The Stanley Hotel. It’s gorgeous, spooky, star-laden, rustic, luxurious, and guaranteed to arouse curiosity. Each of the last two Januaries, National Frank’s Birthday has been heralded by a weekend at the Stanley. We fly into Denver International, speed off toward someplace to eat, pray it hasn’t been snowing, twist through the Rocky Mountains and pull into Estes Park. I inevitably drive the wrong way down at least one street, but we survive all that and we check into the Stanley Hotel.
Murder By Death is what brings us. We see them at the Stanley, and every time they’re in Minnesota. They bring an energy and set list that seems to perfectly suit the evening and venue they’re playing. At the Stanley, they dress in formal attire and take photos like the one at the end of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The crowd also takes part. It’s worth nothing, very few people at Murder By Death shows behave like assholes. I’ve given up concerts because I’m sick of dealing with assholes, but Murder By Death is the exception. World-class band, great fans.
Spirits of all sorts keep us at the Stanley for an extra night after the show. My wife takes the ghost tour, and I kill time at the whiskey bar. We oversleep. She hits up the gift shop; I walk down the street, take in the view, and have brunch. The recharge this trip gives us lasts us well into the summer.
Below are my photographs in and around the Stanley Hotel. National Geographic practically begged me for these*, but they wouldn’t let me tell a story with them so I told them to get stuffed and am instead offering them to you myself.
Watching guard in the front lawn is F.O. Stanley himself. F.O. Stanley was a wealthy man from the East Coast, so it makes sense that he was named after Versace. Per the Stanley’s website, Freelan Oscar Stanley came to Estes Park and was met with a surprise: the climate weakened his Tuberculosis affliction. He and his wife, Flora, needed the high life of the coast but couldn’t quite find it in little ol’ Estes Park.
What happened? The Stanley Hotel happened.
The Stanley first opened in 1909 and has been wooing the stars ever since. From F.O. to his first guests, from authors to film crews, from musicians to Minnesota-based hack bloggers (R-list is still a list, okay?!), the hotel has been collecting big-name reservations for over a century. It’s changed, most certainly, but some of the old charm – and some of the old charmers – are just as present as they were back in the olden days.
… and on inside!
Greeting you in the entryway is an original Stanley Steam Car. The Stanley Steam Car Wiki page tells us these were produced from 1897 to 1924. Quite a coincidence, isn’t it, that a car like this would bear the Stanley name and wind up in the Stanley Hotel. Nope! F.O. Stanley and his twin brother F.E. Stanley (“The Iron Twin” he was called) founded this company with money made by selling their photographic dry plate business to one Eastman Kodak.
The Stanley Steam Car company went flat in 1924. Kodak had not yet gone out of business at the time of this article’s publication.
The MacGregor Room used to be the main dining room at the Stanley Hotel; and, according to this website, is named after a rancher who “stopped the infamous Lord Dunraven from all his wrongdoing, becoming an Estes Park hero.”
Hauntings have been reported in this room, from simple flickering lights to afterlife-sized glow-in-the-dark action figures. When my wife and I took a tour of the Stanley back in 2016, some jerk-off wouldn’t stop taking pictures despite the tour guide asking him over and over. I finally roared “QUIT IT, YOU F*CKING ASSHOLE!” He took his last photograph in this room. The tour guide, and even a few of our fellow tour-takers, thanked me after it was complete.
Wait. (Thinks about it) Guys … I might’ve been possessed by MacGregor in that room!
I’m not even kidding about that. Let’s move on before this gets any weirder.
To the right of the piano is the Music Room, the centerpiece of which is – yep – another piano. It’s a big, white room otherwise. It’s said that Flora Stanley occupies it and plays her piano sometimes, while F.O. heads to the Billiards Rooms.
The principle haunting in this room, it’s said, is the scent of pipe tobacco in the air. It’s said to be of F.O.’s favorite smoke. I thought I tasted it in the air during our long stay in that room, but it was probably the beer I tipped up in the hotel room beforehand.
Stepping back out, whaddya say? Basement first, or up the stairs first?
I already know the answer. It’s the right, choice, though.
One thing that’s absent from my tour is The Tunnel, because there isn’t much left of it. There used to be a tunnel that ran under the hotel and connected it to other parts of the complex. Most of it has been filled up, though, and all that remains is one room-sized section that leads nowhere … or so we’re lead to believe.
