I went on a ghost tour at the hotel that inspired 'The Shining' and the stories I heard will keep me up at night

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Stanley Hotel ghost stories
An image of the author in front of the room where Stephen King spent the night; an exterior shot of the Stanley Hotel. Monica Humphries/Insider
  • I went on a ghost tour at the Stanley Hotel, the place that inspired Stephen King to write "The Shining."

  • King isn't the only one who has shared stories of apparently paranormal encounters.

  • The hotel has a long list of stories - such as tales of a ghost cowboy and golden retriever haunting the property - to spook guests.

As the sun set over Estes Park, Colorado, I checked into the Stanley Hotel. In just a few hours, I'd be touring the 32-acre property in the dark, hoping to find what Colorado's most "haunted" hotel is known for: ghosts.

The Stanley Hotel in Estes, Colorado, where Stephen King was inspired to write "The Shining."
The author in front of the Stanley Hotel. Monica Humphries/Insider

This fall, I traveled to Estes Park, Colorado, to visit the state's most popular national park and spend a night in one of the country's most "haunted" hotels.

While I'm not easily spooked, I arrived knowing that the hotel had frightened one of the country's most popular horror novelists, Stephen King. King says he had a paranormal encounter at the hotel and left inspired to write his famous novel "The Shining," as he wrote on his website.

On September 30 — exactly 47 years after King's visit — I checked into the hotel for one night and joined about a dozen people on a ghost tour of the property.

The experience, which the hotel calls a spirited night tour, costs $25 for hotel guests and $28 for visitors. The hourlong tour highlights the spooky stories hotel guests, employees, and visitors have collected over the decades. And I haven't been able to shake the stories from my memory since.

The tour started with some historical insight. The guide told my group the Stanley Hotel was opened in 1909 by Freelan Oscar Stanley, known as FO Stanley. But today, it's known as the inspiration for Stephen King's "The Shining."

The Stanley Hotel in Estes, Colorado, where Stephen King was inspired to write "The Shining."
The entrance to the Stanley Hotel. Monica Humphries/Insider

Stanley relocated from Denver to Estes Park with the plan to die of tuberculosis in a beautiful place, the tour guide told my group.

But the clean air offered more than gorgeous scenery. Stanley survived tuberculosis and lived nearly 40 more years, the tour guide said. After his health improved, he and his wife, Flora Stanley, decided to stay and build a hotel, the guide added.

Since it opened, the Stanley has welcomed historic figures, I learned on the tour. Everyone from the Roosevelts to the Rockefellers has spent nights on the property, but today, the hotel's most well-known guest is Stephen King.

After reading stories about what King saw on his frightful night, I was ready to see the hotel firsthand and learn the eerie stories many have told about the institution.

The Stanley Hotel is comprised of four main buildings, and one includes a concert hall. The hall was built for the owner's wife, Flora, who some say still haunts the building today, the tour guide said.

The Stanley Hotel in Estes, Colorado, where Stephen King was inspired to write "The Shining."
The concert hall was built for FO Stanley's wife, Flora Stanley. Monica Humphries/Insider

In 1910, FO gifted his wife Flora the concert hall, the tour guide said.

Flora was an avid piano player, but after performing just once in the concert hall, she learned she had stage fright and never performed again, the guide said.

Some believe Flora never stopped playing. According to the tour guide, hotel guests and late-night visitors claim they have heard music ringing through the concert hall despite not seeing a piano player around.

In the basement of the concert hall, we heard about a ghost named Paul who apparently left behind a haunted couch.

A couch in the basement of the concert hall at the Stanley Hotel.
A couch in the basement of the concert hall at the Stanley Hotel. Monica Humphries/Insider

A former Stanley Hotel employee named Paul died in 2005, but some visitors say they've seen his spirit throughout the concert hall, the tour guide said.

According to our guide, Paul had a couch in a room in the hall's basement. When he died, no one in his family wanted to make the journey to pick up the leather couch, so it remains, the guide told us.

The guide added that some have claimed to see a man sitting on the couch, lights flickering, and doors opening and closing unexpectedly.

As we left the concert hall, we stopped at The Lodge, which is a miniature replica of the main hotel building. There, visitors have claimed to see a ghostly golden retriever named Cassie, according to the guide.

An exterior shot of the Stanley Hotel.
An arrow points to the smaller replica of the original Stanley Hotel. Paul Brady Photography/Shutterstock

The tour guide told us that if we hear clawing at our door, we shouldn't be alarmed; it's likely just Cassie, a friendly golden retriever that was buried on the property.

On the hotel's property, there's a pet cemetery where Cassie was buried, the guide said. Sometimes, according to our tour guide, Cassie leaves her grave to visit guests, deliver newspapers, and search for treats.

Inside the original Stanley Hotel, there are countless stories and paranormal sightings.

