What Hotels Inspired The Shining?
In late 1974, Stephen King was emerging as a wildly successful young author. His two bestsellers, Carrie and Salem’s Lot, were enjoying multiple printing editions. For such an overnight success, the spotlight was beginning to shine on King, who previously worked as an English teacher at a Maine high school and sometimes moonlighted at a local laundry. Little did he know, a short-lived move to Boulder, Colorado would bring a new setting for many of his stories to come. One night, he found himself at the birthplace of The Shining in Estes Park, Colorado where he stayed at the Stanley Hotel, the first of many hotels to impact a story that has bewildered fans for decades.
The Stanley Hotel Hauntings that Sparked The Shining
On October 30, 1974, Stephen King and his wife chose to stay at The Stanley Hotel. As fate would have it, King and his wife Tabitha were the only guests for this short stay as the hotel was on the cusp of closing for the winter season. “They were just getting ready to close for the season, and we found ourselves the only guests in the place — with all those long, empty corridors.” With one hundred and forty rooms and fourteen thousand square feet, the 1909 hotel could not have been a more perfect setting as King took to walking the long and lonely halls. The Stanley Hotel was known to have paranormal activity long before King’s stay and it was prepared to play a large part in his unwritten horror hit, The Shining.
The Ghosts of The Stanley Hotel
Some say the hauntings of the Stanley originated with a housekeeper by the name of Elizabeth Wilson. In King’s novel, The Shining, room 217 of The Overlook Hotel is pivotal to the plot. King himself stayed in room 217 at the Stanley Hotel. He has even gone on record saying he suffered terrible nightmares and cold sweats at all hours. Elizabeth Wilson had accidentally died in room 217 in the late fall of 1911 when she was lighting up the room’s oil lanterns. A small explosion erupted killing Wilson as fire engulfed about ten percent of the hotel. King’s stay at the haunted Stanley Hotel began to shape the setting for The Shining’s secluded Overlook Hotel.
A popular sight and scene from King’s novel is the ballroom in the hotel. The Stanley Hotel’s paranormal activity is not just confined to room 217. During the early twentieth century, the ballroom at the hotel was bursting with excitement for late evening parties, dances, and revelry of all sorts. With such a large party scene where alcohol was surely an influence, the hotel employed a bouncer of sorts who’s only known name was Paul. It was commonplace for him to rumble and corral unruly guests out of the ballroom and off the premises. The Stanley Hotel’s current staff and travelers report that late at night around the ballroom, one can hear a very hushed voice utter the words, “get out”. The sightings surrounding Paul and the rowdy past of the hotel’s ballroom also played as inspiration for King and his novel.
The Mohonk Mountain House Hedge Maze and Topiary
For anyone who has read The Shining or seen the film, one of the most renowned images is the giant hedge maze and topiary. At the time of King’s visit at the Stanley Hotel, it did not have a hedge maze on its grounds. The Shining book featured a topiary while The Shining movie featured a hedge maze for little Danny Torrance.
Another hotel that King often visited was The Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York. It was a frequent favorite of King and his wife to stay. While the hauntings at the Mohonk Mountain House have less notoriety, the hotel with its lush gardens and gothic features, are said to have inspired some of the hotel’s settings in the book. A most inspiring piece from the hotel is its enormous hedge maze on Mohonk’s property. Standing at over twelve feet tall in some spots, the highly manicured maze may have given King the spark for one of the novel’s most famous scenes.
The Stanley Hotel Adds a Hedge Maze
Sadly, the massive amount of visitors who come to the Stanley Hotel hoping for a maze experience come to find that the hotel never actually had an outdoor maze. This was remedied in 2015 by the current owners of the Stanley Hotel, who designed, built, and carefully constructed one. While most visitors aren’t excited by the hedge walls standing only three feet high, there have been talks by the management of increasing the size of the hedge walls to accommodate the influx of fans who descend on the hotel on a daily basis.
The Timberline Lodge in Oregon is the Face of The Shining
Translating King’s story to film was a challenge for eccentric director Stanley Kubrick. The shots he demanded did not fit with King’s vision and he opted to use another hotel for the exterior shots. The Timberline Lodge became the Overlook Hotel in Kubrick’s The Shining. Nestled on the south side of the Mount Hood National Forest in Northwestern Oregon, the Timberline was just the hotel with the ominous exteriors fit for the job.
