There are a few things you must know about me before I begin to tell this tale.
- I am in love with Groupon. Aaron and I have availed ourselves of movie tickets, scuba diving and wine classes and I have an archery coupon burning a hole in my Katniss-style pocket, all for an incredibly reasonable price.
- Not many things scare me, and I try to make it a point to confront the things that do. I have been comfortable around snakes, spiders and their ilk from an early age. Clowns are colorful and funny – and who doesn’t like balloon animals? Roller coasters are a little squicky for me (it’s that initial swoop, you know?) but I hop in line at amusement parks because it’s a delicious kind of fear.
- The paranormal has always fascinated me. As a tween, my dad took to calling me “Serial Killer” due to my attraction to horror movies like “The Exorcist” and “Night of the Living Dead.” At one point, my mom paid me $5 to read something – ANYTHING, that wasn’t written by Christopher Pike, R.L. Stine, Stephen King or Ann Rice. I pocketed the cash, read Anne of Green Gables for the millionth time and resumed my reading of The Tommyknockers. Never having had a supernatural experience, I have always loved reading and watching others’ stories but if my viewing of “Paranormal Activity” is any indication, (I slept poorly with the light on for weeks afterward) I am ill equipped to actually confront a ghostie-ghoulie myself.
- Every birthday, I try to help my husband cross something off of his bucket list. Last year he flew a plane and the year before I sent him to a cabin in the woods for a solitary retreat so he could get his write on, Michael Gideon style. He puts up with me on a daily basis, so when I payback, I have to payback big.
So. It’s a few weeks before Christmas and I am perusing my Groupon app, where there is a deal for a night at The Stanley Hotel. Score! Aaron is a huge Stephen King fan and, as a writer, would really appreciate being in the place that inspired The Shining, one of King’s most famous (and arguably, scariest) works. Mom has been bugging me about cool Christmas gifts to get my husband and I have found her answer. One phone call and a few emails later and we have our Groupon for a night’s stay at The Stanley.
I don’t really think much about how this trip is going to affect me, it’s so far in the future. It’s gratifying to see how excited my husband is – think kid in a candy store but with jetpacks – and I am looking forward to getting away and seeing some mountains. But the time flies by and suddenly, our flight is booked, we’re packed and the following night, we will be spending our evening in the same space that gave birth to Stephen King’s creative epiphany. With some ghosts, maybe.
I can’t sleep. It’s not actually fear keeping me awake – insomnia is a pain in the ass. Our flight leaves in the early A.M. and we have to get to the airport at the buttcrack of dawn. I actually don’t get one single bit of sleep that night. I’m annoyed, but one very large, sugary coffee later, I concede that I can sleep on the plane.
Except I don’t, not for more than 30 minutes or so. I get the window seat and spend most of the hour and a half flight staring at the crop circle topography out our window. (Does anyone know why the landscape looks like that from a distance? How is it that everything is so symmetrical? ALIENS! Why are there more circular shapes than square as you travel farther west? Farmers? No, aliens. Wait, why is that one shaped like a lizard?) These thoughts occupy me for quite some time, so I miss out on sleep.
We arrive in Colorado, a state I have never been to. I love public transportation and I am in my element as we gleefully hop on the tram to take us to the main terminal, where we will hop on a shuttle to get our rental car. After a minor snafu with the rental car place, we’re comfy in our Ford Fusion and on the road. (Seriously, avoid Advantage if you can help it – so many jacked up fees that our total was more than twice what we were quoted and the woman behind the counter kept trying to upsell us despite a firm no. Yes, I’m still bitter about it.)
As we drive, I keep seeing signs for the Denver Butterfly Museum. Aaron and I like to play a game called Follow the Signs and the signs are pointing me to insects so we make a quick stop. We take many, many pictures in the butterfly habitat, touch a few starfish, I hold a tarantula named Rosie and we’re on the road again, this time looking for food. I think my husband might eat my face if I don’t put a burger in his hands immediately, so we stop at a McDonald’s off the highway, where I score us a free milkshake through stupidity. (I ordered a chocolate milkshake, and then changed my order to a Shamrock shake but they had already poured the first so they gave us both. Sleepy ordering and Denver McDonald’s staff FTW!)
