stanley and opened in 1909, bringing something of a grand East Coast sensibility to the wildness of the Rocky Mountains, according to the Stanley Hotel itself. The hotel had faded somewhat by the 1970s but has since experienced a revival thanks in no small part to its beautiful location, some hard working restorers, and the growing backlog of creepy tales about this famous hotel.
Even Stephen King was creeped out by the Stanley Hotel
Whenever talking about the Stanley Hotel, it’s inevitable to hear about horror author Stephen King. It seems almost too good to be true. Here is the notoriously creepy, atmospheric Stanley Hotel, sitting apart from its town as the Rocky Mountains loom up around it. Here is King, widely recognized as a master of modern horror, with over 50 books to his name, according to Barnes & Noble. His books include one about a creepy mountain hotel, titled The Shining. How did the two really cross paths?
According to The Gazette, King and his wife stayed at the hotel in 1974, arriving in the fall just before the Stanley closed for the winter. They booked room 217 pretty easily, considering they were the only guests in the hotel. King wandered the eerily empty hotel as staff prepared it for closure. That night, King says, he had a terrifying dream wherein his young son was chased through the hotel hallways by a malicious, animate firehose. He woke up in a sweat and went to smoke a cigarette. As King tells it, by the end of his cigarette, the structure of The Shining had already been built within his mind, inspired by the haunting emptiness of the Stanley Hotel.
A legend says room 217 is haunted by a housekeeper
Stephen and Tabitha King stayed in room 217 in 1974. Years later, after King’s novel, The Shining, and its subsequent adaptation by director Stanley Kubrick, the hotel and their room, in particular, became very, very popular. Today, hotel staff report that room 217 must be booked months in advance. Yet, if the stories are to be believed, there’s more to this particular hotel room than the fact that King dreamed up The Shining behind its door.
Out There Colorado reports that, as the story goes, Elizabeth Wilson was a chambermaid just going about her work in room 217 when a gas leak exploded, nearly killing her. She survived, however, living to a ripe old age. Guests now report that she still comes back to the room, cleaning up after the living inhabitants and driving apart unmarried couples who dare to share the same bed. Single men have claimed that their bags were packed by spectral hands that, in a pretty blunt sign, left the bags outside their room door.
Is there any truth to this story? As The World of Lore: Dreadful Places reports, there may be something to the tale. Hotel workers completing renovation work really did uncover evidence that there had been an explosion of sorts around the room, after all. The piecemeal newspaper reports from the time may indeed contain a germ of truth. And maybe Wilson really is still at the hotel, somehow.
One band says they keep getting haunted by the Stanley Hotel’s ghosts
Roots rock band Murder by Death has played an annual concert at the Stanley Hotel since 2013. With their eerie, moody sound, it’s not terribly surprising to see that they seem very at home in the hotel’s historic ballroom. The band even takes a picture at the beginning of each annual performance that is inspired by the iconic final shot of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining. It’s all in artistic good fun, but some may wonder if the atmosphere generated by the band is calling something else up from the depths of the Stanley Hotel.
As VICE reports, band members and fans have reported multiple creepy experiences that happen around the annual concert. Some of them could honestly belong to any haunted place, given that they center on ghostly whispers, frightening dreams, and touches administered by unseen phantom hands. One fan, however, had an ultra-creepy encounter. She claimed to have encountered an old woman in one of the hotel halls who didn’t speak but had unnaturally long fingers and croaked at her. The fan did admit that she’d had some whiskey and wasn’t wearing her glasses, but when is the last time a shot or two produced such a creepy phantom all on its own?
Multiple guests have reported ghostly children and pets in the Stanley Hotel
For many, children can be a bit creepy. That’s not to say that all children are so, or that this is a rightfully earned distinction. But, there’s certainly something extra unnerving about the idea of a child ghost, especially considering those bone chilling twin girls that appeared in the film adaptation of The Shining. And since hotels in general can be surreal in-between spaces, with people of all ages moving through in a nameless, phantom-like manner, is it so surprising that the Stanley Hotel has its share of creepy kid ghosts?
Legends of America reports that many of these stories seemed to congregate on the fourth floor of the hotel, with room 418 in particular as a locus. Some guests have complained of children playing in the hallway all night long, though they later learn that no children were booked into the hotel at the time. Even Stephen King is said to have spotted a small ghost child on the second floor.
