The Stanley Hotel - Of Kings And Cars

The Stanley Hotel is an American icon - made so by one of the most recognizable and iconic americans figures, author Stephen King.

However, it is very possible that lacking King's 1974 visit to the Stanley both man and hotel may have fallen into obscurity. Thus, in a way it is to each other that these two owe a great part of their notoriety. 

As with all things, there is a rich and storied history lurking just below the surface of it all.  Our story today begins with the Stanley family.

The Stanley's immigrated to the US from England in the 1600's. They eventually settled on the frontiers of Maine and thrived during the the new england renaissance of the 1800's. This was an era that provided the family not only with nourishment and inspiration, but for this family to offer many of their own significant contributions to art, engineering, conservationism, music and science. 

Most notable were identical twin brothers, Freeman Oscar, or FO, and Francis Edgar. Born into a well educated generation with five other siblings, all named after literary, scientific and historically significant figures.

In 1876 FE Stanley invented the first airbrush, allowing him to create a thriving portrait business. However, he soon began utilizing the quicker and more modern camera. 

After experimenting with coating glass plate negatives, he was able to develop and manufacture his own dry plat coating machine. FO had partnered up with his brother by this time,  and the two were making upwards of one million dollars per year. In 1904 the Stanley twins sold their patent to George Eastman of Eastman Kodak. This enabled them to parlay their fortune into what would become their most renowned passion - steam cars - resulting in the creation of The Stanley Steamer - the famous, bestselling, steam driven automobile. 

FO Stanley first came to Colorado at the urging of his physician. He had been suffering from tuberculosis and was informed he had only a short time left to live. He and his wife, Flora arrived in 1903 and fell deeply in love with Estes Park. The did not hesitate to purchase land, build a home and help to create a community there. 

Prior to this, the majority of Estes Park had been acquired, much of it by fraudulent means, by an irish nobleman - the Earl Of Dunraven. Dunraven had viewed Estes Park as a prime area for leisure and had already built a few properties. It wasn't until attorney, Alexander MacGregor launched an investigation into Dunraven's land holdings - creating an uncomfortable atmosphere for him that chased Dunraven back to Europe. F.O Stanley partnered with Burton Sanborn and together, they were able to acquire Dunraven's 6,600 acres and create the Estes Park Development Company. 

Construction on the hotel began straight away and included the building of an entire hydroelectric plant, making the stanley the very first hotel in the US to be fully electric. FO Stanley also had a hand in creating the town's entire infrastructure including roads, a sewer system, water and power service and a bank. 

No expense was spared to construct the 6 buildings that would initially comprise the hotel.  Each room had a private bath, electric and gas lighting and even a phone routed to the front desk - a luxury unheard of in its time. 

Initially, the Stanley's had selected the name "Hotel Dunraven" or similar,  - however, so beloved was Mr. Stanley by Estes Park citizens, that a petition was composed on deerskin, insisting that "The building which will stand as a monument to its founder shall be called The Stanley Hotel." FO Stanley consented. 

In June of 1909 the hotel played host to it's first guests - conventioneers from the Colorado State Pharmeceutical Association. 

They arrived at Loveland train depot and piled into 22 Stanley Mountain Wagons - designed specifically by Fo Stanley to transport guests to the hotel. 

Along the way, entertainment was also provided by a rather curious means. A man dressed in a bear suit would approach each car along the journey. The driver would than take out a shotgun and mime shooting the bear, who would, obligingly fall over, dead. This was repeated 22 times times - once for each car. 

Rates for his luxury leisure palace were steep - $5 - 8 dollars a night, compared to the typical lodging fee of $1 - 2 dollars elsewhere. 

Throughout the years, the stanley would attract numerous guests of note including the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown, Bob Dylan, Gene Tierney, Johnny Cash, Jim Carrey John Phillip Sousa, PresidentTeddy Roosevelt and bubble enthusiast Lawrence Welk. 

I'm sure you've noticed a name missing from the aforementioned list - fret not - we'll get to him later. 

