Michael Wayne goes on a ghost hunt at the Stanley, the hotel that inspired Stephen King's novel The Shining.
In 1974, a young author and his wife checked into the Stanley Hotel, in Estes Park, Colorado. The pair were the only guests that night, as the hotel was about to close for winter. During his stay, the isolation and eerie nature of the hotel inspired the author to write his next novel.
That author was Stephen King and the novel was The Shining.
A 1980 film adaptation by director Stanley Kubrick catapulted the story of a family stranded in an isolated hotel during a harsh winter into the pantheon of pop culture infamy.
Over the years, amid the collective conscious memories of bloody elevators, ghostly twin girls and a cry of "Here's Johnny" breaking through the bathroom door, the Stanley Hotel's role in the saga has been largely forgotten.
Just not by the Stanley Hotel.
The first thing that strikes me about the Stanley is just how isolated it isn't. While it backs on to the amazing vista of the Rocky Mountains, the Stanley's front porch provides a view of the Estes Park McDonald's.
It's not an axe-wielding Jack Nicholson or phantom caretaker who checks me in at reception but a bubbly young woman who can't wait to give me my official Stanley Hotel token, which is good to the value of $5 in the gift shop.
I'd just keep the coin if I were you, she suggests.
Behind her hang keys to each of the Stanley's 140 rooms. The only one that stands out is the key to room 217 — the room that features as a hotbed for supernatural evil in King's novel.
"Your room will be ... " She's done this a million times before, and has become a master of suspense; the Stephen King of key vendors. "... 222."
Damn. She hands me a key card; the physical key remains on the wall — just for show, like so much else at the Stanley.
Whether or not room 217 still harbours supernatural spirits, I'll never know. But a special ghost adventure package, including a glow-in-the-dark ghost toy, the overnight loan of an EMF meter that measures surrounding electromagnetic fields, and the promise that Stephen King himself stayed in the room — is available for a few dollars more (glad I saved that token).
In the long, drab hallway leading to room 222, I encounter a pair of girls in 19th-century dress and goth makeup staring at me. I get closer, and they keep staring, unmoving. But then their makeup artist shows up to touch up their cheekbones, spoiling the effect.
The Stanley Hotel claims to be haunted, and even runs a nightly ghost tour. Tonight, the tour is sold out, so any ghosts I encounter will have to be found off the beaten track.
I find no ghosts on the ground floor, which features a mini-museum showcasing the movies that have been filmed at the Stanley. I say mini because there are only two: a 1997 TV miniseries of The Shining, and the somewhat scarier Dumb and Dumber (1994).
I find no ghosts in the Cascades Restaurant, unless you count the signed glossies of celebrity guests adorning the walls. Stanley Kubrick's picture is there, but it's not signed.
I find no ghosts at the whisky bar — but plenty of spirits. It's also haunted by a loud man with an annoying laugh, and I can only stay for about 10 minutes before I'm driven to my room.
And I find no ghosts in my room. But I do find a TV channel that screens The Shining 24 hours a day. Curiously, it's the Stanley Kubrick film, and not the 1997 version shot in the Stanley.
During the night, my alarm goes off at 3am. I slap the snooze button. At 4am, it goes off again. This time, I unplug it. At 4.30, it goes off again.
Suddenly, I feel compelled to write.