There is even a smattering of animal ghosts that are linked to the Stanley. Roadtrippers reports that the hotel has a small pet cemetery. Perhaps that’s where Cassie comes from. She’s a spectral golden retriever that some people swear have pawed at their doors. And if you happen to see a white cat wandering the property, you may have just encountered the spirit of Comanche, another resident of the cemetery.
Many believe that the fourth floor of the Stanley Hotel is its most haunted spot
Though eerie happenings have been reported practically everywhere in the hotel, many stories seem to congregate on the fourth floor, which was once a huge attic. That’s at least what it looked like when Stephen King and his wife visited the Stanley, says Out There Colorado. He recalls wandering the empty space up there alone, a stroll that undoubtedly contributed to his inspirational nightmare.
TripSavvy reports that the fourth floor was once where children and nannies, along with women employees, stayed. Perhaps that’s why the sounds of unseen children still echo through the renovated space, at least if guests’ accounts are to be believed.
Guests in room 428 seem to be the ones most at the mercy of spectral phenomena. Some people staying there have reported hearing phantom footsteps and finding furniture moving around on its own. A few have even claimed that they saw a ghostly cowboy who simply appeared near the corner of their bed. This figure of the Wild West is said to be friendly, though undoubtedly few people are exactly overjoyed to see a strange man materialize in their private hotel room.
Jim Carrey still won’t talk about what happened to him at the Stanley Hotel
Even the filming of a comedy movie doesn’t seem to have lightened the atmosphere in select parts of the Stanley Hotel. According to Travel+Leisure, portions of Dumb and Dumber were filmed at the hotel. Naturally, some of the crew stayed there, with star Jim Carrey bunking up in the now-infamous room 217 by himself. The story goes that he appeared at the front desk in the middle of the night, asking to be moved to a different room as quickly as possible. When told that the hotel was fully booked, Carrey simply packed his bags and found another room in town. He’s never spoken of what happened in room 217 or why he was so eager to get out.
Of course, this story has its skeptics. A hotel tour guide quoted in The Atlantic said of the tale, "That’s a shady one," while going on to acknowledge that no one but Carrey himself really knows what happened that night. However, Carrey did stay there for a short while, and it wouldn’t be out of keeping with the character of the hotel itself for something weird and perhaps unexplainable to have happened.
Flora Stanley is said to still play the piano in the hotel
According to Legends of America, the Stanley Hotel first opened its doors in 1909, the brainchild in part of Freelan O. Stanley, an early automotive developer perhaps best known for creating a steam-powered car known as the Stanley Steam Engine. Freelan and his wife, Flora, had first traveled out to Colorado seeking fresh mountain air as a treatment for Freelan’s tuberculosis. They both fell in love with the region, eventually leading to their permanent residence there and the construction of the Stanley Hotel.
Perhaps, as some believe, Flora and Freelan grew to love Colorado and Estes Park so much that they’ve never fully left. Haunted Hotels of Northern Colorado reports that guests and workers alike claim to have heard Flora still playing her beloved piano in an unoccupied room. She’s sometimes accompanied by the smell of roses, making for an appropriately ghostly tale.
As for Freelan, he’s been spotted around the hotel, most often in the lobby of Billiard Room. Some clerks have looked up from the front desk to see a snappily dressed Freelan Stanley staring back at them before promptly disappearing. Others swear that his favorite rocking chair will slowly move on its own.
The basement beneath the Stanley Hotel creeps out staff and guests alike
Guests rarely get to view the space directly beneath the Stanley Hotel, unless they’re part of a tour group that’s led there by a hotel staff member. TripSavvy reports that the night spirit tour ends here, in a space popularly known as the "underground caves." Staff purportedly use this quasi-cave system to move about the hotel without coming across guests, though it’s apparently not in use today. This dark, unoccupied space is still undoubtedly creepy, even to the most hardened skeptics.
For the less skeptical, there are a few different ghostly occurrences that are said to happen beneath the hotel. Per Nightly Spirits, some staff have said that the pleasant smell of baking sometimes wafts through the caves, attributed to the spirit of a long-gone pastry chef. Others have reported crossing paths with a gray cat with luminous green eyes. Said cat isn’t a known occupant of the nearby pet cemetery, so it’s easy to wonder just where, exactly, this eerie, ghostly feline hails from. These stories sometimes also mention the presence of limestone and quartz in the bedrock beneath the Stanley Hotel, which some paranormal believers claim traps the spiritual energy of the hotel, its staff, and the many guests who have stayed there over the years.