The Stanley Hotel in Estes, Colorado, where Stephen King was inspired to write "The Shining."
A staircase landing where old paintings and antique mirrors fill the walls. Monica Humphries/Insider

Over the years, the Stanley Hotel has grown in size. Today, it's made up of four main buildings, including the concert hall, the lodge, and a newer hotel and spa. But the most famous building is the original 1909 Stanley Hotel.

While the concert hall and lodge aren't without a spooky story or two, the original building is where the most accounts of ghosts have been reported, the tour guide said.

Guests sharing stories of shadowy figures, strange laughter, doors closing and items moving randomly, and beds shaking are commonplace inside the original hotel.

The story of Elizabeth Wilson's ghost may be the most famous tale associated with the hotel.

An arrow points to the second floor where Elizabeth Wilson fell.
An arrow points to the second floor where Elizabeth Wilson fell, according to our tour guide. Monica Humphries/Insider

The story goes that Wilson was the hotel's head housekeeper. One night in 1911, Wilson went from room to room with a candle lighting each room's lantern, according to the tour guide. But the hotel had a gas leak, and when Wilson stepped into room 217, her candle caused an explosion, the tour guide said.

Wilson fell through the second story and into the first floor, where she survived, the guide said. After recovering, she continued living at the Stanley Hotel into her 90s, according to the guide.

However, our guide suggested that Wilson never left and said her ghost is often spotted in room 217, where she takes a particular disliking to unwed couples who stay in the room.

According to the guide, some guests say they've felt a cold force between them in the hotel bed, while others have said their luggage was mysteriously packed up and left at the entrance to their room.

The room Wilson is said to haunt is where King spent the night, and that inspired him to write "The Shining."

The Stanley Hotel in Estes, Colorado, where Stephen King was inspired to write "The Shining."
Room 217, where Stephen King spent the night and the ghost of Elizabeth Wilson is said to roam. Monica Humphries/Insider

Our tour guide shared the story about how King and his wife Tabby ended up at the Stanley. The couple was stuck on a roadblock and in the middle of a snowstorm while traveling through Estes Park in 1974, according to the guide. Defeated, they decided to book a hotel room at the Stanley, the guide said.

When they arrived, the couple learned that they were the only guests since the hotel was closing for the winter the next day, our guide said. King explored the empty hotel before retreating to room 217 for the night, the guide said.

But in the middle of the night, King woke after dreaming about a possessed fire hose chasing his son in the hotel, according to the author's website.

"That night 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," King wrote of the inspiration behind his book.

"I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed," he continued. "I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in the chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind."

The tour guide mentioned that the fourth floor, where my room was located, was the "most densely spooky floor" of the entire hotel.

The Stanley Hotel in Estes, Colorado, where Stephen King was inspired to write "The Shining."
The fourth-floor hallway, where frequent ghost sightings are reported by guests. Monica Humphries/Insider

According to the tour guide, the fourth floor was formerly an open layout without bedrooms where the nannies and children of the rich guests would stay.

Today, it's common for guests on the fourth floor to report hearing children laughing and crying, the guide said. There have also apparently been sightings of ghost children playing with hotel guests, the tour guide said.

I attempted to spend the night in room 402 listening for the sounds of ghost children, but instead, quickly fell asleep.

In room 428, there is a cowboy that sometimes greets guests.

The Stanley Hotel in Estes, Colorado, where Stephen King was inspired to write "The Shining."
Some people say they've seen a spooky cowboy in room 428. Monica Humphries/Insider

The tour guide said that some guests — mostly women — have reported waking up in the middle of the night to a cowboy standing at the corner of their bed in room 428.

While there are no accounts of a cowboy dying at the Stanley, according to paranormal tour company Nightly Spirits, "those that know their Estes Park history believe this to be the spirit of 'Rocky Mountain' Jim Nugent." Nugent was Estes Park's first guide, but he died after a rival guide named Griff Evans shot him, according to Visit Estes Park.

Inside room 428, the cowboy is said to sometimes give guests "a ghostly kiss," the Nightly Spirits website states.

Below the hotel, there's a series of tunnels that are said to be haunted.

The Stanley Hotel in Estes, Colorado, where Stephen King was inspired to write "The Shining."
A tunnel underneath the main Stanley Hotel building. Monica Humphries/Insider

The hotel previously had an expansive set of tunnels that workers used to navigate the property, our tour guide said.

Although many of the tunnels are said to have collapsed over the years, one is still included on the tour. Inside the tunnel, our guide shared stories of numerous ghosts who are said to haunt the underground part of the hotel.

While I didn't leave with any ghost sightings, I spent days reflecting on my tour guide's hair-raising stories.

The Stanley Hotel in Estes, Colorado, where Stephen King was inspired to write "The Shining."
The author standing in front of the Stanley Hotel. Monica Humphries/Insider

I quickly understood how a hotel like the Stanley could inspire a horror novel like "The Shining." Its eerie atmosphere paired with the tour guide's ghost stories left me spooked for days.

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