Almost from the hotel's opening, a chambermaid by the name of Elizabeth Wilson began working at the hotel. In 1911 during a violent storm the power went out. Miss Wilson methodically went from room to room lighting the gas lamps. When she reached room 217 she began to light the lamp, not realizing there was a gas leak and a terrible explosion occurred blowing through rooms 217, 215, 219 all the way up through the roof and down to the MacGregor room. Wilson survived the explosion but sustained multiple injuries including breaking both legs and ankles. The stanley's provided her with the best medical care and she recuperated at the hotel. When she fully recovered Miss Wilson returned to her work at the hotel - but this time as head housekeeper. She remained in this position until the 1950's. 

It seems each room and building at The Stanley has it's own story to tell... 

The lobby, with it's grand staircase and it's own Stanley Steamer on display also has another point of interest - an Otis elevator. The elevator originally operated on a hydraulic system. In the early years if there was too much weight in the old Otis, it would not alight, but simply sink to the basement. In result, gentlemen in thee party would often disembark and send the ladies on up ahead to their rooms on the upper floors. Tour guides sometimes tell a story of the ghost of a little girl who has been seen by many of the staff in various areas of the old hotel, including the lobby. Mr. Stanley makes appearances as well, in various parts of the hotel and can sometimes be seen strolling through the lobby, blending into tour groups and frequenting his favorite spots in the hotel when he was still alive.

Nearby is the Music room, which served as a ladies parlor. In the afternoons at tea time small chamber ensembles would often entertain guests. In it still stands a gift from FO Stanley to his wife, Flora - a beautifully carved Steinway piano. Legend has it that John Phillip Sousa tuned Fora's piano on his frequent stays at the hotel. Staff and guests alike have pondered if perhaps Mrs Stanley never truly left the hotel as it seems she continues to entertain guests with her piano playing. Tales of the piano being played are often told - when a curious staff member or guest goes to investigate - there is no one in the room. 

There was a plethora of choices for gentlemen guests of the Stanley to boot. The Pinon Room, originally referred to as the smoking room was, as so many things were at the time, forbidden to women. During the 1920's to the 1940's this room featured a soda fountain and was a popular destination for children. There was, of course, a billiards room as well, a mainstay of any good hotel of the time. Fo Stanley was said to be an avid and accomplished player who did not take well to loosing a game. Again, women would not have been permitted to play in the hotel's earlier years but were allowed in the room as spectators. There is a mirror in the room that supposedly manifests shadowy, human like figures when there is no one there to make them. Of course, this being a favorite room of Fo Stanley, his apparition has also been encountered here. 

At the west end of the lobby is the MacGregor Dining room. Named after the attorney who initiated the investigations into Lord Dunraven's land holdings. The room often serves as a ballroom for holiday events like New Year's Eve, Halloween and local events like proms. 

Moving away from the main hotel is the Manor House, which stands as a miniature replica of the main hotel, and as unlike the main hotel which was used exclusively as summer lodging, this replica was utilized for year round visitors. During the summer, when both were in operation, Stanley insisted that single males be housed at the manor house and were not to lodge with unmarried ladies and couples at the main hotel. 

A grand Casino was also built, now known as Stanley Hall. It was to be "a place of entertainment"  and unlike what it's original name suggests it certainly did not offer gambling. Mr. Stanley was quite opposed to this activity, as well as smoking, drinking or even the consumption of tea and coffee, which was not served at "his hotel." 

The Casino's architecture was designed to be a smaller Boston Symphony Hall and has featured many notable performers throughout the decades. On the lower levels of this building were two bowling alley's - another favorite pastime of mr. stanley's which was - you guessed it, also forbidden to the fairer sex.  

This building has it's fair share of spectral tales - one of the most recent, comes from a gentleman who was hired on during the renovations period to work on the floors between the hours of midnight to 8 am. he completed the hall floor and moved on to the stage to begin work there. Just as the sun was coming up, the man said he felt someone grab him, hard around the waist and forcefully pull him backwards across the floor. When the banquet staff arrived to work that morning they found the man's costly equipment abandoned on the stage - he had fled in fear. 

Another notable structure on the grounds is The Carriage House - built at the same time as the main hotel, the Carriage House was used to store the steamer cars and a repair shop. In the 1950's it was renovated and repurposed as a "motel" - this venture was unsuccessful and the carriage house was boarded up and left to rot. It is currently used for storage. According to one employee of the Stanley, there is at least one mattress that was stored here after a hotel guest died on it. Staff and paranormal investigators have claimed to have been grabbed, touched and objects pushed. 

