The Haunted History of the Stanley Hotel – Part 1

Posted by US Ghost Adventures Contributor in US Ghost Adventures

Part 1- The History of the Stanley Hotel

The haunted history of the Stanley Hotel goes far deeper than the ghost stories that emanate the building today. It also goes beyond the inspiration for the book written by Stephen King, “The Shining.” 

The hotel was a vision fulfilled by a prominent man of the early 20th century, Freelan Oscar Stanley. And that is where the haunted history begins.

Freelan Oscar Stanley

Liberty Stanley was married to Hannah Metcalf Fairbanks, and together they had seven children. Hannah died in childbirth of their last child. Liberty Stanley became desperate with the burden of raising seven small children on his own. He decided to adopt out several of his children, including his name-sake Liberty. 

Liberty was given to Stanley’s brother Solomon Stanley and was renamed Solomon Liberty Stanley. Solomon Liberty Stanley became the father of twins Francis and Freelan. The twins were born on June 1, 1849, in Kingfield, Maine. The family wasn’t wealthy. However, education was highly valued, and knowledge of science, poetry, and music was encouraged at a young age.

Some accounts suggest that the twins’ names Freeman Oscar and Francis Edgar were drawn from pages of a poem by Sir Walter Scott. However, Edgar is the only name that appears as a character from the author’s works. One of Scott’s works, Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field, is a historical romance of 16th Century Britain. The poem had significant meaning due to their love of poetry, the arts, and the pride of their Scottish ancestry. A battle cry quoted in verse, “On, Stanley, on!” became the motto for the Stanley Dry Plate Company. It was featured on their packaging above a logo of a knight on horseback.

Entrepreneurs to Education

The brothers became entrepreneurs at the young age of nine when they started their first business refining and selling maple sugar. Their aim was to buy woolen cloth to make new school clothes and a copy of Benjamin Greenleaf’s National Arithmetic. The twins worked every equation of the publication cover to cover.  

When the brothers were eleven years old, their great-uncle taught them the art of making a violin. 

Freeman had completed three instruments by the time he was sixteen. He continued making violins throughout his life, including quality pieces today’s prized possessions of collectors and musicians.

At twenty, the brothers started their college education at the University of Maine, Farmington. Francis didn’t find academic schooling to his liking and left to pursue his love of art. Freelan continued with his education from Hebron Academy to Bowdoin College.  

After accepting a high school’s headmaster position in Mechanic Falls, Maine, Freelan met and fell in love with Flora Jane Record Tileston. Flora was a teacher and competent pianist at the school. They married in 1876.

In 1881 Freelan was diagnosed with tuberculosis. A disease that also claimed the life of his younger brother Solomon at the age of twenty-seven. Freelan believed to survive the disease, he needed a career with more movement than a desk-bound headmaster. He opened the Stanley Practical Drawing Set factory that same year. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the business a year later, along with his entire investment.

Stanley Dry Plate Company

After Francis left school, he married Augusta May Walker and opened a portrait studio. He used methods similar to modern-day airbrushing, using crayons and charcoal. In 1876 he patented the technique as “Improvement to the Atomizer.” Francis then began experimenting with photography which quickly became his passion.

He and Freelan opened a photograph dry plate company in 1885 when factory-made rather than studio-made photo materials were just starting. The brothers made a small fortune by 1890.

Stanley Motor Carriage Company

Many exciting technology advancements captured the brother’s interests in the following years. 

Francis was fascinated with the new bicycle craze. When he attempted to interest his wife, she fell off the bike and swore to never ride again. Francis promised her to invent something they could ride together in safety and comfort. And that, he did. He began to design an automobile contemplating the advantages of combustion, electricity, and steam, determining that steam was the most practical of the three options.

By 1897 Francis got rid of his horses and buggies and began to build his first automobile from wagon and bicycle parts. In 1898 he brought the car to Boston Auto Show. The impressed crowd prompted the brothers to start producing steam cars becoming the Stanley Motor Company.

Heading to Colorado

In 1903 Freeman’s tuberculosis raised its ugly head once again. The ultimate remedy suggested was fresh, dry air, a lot of sunlight, and a hearty diet. He and Flora decided on the great Rocky Mountains and headed west to Denver, Colorado. 

The couple spent the winter in Denver; however, his symptoms didn’t improve by June. Still, They were advised by his doctor to rent their own accommodations as soon as they could. They stayed one night at the famous Brown Palace Hotel (read Brown Palace Hotel’s haunted history here). It was then that Stanley decided to summer in the Colorado mountains. His doctor suggested Estes Park, whose climate was comparable to Davos, Switzerland.

Stanley’s health improved tremendously throughout the summer. Enamored by the beauty of the Valley and grateful that his health had returned, they decided to return every summer. The Stanley’s headed the 63 miles to Estes Park at the end of June and rented a primitive cabin from the owners of the Elkhorn Lodge.

