Shining a Light on the Most Terrifying Hotel in America

By Claire Hansen
Blog Content Contributor

The story of the The Shining is a classic horror story. I say “story” because the book and movie are quite different from each other.  Nonetheless, both versions still from one of the greatest Halloween-time tales to be told. However, not many people know that this story actually came from real events. So, with the best holiday of the year here, I have included the small backstory of The Shining, and how it materialized into one of the spookiest tales we know.

Whether you’ve read the book, seen the movie, or both, you already know that the story is simply a masterpiece.  I won’t go into the plot all that much, but to those who aren’t familiar with the story: Basically, a man has been hired as the caretaker for a hotel over the winter, where he plans to spend a few months writing a play and battling alcoholism, detached from civilization.  He brings along his wife and son to stay with him, but the evil spiritual forces which reside in the hotel following a dark and violent past drive the man insane, leading him to brutally murder his family with an axe.  Scary stuff, huh?

Well, as it turns out, although this definitely isn’t a true story, Stephen King was inspired to write this book after a real-life experience he had while staying at an old hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.  He and his wife had made the trip to the Rockies one afternoon for King to find some inspiration for another novel, but when night fell and they found their route to be blocked off, they were forced to turn back and stay at an eerie hilltop property they had passed earlier, called the Stanley Hotel.  They were just about to close down for the winter, leaving the two of them as the only guests in the 140-room estate.  He had noted to himself that the architecture seemed to be the perfect setting for a ghost story.  After retiring for the night in room 217 (more on that later), he experienced this:

“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.”  (King, stephenking.com)

stanley (4 of 5)
A back view of The Stanley Hotel’s grand staircase, which some may recognize from its famous scene in Dumb & Dumber. Photo by Claire Hansen.

From that night, the story of “The Shining” was born.

Today, that hotel still stands as one of the most haunted places in America.  They embrace their terrifying reputation by hosting ghost tours, events and conferences for supernatural freaks like me to try their luck communicating with the lingering spirits. It was actually my raging obsession with SyFy channel’s Ghost Hunters that introduced this mysterious gem to me after filming one of their most famous episodes there.  Since then, I’ve made the trek up there four separate times to experience its ghostly history, and have been lucky enough to stay in room 217, the same room that Stephen King stayed in when he was inspired to write this story.  I can’t say weird things didn’t happen, and neither can Jim Carrey!  If you’ve ever seen the movie Dumb and Dumber, the hotel they stay at in “Aspen” is actually The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park.  Carrey had requested to stay in the infamous room 217 that night, but lasted all of three hours before hightailing it to the front desk and demanding to be moved to a different hotel.  He has never said what spooked him, but I can confirm that he definitely wasn’t making it up.

King’s fictional version of the hotel is called, “The Overlook”, but upon entering the Georgian-style mansion, one would quickly realize it was clearly meant to be a copy of The Stanley.  The uncanny resemblance of the sprawling front porch and sweeping staircases transport you to the creepy setting of the late-70s novel.  Remarkably, however, not a single scene of the movie was filmed at The Stanley.  It was actually the Timberline Lodge in Mt. Hood, Oregon that was used for the exterior shots of the hotel, but the rest was filmed at a studio in London.  The lodge’s management requested that the room number be changed to Room 237 for the movie, as they do not have a Room 237 and feared that guests would avoid Room 217 after watching it.  Ironically, though, Room 217 is now their most requested room.

As interesting of a story as The Shining is, the backstory and the setting are equally as fascinating.  Next time you find yourself in Colorado, whether you’re a skeptic or a believer in the supernatural, I highly recommend testing your wits or simply checking out the views offered by the mystifying Stanley Hotel.

Featured image by Claire Hansen.

Asia Daggs

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