We soldier on and much as I would love to nap, as I am getting dumber by the sleep-deprived second, I can’t make myself because mountains. Mountains! I love mountains. We’re driving through the thick of Denver and the presence of these beautiful behemoths lend a bit of gravitas to the scenery. I’m in awe, though I don’t see any of the mountain goats I am so actively seeking and I take far too many pictures as we wend our way up the ear-popping incline. We turn the final curvy corner and there she is – Estes Park, CO. It’s beautiful. You can see the bright white of The Stanley shining in the distance, just beyond the lake. Quaint little shops and rustic lodges litter the landscape. The mountains majestically rise above it all. It is in this moment that I decide that I could live in Colorado.
We arrive at the hotel. It’s gorgeous, all warm woods and intricate details that you typically find in grand, historic hotels of this type. We make our way to the front desk and as we check-in, Lindsay, our friendly front desk agent, lets us know that we have a surprise waiting for us. We’re not THAT surprised, as my mother has been gunning for us to get to the hotel all day and has been constantly reminding us that we need to use this as an opportunity to really enjoy ourselves and let go on this trip in the weeks leading up to it. My mother is many things, generous being one of them, but subtle she is not. Aaron and I have discussed the fact that we may have tickets for one of the hotel tours or a gift certificate to the restaurant waiting for us when we arrive.
Aaron reads the card Lindsay hands him and smiles before showing it to me. My eyes skim it and stop at one number. 401. We’ve been upgraded to room 401. The Stanley is known for being haunted and if you’ll excuse my making up words, the fourth floor, home to the former nanny wing, is known for being haunteder. Supposedly, you can still hear the laughter of small children in the halls. Rooms 401, 428 and 217 are the hauntedest of the bunch. As we learned from the video on the hotel’s website, 217 is where Stephen King stayed when he was at The Stanley and it is where the ghost of Mrs. Wilson, the resident housekeeper resides. She’ll put your clothes away for you and apparently, if the story of The Shining genesis is to be believed, will act as a muse for writers at 3 AM. Room 428 is home to a watchful cowboy who likes to stand over the bed at night and 401 is home to Lord Dunraven, a sailor who likes the ladies. I hear screaming in my head. I let out a loud gasp, tear up and cry “Oh, NO!” I actually have to turn away from the desk to collect myself.
Poor Lindsay is so concerned by my reaction that she offers to move us to another room, which I decline. I want to face my fears. I want Aaron to enjoy this night as much as possible. I definitely want to see a ghost for the first time, no matter how much it terrifies me. So we get our keys and head to the room. It’s still light out and I am exhausted so after getting settled in a bit and exploring the room, which is beautiful, we turn on The Shining (which runs constantly on one of the hotel channels) and I take a disco nap, bringing my grand sleep total to about an hour and a half.
It’s exploring time! I’m awake and Aaron has been patient enough. We meander around the hotel, taking pictures and ultimately end up on one of the hotel tours, led by Bonnie, a very sweet, very knowledgeable older lady on staff. She gives us the history of the hotel and it’s owners, F.E. and F.O. Stanley, and in each room, makes it a point to tell us the ghostly tidbits. We end up on the fourth floor and she tells a story about Lord Dunraven grabbing her butt when she was in 401. I try to ignore it. I take a picture in the basement tunnel that has suspicious lines on it. They weren’t there when I took the picture and they weren’t there in the subsequent pictures I took so I can’t explain them. Ghostly energy? I have no idea.
Tour over, it’s time to eat and we freshen up and head downstairs. Our reservation is for 7:30 and we have a little time to kill so we sit at the bar. Aaron is excited to try one of the top-tier whiskies on offer (The Cascades has the largest whiskey collection in the state of Colorado) and I have been wanting to try the Mandarin Martini all afternoon, ever since we passed by the sign advertising it in front of the restaurant. We sit down and Aaron orders his Crown Royal XR and I suddenly have an overwhelming need for a Bloody Mary. So I order it. It’s yummy.
At dinner, we have lamb meatballs as an appetizer (they were called something fancier but I can’t remember what), I order the French onion soup and Aaron and I both order the filets with roasted vegetables. Everything is wonnnnnnnnderful and my Bacon Bloody Mary complements the filet perfectly. Aaron has to settle for beer, as he shot his $26 whiskey in under two seconds. Why? I honestly have no idea. He’s crazy like that.
