The Haunted Stanley Hotel: The Inspiration for King’s ‘Overlook’

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado is known as the inspiration behind Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel in his novel and subsequent film, The Shining. In 1903, Freeland O. Stanley (co-inventor of the Stanley Steamer, with his twin brother Francis) and his wife, Flora moved to Estes Park from Massachusetts. Mr. Stanley had contracted tuberculosis and his doctor suggested the mountain air may help to heal him. When the climate in Colorado succeeded in healing Mr. Stanley, the couple decided to make it their permanent home and in 1909, opened the luxurious Stanley Hotel. At a time when modern-day amenities were new and rare, The Stanley Hotel offered guests electricity, running water, phones and the use of automobiles during their stay.
On the evening of June 25, 1911 a thunderstorm cut off power at the hotel. Guests were sent downstairs into the lobby while staff lit back-up acetylene gas lamps. However, there was a gas leak in the hotel to which staff was unaware. Gas itself does not cause an odor; Today, a scent is added to the gas to alert people to a leak. However, in 1911 this was not the case. When chambermaid Elizabeth Wilson entered the presidential suite, room 217, at around 8:00pm with a lit candle, there was immediately a massive explosion. The blast decimated room 217 and sent Ms. Wilson into the MacGregor dining room located just below the presidential suite. The explosion destroyed the entire west wing of the Stanley, comprising 10% or the nearly 70,000 square foot METERS hotel. It was a compression explosion which extinguished it’s own fire. Otherwise, the blast could have easily caused the entire hotel to burn down.
Elizabeth Wilson suffered two broken ankles but recovered. Mr. Stanley paid all her medical bills and after she returned to work, he made her head chambermaid. Elizabeth continued to work in the hotel until her death in 1950. Allegedly, after Ms. Wilson passed, she began to haunt the former presidential suite where the accident occurred. Today, the former room 217 has been broken up into two smaller rooms; 217 and 215. Guests staying in these rooms have found their clothes folded and put away after having been left out. Unmarried couples who stay in these rooms have also reported the sensation of someone lying between them in bed, forcing them further apart.
Although the story of the explosion has been heavily exaggerated from the time it occurred in 1911 until today, the Stanley Hotel’s archivist insists Ms. Wilson was the only person physically affected by the incident. Only one other gruesome event involving the hotel has occured in its 100+ years of being open. At one point (exact year unknown) a runaway girl about thirteen years of age called “Lucy” sought shelter from the cold in the basement of the Stanley Hotel’s concert hall. One day, maintenance men discovered the girl, forcing her to leave. That night, the temperature in Estes Park dropped below zero. Lucy’s body was later found; She had frozen to death.
Despite its relatively benign past, the Stanley Hotel is said to have collected many ghosts over the years. In addition to chambermaid Elizabeth Wilson, Mr. Stanley is said to have been seen hovering behind employees working at the hotel’s reception desk and sitting at the hotel bar. Piano music heard coming from the concert hall is said to be caused by Flora Stanley. Lucy has also been spotted on several occasions and is believed to be heard humming in the concert hall. Guests have also heard the occasional “Get out!” in that room. While room 217 is certainly the most notorious, the 4th floor seems to have the most activity. People who stay in room 418 claim to feel children “hugging” them; The sounds of children’s laughter emits from the room. Staff often finds indentations on the bed in room 418, as if someone has recently been sitting there, after it has been vacant. These same kids are also heard giggling and running throughout the halls on the fourth floor. Room 407 is said to be haunted by the previous land owner, the 4th Earl of Dunraven. He has occasionally been seen standing in the corner of the room and guests and staff alike have reported smelling pipe tobacco. In various rooms throughout the hotel, there have been claims of clothing being unpacked, items mysteriously moving and lights turning on and off by themselves. Hotel staff have revealed that every room in the hotel has had some report of paranormal activity at one time or another but employees insist no claims have ever been sinister in nature.
In 1973, when Stephen King and his wife Tabitha checked into the hotel for one night, they were strangely the only guests; King requested room 217 (by far, the hotel’s most requested room). That night, Stephen King drempt his three-year-old son was running down the hotel’s corridors, looking back over his shoulder. He was screaming and appeared terrified, being chased by a firehose. This bizarre nightmare, in addition to the feeling of seclusion staying alone in such a grand hotel, inspired Stephen King’s The Shining. Although none of the film was shot at The Stanley, the hotel did install a hedge maze after the release of the novel in homage to King.

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