The Stanley even has it's own cemetery - for pets. The final resting place for beloved animals who lived their earthly lives at the hotel can be found between the old ice house and the ice pond. Ice would be harvested from the pond and then transported over to the ice house for storage to keep perishables cold and prevent spoilage. The old "refrigerator" can still be seen in the main hotel - it is now used as a display case. 

Arguably, for most visitors to the Stanley, the centerpiece and greatest draw to the hotel are the guest rooms themselves.  In the early years of the hotel, the well to do guests would bring along their own maids and nannies. They were made to stay in cramped cubicles up on the 4th floor. 

Many a ghostly tale is told by guests who stay in these rooms especially rooms 418 and 401, where people report seeing the apparition of Lord Dunraven, who likes to throw objects and reeks of his signature cherry tobacco. In 418 cleaning crews report hearing strange noises from the room, as well as seeing impressions on the bed when the room has been empty. One couple reportedly checked out of the hotel very early in the morning, complaining that the children in the hallway kept them up all night. However, there were no children booked in the hotel at the time. These spectral youths have been heard by countless guests over the years. 

Of course, the most famous room - legendary in not only paranormal lore, pop culture and literature is the infamous room 217. 

Once room 217 and it's neighboring rooms were all connected making one large suite. Guests here claim to have returned to their rooms after venturing out to find their belongings neatly put away. One female occupant of room 217 claims she removed her numerous rings prior to going to bed and laid them out in a row on the desk. When she awoke she found them all stacked up on top of one another. Other's believe the spirit of Miss Wilson pays visits to unmarried couples, by lying in between them and forcing them apart - or maybe she just likes threesomes. 

When actor Jim Carrey checked into 217 for his stint in the movie, Dumb and Dumber, he checked out three hours later. When front desk personnel questioned him he simply said, "I'm not staying in this hotel another minute," then promptly deputed to the front porch to wait for a driver. 

After authoring his first two novels, Stephen king wanted a change of pace and moved his family out to Boulder Colorado for a year in 1974. At the suggestion of locals, King and wife Tabitha, a wonderful author in her own right, decided to check out The Stanley Hotel. When they arrived on October 30th, they were almost not permitted to check in, as the following day would be closing day for the season and preparations of packing away things for the winter had already been made and only minimal staff was on hand. 

Stephen and Tabby were the only guests of the stanley that night and checked into room 217. - King said "We found ourselves the only guests in the place — with all those long, empty corridors . . ." They dined in a completely empty dining room at a single table set only for them, while recorded orchestral music echoed through the empty room. Of this experience King says, "Except for our table all the chairs were up on the tables. So the music is echoing down the hall, and, I mean, it was like God had put me there to hear that and see those things. And by the time I went to bed that night, I had the whole book in my mind"

After dinner, Tabby went up to bed, while Stephen took a walk around the empty hotel. He ended up in the bar and was served drinks by a bartender named Grady

When he he finally did go to bed, King also dreamed - a dream that would help mold our culture, our fears and our own nightmares - "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. I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in a 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."

In 1980, Stanley Kubrick would bring his own telling of King's tome to the silver screen. Heralded as a cinematic masterpiece - film enthusiasts cite The Shining among their favorites of the horror genre. However, King made no secret about his dissatisfaction of the film so in 1996, King returned to The Stanley Hotel for five months to exact his vision of the story, which aired the following year on ABC. 

Two geniuses from different eras and worlds have come together to make this glorious hotel a must see destination the world over - bringing together, naturalists, history buffs, car enthusiasts and cinemaniacs alike - together - where even the dead shine on. 

Photographs from the Maine Historical Society and The Stanley Museum


  1. What an excellent post! Very well done. I like how you presented your hypothesis that King saved the hotel, and then went on to present facts to back up your argument. (Not that's it's an "argument" but your statement.) Plus, you shared a lot of great info. And pics. Again, very well done!

    1. Thank you so much, Courtney! Your opinion means a lot and I'm so pleased you enjoyed it!