Spooky Colorado: Where the Spirits Go to Party!

Chainsaw sculpture at The Nature of Things in Manitou Springs, Colorado
Chainsaw sculpture at The Nature of Things in Manitou Springs, Colorado

Just back from a tour of Spooky Colorado which included the coffin races in Manitou, lunch at a former mortuary in Denver, a ride on Banjo Billy’s log-cabin bus in Boulder and a ride in the back of a well-appointed hearse to the haunted places in Fort Collins.

A racing coffin in Manitou Springs, Colorado
A racing coffin in Manitou Springs

But the crowning glory of the trip was the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, which inspired Stephen King’s book The Shining.

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado
The Stanley Hotel

Some spirits haunt places where they have been trapped by some tragic act of violence, but some go to places where they felt at home and had a good time in life. That’s probably why there’s so much paranormal activity at the Stanley, particularly in the Concert Hall.

Morning light on Long's Peak
Morning light on Long's Peak

Freelan Oscar “F.O.” Stanley, the inventor of the Stanley Steamer, went to Colorado with his wife Flora in 1903 at the suggestion of his doctor. He was 53 years old and suffering from consumption – the old name for tuberculosis. Thousands and thousands of people went to Colorado in the late 1800s and early 1900s who were suffering from TB, and many of them found a cure. Stanley certainly did. He regained his health and lived to be 91.

F.O. Stanley and friend
F.O. Stanley and friend

He fell in love with Estes Park, one of the most beautiful places on earth, and here he and Flora built the magnificent Stanley Hotel. John Philip Sousa performed at the opening of the hotel in 1909, and the guests included Theodore Roosevelt, J.C. Penney, Harvey Firestone and the Emperor of Japan.

FO and Flora, who had no children, held special events for the children of Estes Park, and let them ride at their stables, and in some cases even paid their college tuition.

The Stanley Steamer
The Stanley Steamer

They had a fleet of Stanley Steamers that transported thousands of guests through the narrow passes into this secluded mountain valley where, by all accounts, a good time was had by all for many wonderful years. No wonder so many spirits have come back.

The staff, including Madame Vera, the resident psychic, speak of numerous familiar spirits, including Mrs. Stanley, who is identified with the fragrance of roses and likes to play the piano in the concert hall, Billy, one of the fun-loving children on the fourth floor, and Elizabeth Wilson, a former housekeeper who literally climbs into bed with unmarried couples and pushes them apart.

An elk on the front lawn of the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado
An elk on the front lawn of the hotel

And they don’t make the slightest effort to convince you that these spirits exist. The spirits are clearly a fact of life for them. One of my fellow travel writers told Madame Vera about a spirit who was, how to put this, overly friendly. Then she smelled roses.

Madame Vera rolled her eyes — apparently there’s a spirit who is known for this kind of thing — and said, “That was Mrs. Stanley. She saved you.”

Madame Vera, the resident psychic at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado
Madame Vera

Here I got a photo of two ghostly orbs in the ballroom, which is known for a high level of paranormal activity. Apparently spirits travel in orbs, like Glinda the Good in the Wizard of Oz. And I heard a ghost speak — very distinctly — through this EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) device.

You can hear a lot of indistinct sounds from these devices which sound like different words to different people, like playing Beatle records backwards, but as we were sitting in the basement of the Stanley’s Concert Hall, just as a little mouse scurried by in the corridor, we heard a voice say, quite unmistakably “a mouse.”

The ballroom at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado
They said to look for orbs in our photos, and sure enough, here they are!

The scenic splendor, the grandeur of the hotel, the clear, envigorating air, the elk grazing on the front lawn, the graciousness of the Stanleys and their spirit guests — Estes Park more than lives up to its reputation, and that was just one stop on our tour. Watch this space for lots more spooky tales from Colorado, where the spirits go to partay!