I have this thing about Stanley Kubrick’s 1980s film, The Shining. I watch it annually as soon as October rolls around. I’ve read the book a few times, but I honestly don’t get the same creepy feeling as with watching the movie. You could say I’m a fan of the movie, but only in the fact that I watch it regularly and that I like sifting through trivia related to the movie. So when we set out on the road to see America, I had to include a few stops associated with the movie and the book.
In August, our trip to Glacier National Park took on us on that very road that the Torrance family’s Volkswagon Beetle took to the fictional Overlook Hotel. If you’re wondering, the film location for those aerial shots is actually Going-To-The-Sun Road in Montana. I loved that scenic drive across Glacier National Park, and I highly recommend it to anyone.
The Stanley Hotel
In early October, I thought it would be fun to visit both Rocky Mountain National Park and the Stanley Hotel. So on the day after our arrival in The Centennial State, we set out to Estas Park. The building on the outside was regal, while the interior felt opulent. The grounds still look lush with plants thriving off the mild Indian Summer weather, and yellow-leafed aspens shiver in a slow breeze. I really couldn’t ask for a perfect autumn setting than this.
In the front courtyard, young Emerald Green Arborvitae trees marked the beginnings of a small hedge maze, just like in the movie, although not as big or elaborate. Just beyond the hedge maze, there’s a canvas tent erected on the front lawn. This rustic base camp offers fun interactive learning or the freedom to hang out in the shade with a beer. Visitors can also play lawn games and enjoy campfire socials with smores and drink whiskey or wine. In the smaller tent, you learn more about where to go and what to do in Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Main Floor
Walking up the front steps and through the main doors takes us back in time. There are creaky wood floors and a fireplace roaring right next to some overstuffed leather chairs. Behind the check-in desk hang decorative faux-brass room keys. Near the window stands a vintage Stanley Steam Car highly polished and gleaming in the sunlight. Guests weave up and down a vintage staircase since not many dare the old 1930s elevator. In the Concert Hall, an overpriced ghost tour begins with a seance and made complete with a lady in black lace. The only thing this place lacks is an eloquent staff dressed in crisp 1920s garb; both the restaurant hostesses and the clerk staff look haggard and kind of messy.
The restaurant and whiskey bar inside is draped in luxuriant furnishings and copper facades. I wish I could say wonderful things about the food and libations but they don’t amaze me in flavor or presentation – it just tastes like decent bar food. I guess you pay for the venue more than the meal. Downstairs is a cafe and espresso bar which serves pastries and drinks few levels up in quality.
The Lower Levels
Next door to the cafe, is the events office for those interested in buying tickets to ghost tours and other events. Just down the hall lives a small archives room where you can view historic photos, documents, and other artifacts. At the very end of the hall, sits the offices of the hotel’s resident medium and psychic, Madam Vera, who you can hire at some outrageous hourly fee. Tucked away in the corner, an unmarked door leads to a service hallway which you can only visit while on a ghost tour.
The Shining Inspiration
On October 30, 1974, Stephen King and his wife Tabitha checked into The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. At the time, the staff busily closing the hotel for the winter season, and thus they were the only two guests in the hotel that night. After having dinner in an empty dining room, the staff escorted them down long empty and eerie corridors to room 217, one of a few haunted areas in the hotel.
That night King, dreamed of his three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming – a possessed fire-hose wildly chasing his son. King then woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, and within an inch of falling out of bed. He got up, lit a cigarette, sat in a chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, King had the bones of the book. While Room 217 of the Overlook Hotel is featured prominently in the novel, the movie writers changed it to Room 237 for the film.
I’m here at The Stanley Hotel searching for ghosts. Well, actually it’s the ghost stories that I want. While wandering the hotel, I learned the secret behind Room 217. In 1911, a freak gas explosion injured Elizabeth Wilson, a chief housekeeper. As she was lighting the acetylene lanterns in Room 217, the gas ignited in a quick but powerful eruption. She survived with broken ankles, but to this day takes special care of Room 217’s guests. Guests have reported items moved, luggage unpacked, and lights being turned on and off while staying in the room
The Ladies’ Man
Then there is Eddie, a ghost who initially presented himself with a foul odor, earning him the nickname “Stinky Man.” Apparently offended by the moniker, Eddie switched tactics and began exuding a more pleasant smell. As the resident prankster and ladies’ man, Eddie likes to stroke the hair and kiss the cheeks of female guests. He’s said to frequent the Concert Hall and the ladies restroom.
The Owner & His Wife
Freelan O. Stanley of Stanley Steamer fame constructed the 138-room Georgian hotel after contracting tuberculosis and his doctor ordered him to spend time in the fresh air of Estes Park. He enjoyed the area so much, he decided to stay. Today, witnesses claim that you can still see Stanley roaming the lobby and the Billiards room on late and lonely nights. While his wife, Flora, occasionally plays the piano when no one is looking.
Worth the Visit
The Stanley Hotel exudes an odd mix of tourist trap and genuine history with an excellent old world ambiance. Both Hitch and I would love to host a Call of Cthulu game for our friends in one of the private rooms. We also would love to stay a night for our anniversary, but locations south called to us. Perhaps another time!
Nice write-up; thanks for sharing.
Funny: I would have said just the opposite — I thought the movie(s) were okay but the book was deeply disturbing (just as King wanted it to be)
Thanks, John! Nice to hear from you.
I was thinking about King and his style of writing. It was late the 1990s by the time I got to his books. I already read from authors like Clive Barker (Thief of Always), Robin Cook (Invasion) and Thomas Harris (Hannibal). I’m guessing I was already familiar with the horror novel formula by the time I read The Shining — even though The Shining may have been the predecessor for modern era horror. So in the end, it didn’t feel unique and was a little boring, especially in the middle.