Constructed between 1937 and 1938, the Timberline was a brainchild artisan project of President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration and was designed to bring in a flow of tourism to the poverty-stricken and remote area. Stanley Kubrick was known in Hollywood for taking filming schedules into uncharted and quite lengthy territory. The Shining was proving no different and the year-long-plus process allowed for prolonged shots of the Timberline after a fresh snowfall. This gave the film a dramatic and eerie visual setting.
The Timberline Lodge did not have a hedge maze either. Go figure.
The Ahwahnee Hotel Inspires the Interior of The Shining Hotel
Kubrick relied on gaudy interior visuals for his film and drew inspiration from the majestic Ahwahnee Hotel. Located inside Yosemite National Park in California, the Ahwahnee’s interior design took inspiration from natural attractions in the area and highlighted genuine redwood hardwood flooring, farmed local stones, and overhead grand chandeliers fashioned out of hunted deer and elk antlers.
One clear inspiration featured in Kubrick’s Shining would be the Ahwahnee elevator doors that would shed a sea of blood into our nightmares for decades.
The hotel did not allow any filming to take place inside. Kubrick’s designers would draw from the Stanley, the Mohonk, Timberline, and Ahwahnee hotels to piece together the visuals of The Shining. Stanley Kubrick took film production overseas and to the confines of his native England and into Hertfordshire which was home to the often used Elstree Studios.
Is Stephen King Jack Torrance?
For most amateur horror novel and film fans, they think that it was simply a case of Stephen King spending the night in a haunted hotel and a novel was born. Upon closer examination, the truth of the matter is that King had inserted little pieces of digested literature and personal experiences to crank out a horror experience that is still terrifying to this day. The novel’s main character, Jack Torrance, is a former high school English teacher, just like King used to be. That sort of background may have made it easy for him to get inside the head of his character and really bring out his frustrations.
In several interviews, King has gone so far as to make it known that Jack’s actions were just a surrogate confession that King was making about his life at the time. It is no secret that King was a heavy alcohol user in his early writing days here and this was further parlayed into Jack’s character. Coupled with an isolated location, it was only natural that tempers would flare, madness would emerge, and humanity snaps. The eerie parallels of cabin fever were possibly inspired from French author Guy De Maupassant’s The Inn, a similar tale in which an isolated inn on a snowy mountaintop serves as a backdrop to madness and murderous visions.
But what about the most famous aspect of King’s novel? The young character of Danny Torrance who possesses a very unusual psychic communication ability. This didn’t come to King by staying at a hotel but actually came from a previous failed novel attempt. In 1972, King had the idea about a young boy with psychic abilities who is enamored with a local amusement park. Not getting very far in the plot, he abandoned the story. It wasn’t until his paranormal stay at the Stanley Hotel when King realized he had the perfect protagonist after suffering a nightmare in which a young boy similar to that in his failed novel, was being chased by his father. With all these details, King had just what he needed to flesh out his next novel even if he was supposed to be celebrating his success with a peaceful vacation holiday.
The Stanley Hotel and The Shining
Just how has all of this attention over the years affected these hotels, especially the Stanley? The current ownership does not seem to mind too much. To show appreciation for its horror roots, the Stanley Hotel has played host to a semi-regular horror film festival, The Stanley Film Festival. The hotel has embraced paranormal fans even more by hosting tours on the hotel grounds to provide new historical perspective on why the Stanley is so popular amongst such groups.
For anyone staying at the Stanley who wakes with nightmares, trembling in sweat like King did some forty plus years ago, there is even a resident psychic on premises named Madame Vera who is available on call and during operating hours to help try and make sense of whatever the other side is trying to say. Showing a richer appreciation for the film, The Shining is televised on the hotel’s in-house television system in a nonstop loop.
With the huge success of King’s novel and even the cult status of Kubrick’s film, it is fair to say that those terrifying vacation nights at the Stanley Hotel, served all parties very well to a very agreeable financial benefit. However, Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick did not see eye to eye on the version of the film and have not been on good terms for years. This lead King to push for an ABC miniseries which aired in 1997 that brought things back full-circle to the Stanley Hotel. Much of the miniseries was shot at The Stanley.
And after all the success and venturing to Colorado, was King done with the area? Not a chance. His next novel to follow The Shining was even bigger and far more frightening as it painted a world-ending viral outbreak with the heroes uniting in Boulder, Colorado. That novel? The Stand.