Stanley Hotel housekeepers report weird encounters throughout the place
Members of a hotel’s cleaning staff are already pretty apt to come across some weird stuff. They move in and out of the rooms, ostensibly minding their own business but still coming across whatever people leave behind in their own travels. And that’s just the living guests.
At the Stanley Hotel, housekeepers also reportedly have to deal with the foibles of longer-term undead guests. According to Out There Colorado, staff members have told guests that some of the ghosts aren’t too keen on the sound of vacuum cleaners. Presumably, however, the spirits just have to deal with it on occasion, or else the hotel would never be clean.
The infamous room 418 even creeps out housekeepers, too. The World of Lore: Dreadful Places reports that cleaning staff have watched the television in room 418 turn itself off and on, while one unlucky housekeeper who had just made the bed saw the impression of a body form in the seemingly untouched sheets. One also wonders if anyone ever feels the critical eye of Elizabeth Wilson, the housekeeper who was reportedly injured in an explosion in or around room 217 and who, it’s said, sometimes returns there to tidy up. After encounters like that, the sounds of a dog at the door or ghostly children in the hallway probably don’t seem so bad.
The hotel’s MacGregor Dining Room is said to still be hosting a phantom party
Fans of director Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaption of The Shining likely remember the final shot of the film. Without spoiling the plot of the movie, The Shining ends on an eerie picture of a party once held many decades ago in the film’s hotel, named The Overlook. That picture may have been inspired somewhat by the ballrooms in vintage hotels throughout the country, including the creepy one in Colorado’s Stanley Hotel. And, as some accounts maintain, that reputation is earned in part by the presence of some otherworldly visitors who still want to party.
According to Haunted Hotels of Northern Colorado, the Stanley Hotel’s MacGregor Dining Room, which has been used as a ballroom, is reputed to be at the center of a few ghostly occurrences. Lights have been spotted moving by themselves, while others claim that they’ve witnessed those same lights turning on and off of their own accord. A few have even reported hearing — but not seeing — parties, complete with the sounds of disembodied voices accompanied by vintage music.
Some guests swear they’ve seen a long-dead Lord Dunraven in one hotel room
According to the National Park Service, the fourth earl of Dunraven, Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quinn, first traveled from Ireland to Colorado in late 1872. While in Denver, he was told of the excellent hunting in the mountains around Estes Park, and so he traveled to the mountain town just a few days after Christmas. He was so taken by Estes Park that he decided to own it. Dunraven began buying up parcels of land around town, perhaps to start a cattle ranch or perhaps more simply to establish a private game reserve. He established the popular Estes Park Hotel but then lost interest and left town by the 1880s. Dunraven eventually sold some of his land to F.O. Stanley and Stanley’s business partner in 1908.
Though Dunraven is never recorded as having visited the Stanley Hotel, visitors swear that they’ve seen traces of him throughout the property. Some of the claims collected in Haunted Hotels of Northern Colorado center on Room 401, when Dunraven appears to the shocked occupants, who may also smell the traces of his tobacco. Both the door to the room and the closet door are said to move on their own, sometimes slamming shut as if displeased somehow. Some wonder if Dunraven has something to do with the many experiences reported in the room, after all, though no one’s sure why he would appear in a hotel he never saw in person.
Even the staircase of the Stanley Hotel could be haunted
Surely a place is considered to be pretty darn haunted when even the staircase is said to be home to a ghost or two. In the Stanley Hotel, visitors walking in the front door are struck with the spectacle of the hotel’s "Grand Staircase." According to numerous accounts, some of the hotel’s spirits may be spotted or even recorded on this staircase. The Denver Post reported on the story of Henry Yau, a visitor whose picture of the staircase revealed a ghostly figure that appeared to be that of a woman in an old-fashioned dress. Yau claims that he did not recall coming across a real-life woman when he snapped the photo.
Another account related by HuffPost focused on the Mausling family of nearby Aurora, Colo. The father, Jay, was busy taking pictures when the Mauslings were taking one of the popular "spirit tours" offered by the hotel in 2017. When they later reviewed the photos, they noticed what appeared to be two ghostly figures on the stairs, including one of a little girl — though there were no kids of that size or description in their party.
Could these both be cases of mistaken identity or simply a photographer who wasn’t paying as close attention to their surroundings as they claimed they were? Possibly. Yet, these eerie stories may still be enough to give you pause as you step on the Stanley Hotel’s grand staircase, even if just for a moment.