The Stanley’s Rockside Home

At the end of summer in 1903, Freeman bought a property in Estes Park. He hired an architect Henry “Lord Cornwallis,” a new acquaintance of the couple’s, to help plan their own home. The home had four bedrooms and gracious living areas. He put in a modern kitchen for Flora so she could entertain their summer guests. Stanley indulged in leisure activities that included billiards, violins, and steam cars. He designed his basement to fit a billiard table and built a detached garage with a violin workshop. The garage had a turntable so he could exit his steam car front-wise rather than backward. The front door opened to a veranda with a breath-taking view of the Estes Valley.

Stanley Rockside home

Photo: Estes Park News

His doctor, Dr. Charles Bonney, obviously approved of Stanley’s design choices and included pictures of the home in a book he wrote in 1908, Pulmonary Tuberculosis and Its Complications. The house still stands next to the Stanley Hotel as a private home.

Building of the Stanley Hotel

Stanley had recovered entirely from his TB by 1907. He wasn’t content with the rustic, laid-back life of the Estes Park area and decided to turn it into a resort town.

In 1909 construction began on the Hotel Stanley. The hotel was a forty-eight-room grand hotel that catered to the moderately wealthy social circle of friends back east. It also catered to those with tuberculosis that sought a healthier climate to treat their ailments. The hotel wasn’t used as a sanitarium. Instead, it was designed as an optimal environment for pulmonary health.

The haunted Stanley Hotel

Photo: Phillip Rubino

The resort consisted of three buildings, the hotel, a concert hall, and a lodge. The lodge was a scaled-down version of the hotel and, in Stanley’s day, remained empty most of the time due to the area not being utilized much in the winter.  

Stanley’s car company produced a fleet of specially designed steam-powered vehicles called Mountain Wagons. The cars were used to transport multiple guests from the train depot to the hotel.

A gas explosion at the Stanley Hotel

When the hotel opened, it was allegedly one of the few in the world powered entirely by electricity. 

However, when the power plant used by the hotel showed a lack of power, the installation of gas-powered lighting became necessary in 1911. Only one day after the pipes had been filled, an explosion went off, injuring a maid, several other employees, and damaging the building. A chambermaid was lighting one of the gas lamps with a small leak, and the explosion occurred. She was thrown into a large hole in the ground, and both of her ankles were broken. Two waiters from the dining room were injured when a wooden plank from the ceiling slapped him in the face, and the other dislocated a hip from falling. Other than that, miraculously, no one else was injured.

It cost $10,000 to repair the damage to the dining room and west wing. Still, repairs began immediately, leaving that portion of the hotel out of commission for only a short amount of time.

Growth of Estes Park

Tourism boomed, Stanley Steamer autos whisked people up to the hotel, becoming a popular mountain resort. The amenities included a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, bowling, billiards, and croquet. The hotel’s presence and Stanley’s involvement contributed significantly to the creation of the Rocky Mountain National Park in 1915 and the growth of Estes Park that was established in 1917.  

By 1926 Stanley was 77 years old and decided to sell the hotel to a private company from Milwaukee for the sole purpose of running it. The undertaking failed, and Stanley repurchased the hotel in foreclosure. He resold the hotel to fellow automobile and hotel magnate Roe Emery from Denver. Emery redecorated the hotel’s rooms in 1935, added new light fixtures, and painted the buildings from the original ghastly mustard yellow to the classic white it is today.

Stanley loved the hotel, attending concerts, lunching, and sitting in his favorite rocker on the veranda overlooking the beautiful Estes Valley and the Rocky Mountains. He came to Colorado to recover from his illness and ultimately it became the place he learned to live life to the fullest.

Freelan Oscar Stanley passed away on October 2, 1940, at the age of 91.

Postwar changes for the Stanley Hotel

Emery sold the hotel in 1946 to Abbell Management Company, which made several changes to make the hotel a more informal postwar style for tourism. A swimming pool was added on the front lawn. The carriage house was turned into a motel but did not last long. It remained boarded up most of the late twentieth century and was used for storage.

The property changed hands every few years, deteriorating inside and out. Maintenance was not kept up, and no upgrades were made. Even so, the hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

A horror movie saves the Stanley Hotel

The hotel is now well known and linked to one of the most notorious books, mini-series, and movies of all time, The Shining.

Renowned author Stephen King stayed at the nearly dilapidated hotel with his wife in 1974. The hotel had no heat and was getting ready to close for the winter season. King and his wife were pretty much the sole guests of the hotel, setting the creepy paranormal stage. During his stay, his creative imagination flourished from the empty hallways, corridors, and lobby to a nightmare about his son running down the hallway being chased by a deranged fire hose. Add to the mix the hotel’s winter closing and the fierce Colorado winters and viola’! A perfect setting for the “Overlook Hotel” where the horror begins.

Today the hotel is said to be one of the most haunted hotels in the country. But its hauntings started well before Stephen King’s juicy imagination began to flow. Unlike the movie, there appear to be only friendly ghosts. Freelan and Flora Stanley are the top two entities that have stuck around in the afterlife. Perhaps to monitor their beloved property, or quite simply, to keep enjoying what they built so long ago when they were alive.

Read part 2 for the hauntings of the Stanley Hotel!

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