What Really Happened at The Stanley?

April 17, 2017

Nothing could have prepared me for stumbling across one of my all time favorite authors in one of the journals. I’m still reeling from it. But finding that story did send me down a rabbit hole of interestingness that I thoroughly loved.

As was discussed in the entry, The Stanley Hotel was built on land procured from one Windham Wyndham-Quin by Freelan Oscar Stanley and his wife Flora. And yes, it was the site of tragedy. Room 217, made infamous in The Shining as 237, had history far before Mr. King chose to immortalize it. And yes, accounts vary. An article from The Trail Gazette offers a good summary:

In 1911, Room 217 was the Presidential Suite, said Jesse Freitas, the hotel’s archivist: an L-shaped room that took up the space that now houses two rooms: 217 and 215. On the evening of June 25 of that year, a thunderstorm cut the power and all of the hotel’s guests were taken down to the lobby while staff was charged with lighting the back-up acetylene gas lamps. There was an unknown gas leak when chambermaid Elizabeth Wilson entered Room 217 with a lit candle.


Five different Colorado news accounts of the incident reported five different – sometimes vastly different – stories. The Denver Times reported just a day later that the chambermaid’s name was Elizabeth Lambert and that she was fatally injured. The same report said that she was joined on the second floor by another maid, Eva Colbern, who was “thrown through a wall onto the hotel porch.. but she was merely stunned.”

What really happened? No idea. But whatever it was, it was enough to give the room the reputation that led to an even bigger mythos.

The Stanley Hotel does actually embrace its haunted history, though. They’ve got a whole page dedicated to it. As one section of it reads:

After a century of collecting spirits, the hotel has become renowned by specialists and experts in the field of paranormal investigation as one of the nation’s most active sites. Chief amongst the hotel’s eternal guests are F.O. and Flora Stanley who continue to go about the business of running their beloved establishment as though they were still alive; Flora’s antique Steinway can be heard playing in the dead of night and Mr. Stanley has been captured in photographs surveying the goings-on in the Billiards Room, once his favorite place.

The piano thing makes sense now, right? Seriously, though: they lean in with this ghost business, offering haunted tours to interested guests. And remember that maze in The Shining?



Well, that was originally just a feature of The Overlook Hotel in the book. But to further capitalize on their creepy cred, The Stanley Hotel built a hedge maze of their own in 2015.



But what of Mr. King’s stay at the now legendary hotel? King has this to say about it on his website:

In late September of 1974, Tabby and I spent a night at a grand old hotel in Estes Park, the Stanley. We were the only guests as it turned out; the following day they were going to close the place down for the winter. Wandering through its corridors, I thought that it seemed the perfect—maybe the archetypical—setting for a ghost story. 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 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.

So yeah, there was a nightmare. Could it have been derived from some sort of hellish experience that was wiped from his memory? I have no idea. I’m still just hoping I don’t get sued. So there’s that.

Most folks associate memories of The Shining with the film version starring Jack Nicholson. If you want to tumble further down the rabbit hole, there’s a great documentary about it on Netflix called Room 237 that breaks down a whole bunch of theories on the meaning of the movie.

That said, it’s worth noting that King wasn’t happy with Kubrick’s take on his novel, so maybe the book is a better bet. In any case, I’ll be rereading and rewatching in the near future. I don’t know about you, but I want to see if there’s additional overlap between King’s story and the entry that I’m missing.

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