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Western Landmark: The Stanley Hotel

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, combines an english exterior, a western interior and a trip in a time machine

Written by Steve Winston  
June | July 2014

At first glance, it appears like a mirage.

On a hill overlooking the very Western town of Estes Park, Colorado, sits a Classical Georgian building, a princely white lodge with red roof. The structure looks as if it was dropped here mistakenly, by a time-machine gone berserk.

When you walk into The Stanley Hotel, the mirage becomes even more mysterious because suddenly you’re standing in the Old West.

This 155-room hotel was built by Freelan Oscar Stanley, co-inventor (with his twin brother, Francis Edgar) of the Stanley Steamer automobile. Stanley, who suffered from tuberculosis, had first come to Estes Park in 1903 at his doctor’s suggestion. He and his wife, Flora, fell in love with the area and Stanley’s health improved immediately. They made the area their home and decided to build a grand hotel, which opened in July, 1909.

“Freelan Oscar was known for Georgian Colonial Revival Style architecture, which he followed in many of his creations,” says Ryan Gaterman, ambassador sales manager at The Stanley and resident historian. “From his houses out 

East, to his Hotel and house in Estes Park, nearly every building erected in the name of Freelan Oscar Stanley utilized Georgian Colonial Style.”

F.O., as he was known, also had a habit of replicating his buildings. The hotel is a replica of the home he built in Estes Park. And the 40-room guest manor he later built on the grounds, which now operates as a boutique hotel called The Lodge at The Stanley, is a replica of the hotel.

From the day The Stanley Hotel opened, it attracted the rich and famous, among them Titanic survivor “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, John Philip Sousa, Theodore Roosevelt, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, the Emperor and Empress of Japan and numerous Hollywood stars.

When you’re inside The Stanley, you’re in the West. The public rooms are filled with dark woods, brass, Old West chandeliers, bronzes of wild animals, old books and photos, and authentic period furniture and accessories. And bedrooms are reminiscent of the West’s Golden Age, with large headboards and angled ceilings with round lights.

The Whiskey Bar, with its beveled and stained-glass accents, is one of Colorado’s great gathering places. It’s appropriately named because its renowned whiskey collection boasts more than 600 labels of the finest whiskeys in the world.

The wealthy cattlemen in 10-gallon hats and handcraft-boots give the place an aura of an old “Dallas” episode. 

The Stanley is the type of place to which people return again and again — even, apparently, after they leave their earthly bodies.

Most hotels wouldn’t want to publicize the fact that they’re haunted by guests who checked in, but never checked out. But The Stanley revels in it and even has a resident psychic for curious guests. Playing to its reputation for the paranormal, the hotel offers a variety of ghost tours, and the gift shop is filled with items related to ghosts and The Shining, which Stephen King was inspired to write after staying here.

F.O. and Flora are still here, too, according to staff, no doubt to ensure that the beds are crisply made and the service is up to par. Elizabeth Wilson, a staff member injured in a gas leak in 1911, is said to “hang around” so she can care for current guests. Nearly every room has been reported to house spirits, says Gaterman. Guests have experienced items moving from place to place and lights turning on and off. And some fourth-floor guests have heard children running up and down the halls

From the day The Stanley Hotel opened, it attracted the rich and famous, among them Titanic survivor “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, John Philip Sousa, Theodore Roosevelt,

The Stanley is the type of place to which people return again and again — even, apparently, after they leave their earthly bodies.

Most hotels wouldn’t want to publicize the fact that they’re haunted by guests who checked in, but never checked out. But The Stanley revels in it and even has a resident psychic for curious guests. Playing to its reputation for the paranormal, the hotel offers a variety of ghost tours, and the gift shop is filled with items related to ghosts and The Shining, which Stephen King was inspired to write after staying here.

F.O. and Flora are still here, too, according to staff, no doubt to ensure that the beds are crisply made and the service is up to par. Elizabeth Wilson, a staff member injured in a gas leak in 1911, is said to “hang around” so she can care for in the middle of the night.

When you lay your head down at The Stanley, rest comfortably in the knowledge that you are sleeping in architectural grandeur surrounded by Colorado’s stunning alpine setting.

But you may want to sleep with one eye open!