This was the dollhouse used in The Shining‘s television adaptation, the one over which Stephen King had much more influence. I haven’t spoken to Mr. King about this, but my wife said the TV adaptation was made because Mr. King disliked Stanley Kubrick’s movie adaptation. My wife also dislikes Kubrick’s film.
Y’know what else had scenes filmed here? Dumb and Dumber!
Speaking of dumb, according to this website, Jim Carrey learned a lil’ lesson the hard way. It quotes:
“But the hotel is no respecter of fame. In 1994, when Dumb & Dumber was being filmed here, Jim Carrey requested the infamous room 217 for the night. According to our tour guide Sophie, he lasted three hours before running to reception and demanding to be moved to another hotel. Carrey has never said what spooked him, but after that night he refused to go back inside The Stanley for filming until the last second, and ran straight out afterwards.”
Did I mention the Stanley has a resident psychic? They do.
After the Murder By Death show this year, she hosted a seance at the hotel at midnight after the concert. My wife and I have a tradition we do every year there: we see the show, tell ourselves we’re going to stay up until the wee hours of the morning drinking whiskey with the band, get out of our formal attire, but then cancel those plans once we discover going to bed would be much easier since our clothes were already off. It’s what you do at our age.
This is one of my favorite things at the Stanley. I spend way too much time every year photographing it, and I can never get a picture that does it proper justice. It’s the closest a person can come to stalking an inanimate object. From the framed sheet above it: “This stove, while it is an open Franklin, can be instantly changed to a closed stove by simply closing the Sliding Mira Doors, thus doing away with the objectionable loose blower used with many open front stoves.”
It goes on! “A very valuable feature is the Feeder arrangement by which the stove may be converted into a Self-Feeder, when it is desirable to keep a continuous fire, the same as in the most approved base burning parlor Stoves.”
One more graph: “The Fire Pot is round, can be easily replaced without dismounting any portion of the Stove, and the grate is of the Vibrating and Draw Center construction. The ornamentation of Tile and Nickel is strikingly handsome.”
They’ve got a room called The Archives at the Stanley Hotel. It contains numerous artifacts, though I’ve never been able to get a good look inside. You definitely see a pool table, though, and you definitely see this:
Oh, you damn well know what that says.
Whoa! That’s a page from the movie! Whoa! No it isn’t! Do you know how I know? I’ve often stated that Cracked is one of the most reliable sources of news on the Internet, so I believe what they’re cooking at Number Two on this list. That’s how I know.
That’s all I’ve got for the basement. Let’s check out the cage Madame Vera locks you up in for an extra $50/night. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.
I’m kidding. It’s the elevator.
If you’re looking for a superfast elevator, homeslice, let me tell you, you are most definitely in the wrong place. It’s slow in a charming way, though, and I mean that. Still, let’s just head up to the ground floor and walk up from there.
The walk up to the second floor from the first is one of the grandest indoor views you can have just about anywhere. I spent a good while admiring the framework lining the grand staircase, during which time I recognized a painting of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
My camera lens exacerbates it below, I’m sure, but there is a subtle unevenness to the hallway structures on the upper floors. Though it’s certainly had some upkeep done, its status as a historical landmark means the building can only be altered so much. Let’s be real, though: with modern conveniences and securities, the hotel wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. Give me uneven, warpy hallways over a crappy continental breakfast buffet any day.
On a more serious note, in 2016, my wife and I stayed in room 420. The door number was printed on a sticker in the shape and fashion of these signs because the real door number sign had been recently stolen. I’m sure whoever took it off the wall and brought it home is still impressing his or her friends with this awesome story about how he or she stole the 420 room sign from the Stanley Hotel. I bet everyone thinks that is just so awesome.
A weekend at the Stanley isn’t the cheapest trip you can take, but we sure as hell haven’t paid a single cent in regrets. Last year, we said we didn’t need to do it again – but then I kind of spazzed out when Murder By Death put the tickets on sale, and there we were again. They played all of our songs this year. We told ourselves this was our last year, but the spirits might beckon us once more when January comes back around.
*Indicates a lie
RELATED: Check out this visual tour of the World of Chocolate Museum in Orlando, and the two-year-old CHS Field in Lowertown St. Paul. Do it a new tab so you can hear my favorite Murder By Death song below.