Spooky, Scary, Ghostly & Fun! The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado

The ghosts of the murdered twin girls were nowhere to be seen, nor was the cackling, naked old woman with decaying flesh.

Yet the little hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end and my shaking legs were telling me to make a quick exit from the 100-year-old Stanley Hotel in Colorado – otherwise known as the real-life inspiration for the eerie old hotel in “The Shining.”

I was sitting in the dark at one o’clock in the morning with four strangers, in the midst of a seance meant to conjure the many spirits said to inhabit the haunted hotel.

But while I didn’t really expect to see the bloody specters of the twin girls or the old lady who taunted Jack Nicholson in the 1980 movie, I was hardly prepared for what did occur during a recent ghost tour of the stately old hotel.

The table that we were holding during the seance started moving – clockwise, counter-clockwise and side to side.

By itself.

If you’ve seen “The Shining” or read the Stephen King novel it’s based on, you’re already somewhat familiar with the Stanley Hotel, although it’s called the Overlook Hotel in the book.

King’s stay in the huge, nearly-empty hotel at the end of the tourist season was his inspiration for the scary story of a frustrated writer who slowly starts to lose his mind during a long, lonely winter at the fictional Overlook.

High in the Rockies, at 7,500 feet above sea level and located in Estes Park near Boulder, the Stanley is said to be among the most haunted hotels in the U.S. thanks to a horde of paranormal residents who regularly drop in on guests.

Among them is F.O. Stanley, an inventor who built the hotel in 1909. His phantom has been seen playing pool and wandering the bar. The spirit of Flora, his wife, still enjoys playing the piano for guests who notice a strong, pleasant scent of roses, her favorite perfume, when she breezes through.

The room where King stayed, 217, is said to be a hotbed of paranormal activity and is usually booked months in advance. The ghost of Mrs. Wilson, a maid, has pulled pillows from under the heads of sleeping guests and has made the bed with visitors still under the sheets.

I spent the night in room 401, which has a king-sized bed, a Jacuzzi and a beautiful view of the Rockies. Seems that spirits enjoy luxury as much as the living – guests have encountered the ghost of Lord Dunraven, the original owner of the land, in 401, which is considered to be the most haunted room on the overly-creepy fourth floor.

Though the dead kept their distance from 401 when I visited the Stanley, other guests on the floor did report having otherworldly visitors that night.

Lisa Cafiero and her daughter Livi, 13, were woken up repeatedly as the bathroom door in room 413 kept jiggling throughout the night.

The Cafieros, who have visited the Stanley three times, have seen unexplained shadows on staircase walls, felt spirits running their fingers through their hair in the middle of the night, and swear that the ghost of a child was jumping on Livi’s bed one evening.

But most interesting is a photo Lisa took outside the Stanley. It shows a white mist in the upper left side of the image, swirling in the air with no apparent explanation. Could it be what paranormal investigators call ectoplasm, the residue left over by a ghost?My own close encounter of the spiritual kind occured during the five-hour ghost tour led by Callea Sherrill, the Stanley’s resident paranormal investigator.

We started in the basement of the concert hall, armed with KII meters that measure electromagnetic fields (EMF) said to emanate from ghostly entities, and a spirit box – a modified radio that captures ghostly voices – in an attempt to contact Lucy and Paul, apparitions frequently encountered at the Stanley.

According to lore, Lucy had been living in the basement of the hotel when workmen evicted her during a renovation. She was found frozen to death that cold winter but often returns to the warm rooms of the concert hall – where she’s known to slam doors shut.

Paul was a maintenance man who died while shoveling snow. He often appears after 11 p.m., when he seems to get irritated by the fact that people are still in the building.

“People have reported hearing a deep, gravelly voice say ‘Get out!’” says Sherrill. “We’ve also seen a figure which appears to come halfway up the back staircase to the main floor, check things out, then disappear back down the stairs.”

Our group of 15 slightly scared, yet still-skeptical ghost hunters sat silently in the dark on the floor of Lucy’s room. The glow from our ghost-detection equipment and a red exit sign were the only light sources in the building – which of course had me thinking of the little boy in “The Shining” chanting “Redrum!” “Redrum!” Not to mention the theme from “Ghostbusters.”

Minutes later, all grinning ceased as we experienced our first ghostly encounter: A strange noise that started as a low growl in the distance and seemed to move closer.

Thankfully, we all remembered Sherrill’s earlier instructions – “Don’t anyone run unless you see me running” – considering a woman in the group admitted the scary noise was actually emanating from her stomach, not another dimension.

But in Paul’s room, a flashlight was seemingly turned on by a spirit, then turned off when someone in the group asked the ghost to do it – which scared the wits out of a woman in the group.

“I was ready to run out of the room when that happened,” says Sara Darrow of Boulder.

The seance turned out to be the scariest encounter of them all. Sherrill has us onstage in the concert hall, holding hands and trying to conjure the Stanley’s many spirits.

With the only illumination coming from a flashlight, we stood transfixed as the table started moving and the KII meter was jumping off the end of the dial.  It was at that moment when even the skeptics on the Stanley Ghost Tour started believing.

Beyond ghosts, Estes Park and the surrounding area offer limitless outdoor adventures.  Spend a day hiking some of the 350 miles of trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, exploring more than 250,000 acres that are home to Elk, Deer, Moose, Coyotes, Bobcats, Bears, Bighorn Sheep, Hawks and Eagles.

You can fish in the high Alpine lakes, snowshoe in winter and tent or RV in the five vehicle accessible campgrounds.  Take a ride up Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuously paved roadway in the United States and enjoy the view from Long’s Peak.  At 14,259 feet, you’re above the tundra line and the view and peaceful quiet of the wind take you far away from the New York City noise we’re used to.

Challenge yourself physically and emotionally by climbing the Rockies with   Jonathan Wright and Diana Lyn at the Estes Park Mountain Shop.  We did two climbs and a rappel down under clear blue skies one recent morning and with

Jonathan’s encouragement I was up the North Rock and East Rock with as much sure footed confidence as a Rocky Mountain goat.

He helped steer me to small cracks to use as hand holds and minute ledges on the rocks, to push myself up.  Of course all the time you’re roped in, on belay, where Jonathan was able to minimize the rate and length of my fall, if I slipped.

With stunning views of Mary’s Lake, the Rockies and the Continental Divide and confidence in my equipment and instructor, the day on the rocks passed quickly.  The thin air had us hungry and a beautiful sunset and great meal at The Chalet Room at Mary’s Lake Lodge was the perfect end to a spooky and exciting visit to the Rockies.

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If you go:

The Stanley Hotel, at 333 Wonder View Ave., Estes Park, CO can be reached at 970-576-3371 or at http://www.stanleyhotel.com

There are Ghost Tours both day and night and they book up quickly.   Day tours are $15.00; the five hour paranormal experience is $50.00 and can be booked online, as can an appointment with Madame Vera, the resident psychic of the Stanley.

For Estes Park information, contact the Estes Park Convention and Visitors Bureau at http://www.estesparkcvb.com/

For info on Rocky Mountain National Park, go to http://www.nps.gov/romo/

For climbing, fishing, biking and other outdoor adventures the Estes Park Mountain Shop is at http://www.estesparkmountainshop.com/


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