I first became aware of The Stanley Hotel through an episode of the Syfy television show Ghost Hunters. I learned, though the show, that The Stanley was the inspiration for the "Overlook Hotel" in Stephen King's 1977 novel The Shining. Apparently, the building wasn't the only thing that inspired Mr. King; its haunted inhabitants also played an enormous part.
From watching the episode, with its Rocky Mountain backdrop and haunted history, I immediately became drawn to the Stanley's beauty and majesty. Both Jamie Davis (with whom I co-authored Haunted Asylums, Prisons, and Sanatoriums) and I thought that this might be a great place to visit one day. I never figured that we'd actually get to do it (though, oddly enough, we actually would visit the Stanley on three separate occasions within a two-year period).
Jamie and I had been dating for a while, but had never been on a proper vacation together. The summer of 2009 was fast approaching, and Jamie was determined for us to go somewhere far enough away that we would have to fly. We pooled our resources and started scouting for somewhere to go. So, where to go?
We decided out West; the farthest West I'd been to prior to that point had been to New Orleans, LA. We also decided on two destinations during the trip, since we didn't know if we would get another opportunity to get out that way. We picked Las Vegas, Nevada (because, well, it's Vegas) and Estes Park, Colorado (mainly due to location of The Stanley and Rocky Mountain National Park). In hindsight, I wished we had just stayed the whole week in Colorado!
As we waited aboard the plane prior to takeoff out of Atlanta, I noticed a large black SUV approach our plane and park on the tarmac. A few people got out of the SUV, and before you knew it, they had come aboard our plane. We had no clue what was going on, but no one was acting in a panic. Before too long, an elderly gentleman (with a bodyguard) made his way down the aisle, shaking every single hand as he went along. After shaking my hand and Jamie's hand, she whispered to me, "Who was that?"
I responded, "President Jimmy Carter."
Her response? "How dare he delay our flight!" It was a classic "Jamie Davis" line, as Jamie is known not to have patience with anyone who delays her in any way (even if that person is the former President of the United States of America).
We arrived in Denver without any other delays, and drove the two hours north to Estes Park. From the way the Ghost Hunter's episode was filmed, you'd think that the Stanley is isolated; that's not the case at all. The Stanley is situated pretty much within walking distance to the town of Estes Park. It's elevated above the town, in a very picturesque location.
We checked in and confirmed our reservations for their very popular "Ghost Tour." On the Ghost Tour, we learned that the Stanley hotel was built in 1909, by F.O. Stanley, the inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile. Mr. Stanley needed to move west for health reasons. He found a spot in Estes Park to build a hotel, The main purpose for which was so that his friends and family would have a place to stay when they came to visit.
We also learned of its haunted history. The main ghost story is of Ms. Elizabeth Wilson, the chief housekeeper in the hotel's early days. It's documented that Ms. Wilson was involved in an acetylene lantern explosion in room 217, while trying to light one of the lanterns. The blast forced Ms. Wilson to the floor below where she was. She did not perish in the blast, but it is said that Ms. Wilson still haunts room 217, moving guest's belongings, as she still tidies up the room. This is the room that Stephen King and his wife stayed in.
F. O. and his wife Flora Stanley are also said to haunt the hallways of the hotel. Other claims of paranormal activity consist of phantom music, children playing on the fourth floor (when none are staying in the building), footsteps, disembodied voices, and physical touching by the spirits.
During our stay, Jamie and I roamed the hotel after hours. We checked out all of the "hot spots," but we didn't experience any sort of paranormal activity. On our last night, I was determined to stay up until 2:00 AM; I wanted to try and experience something in our room. My body had other ideas. All of the hikes that we had done (in the nearby Rocky Mountain National Park) and walking around Estes Park had taken their toll. Knowing we had to leave early for the airport the next morning (we had to catch our flight to Las Vegas), I decided to call it quits around 12:00 AM. Before going to sleep, I asked, "If there is anyone here with us right now, can you let me know your presence? Can you knock on a wall? You can touch me, if you want."
Jamie immediately replied, “Don't touch me!" I had thought that she was already asleep!
I received no response, so I took a couple of digital pictures, put my camera in its case and set it on the nightstand, and went to sleep.
The next morning, I couldn't find my camera anywhere. Jamie hadn't moved it, and neither had I. I felt compelled to look under the bed, and there it was. The camera and case were sitting upright, pretty much dead center under the bed. If I'm not mistaken, the bed was queen-sized, and I had to reach to retrieve it. Now, we could think of no explanation of how it ended up there. Neither the camera nor the case it was in were remotely round in shape. Even if I had knocked it off during the middle of the night, it wouldn't have ended up where it did; someone would have had to toss it under there. Our assumption was that someone or something didn't like me taking pictures inside that room.
We came back to Estes Park and The Stanley the following summer. This time, Jamie wanted to spend one night in a documented "haunted" room, and room 418 was available on our last night there. We had two strange things happen. Well, three if you count the fact that Jamie was never in that room alone (even though she was the one who came up with the idea of us staying there). She even followed me to the ice machine for ice.
The first strange thing to happen was that the door was wide open when we got to the room. It was like someone was expecting us, and was welcoming us in. Either that, or someone was luring us in. We checked with all of the staff, and no one claims to have left that door open. The second strange thing was that we heard someone walking on the ceiling above us, while we were trying to sleep. You may say to yourself, "That's not at all strange." It is, actually, when you consider that we were on the fourth floor of the hotel, and there is no fifth.
Spending time at The Stanley, Jamie and I experienced the paranormal together for the first time. We had no equipment, except for a digital camera. I believe that Estes Park, Colorado is where a tiny seed was planted in Jamie's brain. That seed grew into our forthcoming book, Haunted Asylums, Prisons, and Sanatoriums. I love Colorado!