We want dessert and still have some money left on our tab but we are exhausted so we order it to go so we can relax with it in our room. As we wait for it to be boxed up, I pop outside for a quick smoke. I’ve been a little jumpy and have asked Aaron to stick close to me all day, but now it’s dark out and I am alone. For the first time, I realize just how freaked I really am. As I smoke, every noise I hear has me spooked. A dried leaf skittering across the sidewalk almost makes me wet myself. I finish my cigarette as soon as possible and hightail it back in to the restaurant. I have the unsettling feeling that I am being watched.
We head back to the room and I take a leisurely bath in the enormous cast iron tub. It’s relaxing, but only because I make Aaron sit on the toilet and talk to me while I soak. I am worse when I am left alone with my thoughts. He’s been very patient with me thus far, poor guy. Having had several paranormal experiences of his own, he’s nonplussed at the ghosties and is more excited about the Stephen King aspect of this trip, but he is genuinely concerned at my level of nervousness. I’m not screaming or crying, but there’s a definite undercurrent of nerves and need. We settle in to bed and eat our dessert. The tiramisu tastes great, but my eyes keep darting anxiously around the room, looking for dancing shadows.
Now. Aaron will tell you that we had all the lights in the room on. This is not true. He can fall asleep at the drop of a hat, and while I was exhausted, I spent more time awake in that room than he did. The lamp on my side of the bed was on as, as was the T.V. Once, Aaron made the mistake of turning away from me to go to sleep and I made him flip right back around and talk to me. After Aaron expressed some mild annoyance at my having disrupted his sleep for the third or fourth time, bolting upright and flipping restlessly as I was, I halfway watched a movie (though I have no idea what it was) and fell into a fitful sleep. At one point I woke up to “Grease,” which helped. You just can’t be scared when you’re watching Danny Zuko. It was a long night for both of us. Sorry, babe.
The next morning eventually dawned cold and clear and I was decidedly less freaked out. Aaron and I lazed for a bit and walked around the hotel some more, just taking in the ambience. It is truly a gorgeous hotel. As I got ready to head to the airport, I hear Aaron pipe up from the bedroom. “Babe, did you open the closet?” I hadn’t. Aaron had been looking at a picture on the opposite wall and watched through the reflection in the glass as the heavy, creaky door slowly and silently inched open on its own. I, of course, made him sit on the toilet again while I finished getting ready. We closed the closet door (firmly) and started packing. Then, as Aaron sat in the sitting room off of our bedroom, and I packed in the next room, I looked up and was surprised by an open closet door. “Babe, did you open the closet?” Aaron replied that he didn’t. The door was fully open. I went a bit wide-eyed, but didn’t freak out, which made Aaron suspicious. I’m still not sure if I have fully convinced him that I did not touch that door. I didn’t.
Bonnie told us on our tour that if a woman got into the closet and closed the door, Lord Dunraven would stroke her hair. I had been staring at the closet side-eyed the entire night, thinking that I should try it. I surely didn’t want to but again – I like to make myself do the things that scare me. After a few false starts and a deep breath, I climbed in and shut the door. Nothing happened, but then, I was clenched so tight, I don’t really know if I would have felt anything had Lord Dunraven tried to cop a feel. Still. I did it.
We headed down to breakfast and had a wonderful meal. I had the Redrum French toast with bananas and a pomegranate mimosa and Aaron enjoyed eggs, toast and ham. Again, delicious – maybe even better than dinner. As we were perusing the menu, there was a notation in the beverage section. Remember that Bloody Mary I was telling you about? Apparently it was Lord Dunraven’s drink of choice when he stayed at The Stanley. I remembered my quick switch and overwhelming desire for a Bloody Mary the previous night and smiled. Was Lord Dunraven messing with my head, or did I just really need some olives in my diet? I don’t know.
We left The Stanley with full bellies and made it to the airport with time to spare. (Plenty of time, as our flight was delayed. Boo.) As it stands, the tally for our trip runs to a picture with some unexplainable lines on it, two open closet doors and a Bloody Mary. As such, I can’t really make a case for the hauntings at The Stanley Hotel but I can tell you that we had a wonderful, albeit it wakeful time. I can also tell you that my husband is very patient and Groupon is awesome. So there’s that.