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F.O. Stanley’s legacy

A hotel for the past and present

Created date

September 25th, 2012

F.O. (Freelan Oscar) Stanley was 53 years old when he learned he had tuberculosis. By this time, the New England-based magnate had made millions from his dry-plate photography company, and despite his fortune, he had just six months to live. His doctor s advice: Go west where the air is thinner, easier to breathe. Within 72 hours, Stanley was on a train bound for Estes Park, Colo. Here the mogul rented a cabin and fell in love with the Rocky Mountain landscape. He had recovered nicely, defying his physician s grim prognosis. It was 1903. Over the next six years, he threw himself into developing Estes Park, building a hydroelectric plant, a school for the local children, and a grand hotel that more than 100 years later remains a fashionable destination for tourists. With 140 rooms, the Stanley Hotel is not all that big by modern standards; however, it is a far cry from the corporate rubber-stamped designs of the resorts that dot the Caribbean. Built in the neo-Georgian architectural style, it boasts late 19th century opulence and a storied past rivaled by few vacation destinations. When the Stanley first opened its doors in 1909, it immediately attracted the world s rich and famous. Among the guests strolling its beautifully manicured grounds were President Theodore Roosevelt, John Philip Sousa, the Emperor and Empress of Japan, and the best known of the Titanic s survivors, the Unsinkable Molly Brown. Yet, today, the hotel s most popular guests are less visible and no longer living.

Ghostly connections

People like the Stanley Hotel for its gorgeous surroundings and its stunning architecture but visitors are usually most interested in our ghosts, says Teri Johnson, museum curator at the Stanley. We ve had quite a few of the popular television shows likeGhost HuntersandGhost Adventuresdo investigations here, and they ve had some thoughts about who our spirits might be. One of them is F.O. s wife Flora. At the Stanley s grand opening, F.O. gifted Flora (an accomplished musician) a Steinway piano, which sits in the hotel s music room. Flora would frequently play the instrument for guests, and there are those who believe she still does. Once a lady who worked at our front desk took a night shift, recalls Johnson. At 1:30 in the morning, she heard loud piano music coming from the music room and, afraid that it would wake the hotel s guests, marched over to the room to tell whoever was playing to knock it off. Well, when she threw open the pocket doors and switched on the lights, the music stopped. There was no one in the room. Another of Johnson s favorite ghostly accounts involves F.O. himself, who loved to greet guests in the hotel s lobby. I ve spoken with several visitors who say they ve seen Mr. Stanley walk down the main staircase and into the lobby, she says. They claim that it s only a fleeting glimpse of an older, bearded gentleman about 5 feet 11 inches tall. These encounters generally fall under the category of what paranormal investigators call residual hauntings, meaning the ghosts don t interact with witnesses. Rather, it s like watching a looped tape replay a moment from the past. Naturally, there is no shortage of skeptics on the subject of specters and poltergeists, but the stories are just as good all the same. The Stanley so inspired bestselling novelist Stephen King that he used the hotel as the setting for his book and, later, director Stanley Kubrick s horror movieThe Shining. In fact, the film runs continuously on the hotel s Channel 42, allowing guests to watch Jack Nicholson s character, Jack Torrance, plunge into insanity 24 hours a day. For those visitors more interested in the parapsychological aspects of ghosts, the Stanley offers ghost tours and all-night ghost hunting sessions covering each of the hotel s paranormal hotspots. But regardless of whether you believe in spirits or not, it s difficult to dispute the Stanley s late-Victorian allure. To be sure, they don t build hotels like this anymore. michael.williams@erickson.com

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