In 1974, while on vacation with his wife in Estes Park, Colorado, Stephen King spent a lovely night in Room 217 of the Stanley Hotel. Lovely, that is, if you make your living scaring the bejeebers out of people.
The stay was so odd and his dreams so haunting, that King used the night at the Stanley as inspiration for his best-selling thriller The Shining, which Stanley Kubrick turned into a psychological thriller by the same name starring Jack Nicholson.
Here’s how it all came to be.
“The hotel staff 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,” King explains on his website. He and his wife, Tabitha, were served dinner in an empty dining room accompanied by canned orchestral music.
“Except for our table all the chairs were up on the tables. So the music is echoing down the hall, and, I mean, it was like God had put me there to hear that and see those things,” King says.
It turns out dinner was the least of King’s worries that fitful night.
“I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming. He was being chased by a fire-hose,” King recalls. “I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in a chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind.”
We’re not saying that staying at haunted hotels will lead you to write a best-selling novel, but we are suggesting that it just might make for a more memorable time than staying at a Super 8. With that in mind, here are ten historic hotels where paranormal activities are as much a part of your stay as room service.
You’ve gotta figure that the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining must be a pretty spooky place—and indeed it is. While you don’t have to worry about any run-ins with a murderous Jack Nicholson, you just might have flashbacks to those creepy twin girls from Kubrick’s movie —the sound of children playing in the halls has been reported by several guests. But that’s where the similarities end: Unlike those in the book and subsequent movie, the Stanley Hotel’s ghosts are known to be a friendly lot. One of the most famous is the spirit of Flora Stanley, who has been known to play the Steinway grand piano in the hotel ballroom, given to her by her husband, F.O. Stanley, when he opened the inn in 1909. Several guests have reported hearing piano music coming from the ballroom (some have even witnessed the piano keys moving), which stopped when they crossed the room’s threshold.
It’s important to note that The Shining wasn’t filmed at The Stanley Hotel. Kubrick used the exterior of Mount Hood’s Timberline Lodge in Oregon for the exterior of the movie’s Overlook Hotel. The interiors were filmed at a studio. As an aside, The Stanley was also the filming location of the 1994 Jim Carrey film, Dumb and Dumber.
Located in the Midwestern artists’ enclave of Brown County, Indiana, the Story Inn is unusual for a few reasons—in its former life, it was a general store, and the inn and its grounds (including cottages, a high-end restaurant and a vineyard) now encompass the entire town of Story. Then there’s the Blue Lady, the inn’s ghost. Over the years, a number of guests and employees have reported strange occurrences (things being moved or appearing out of nowhere, a plate that exploded as a waitress was carrying it to a customer in the downstairs restaurant), as well as sightings of a female apparition. Numerous guestbook reports describe the Blue Lady as a cheerful ghost, and the inn reports that sightings of her have increased since 2001, when complimentary bottles of wine were placed in each guest room. The Blue Lady is believed to have been one of the wives of Dr. George Story, the physician who founded the town in 1851, and she can allegedly be summoned by turning on a blue lamp that sits on the vanity in her namesake room.
Given the purported healing powers of Arkansas’ hot springs, it’s no surprise that Eureka Springs’ Crescent Hotel (built in 1886) would have a health-related background. But here, medicine took a sinister turn when, in 1937, a crackpot doctor named Norman Baker turned it into a “health resort,” touting a fictional cure for cancer. While the only official casualty reported during Baker’s reign was the woodwork (he tore out the original handrails and balconies and painted the remaining woodwork in garish colors), legends abound of skeletons hidden away within the recesses of the hotel. Multiple sightings of hospital-related ghosts have been reported, including a nurse pushing a gurney down the hall and visits from Baker himself. (Many ghosts from other eras also haunt the hotel, which celebrates its spirits by offering everything from daily ghost tours to a special package that lets you sleep in what was once Baker’s morgue.)
The Grove Park Inn is so revered for its stunning Arts & Crafts-style design and furnishings that its resident ghost, The Pink Lady, perhaps doesn’t receive the lion’s share of attention that ghosts at other hotels do. But she’s definitely one of the more intriguing facets of the history of the hotel. Many guests and employees have recounted experiences with the ghost, from feeling a tug on the ear or the touch of a hand to witnessing wisps of pink smoke floating by. She’s believed to be a guest who fell to her death in the hotel’s famous Palm Court in 1920. (She was wearing a pink nightgown at the time, hence the moniker.) A recent investigation revealed that most of the paranormal activity in the hotel seems to center around Room 545, located in the historic Main Inn, two floors up from the Palm Court atrium. Also of note, F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed at Grove Park for two years while his wife, Zelda, was a patient in a local insane asylum.
At San Antonio’s Menger Hotel (built in 1859 on the site of the state’s first brewery, and just a stone’s throw from the Alamo), the ghost isn’t a troubled former guest—it’s an employee. After a hearing about a rumored tryst with another man, chambermaid Sallie White’s husband showed up at the hotel on March 28, 1876, and shot her. Guests have reported seeing apparitions of a maid in an 1880s-style uniform. Sallie White’s ghost allegedly presides over the fourth floor, while other spirits (including a knitting woman in a blue dress) have been witnessed on other floors.
When many see the magnificent red-roofed facade of the Hotel del Coronado, they picture Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis frolicking on the beach just outside in the film Some Like It Hot. But the three legendary actors haven’t left the most lasting impression on the hotel—that honor belongs to Kate Morgan, a guest who arrived in 1892 to meet her estranged husband. He never showed, and her body was found days later on the steps leading to the ocean. Since then, a number of strange occurrences have been attributed to the ghost of Kate Morgan, including eerie sounds, objects flying off shelves in the hotel gift shop, and even the apparition of a woman dressed in black lace. (Investigations into the strange happenings at the hotel, by the way, inspired yet another Stephen King tale—the short story “1408.”)
It should come as no surprise that the ghosts at the Jekyll Island Club are as genteel as the grand Victorian hotel itself, which built in 1888 as an exclusive winter retreat for America’s wealthiest families. There are no smashing plates or shaking light fixtures here—the ghost of Samuel Spencer, the founder of the hotel, merely reads his guests’ copies of The Wall Street Journal and sips their coffee, reliving the morning ritual he enjoyed before he was killed in a train accident in 1906. Ghosts at the Club even offer impeccable service to guests—there’s said to be a ghost bellman who delivers freshly pressed suits to bridegrooms on the morning of their weddings.
While many historic hotels can lay claim to only one ghost, Austin’s Driskill Hotel—built in 1886 by cattle baron Jesse Lincoln Driskill—boasts several, including the ghost of Driskill himself (said to turn the bathroom lights on and off in rooms on the upper floors), as well as the ghost of a 4-year-old U.S. Senator’s daughter who was killed in a fall down the hotel’s grand staircase while her parents were at a ball. But perhaps the most famous ghost is a jilted bride who committed suicide in the hotel in the early 1990s. She was last seen alive on the elevator, laden with bags from a shopping spree on her former fiancé’s credit cards. Years later, two women staying at the hotel reported seeing a woman carrying shopping bags into Room 29 on the fourth floor, although it was closed for renovations at the time. When they inspected the room with the desk clerk the next day, they found nothing but an empty room covered in plastic—and realized the woman they’d seen was the “Houston Bride.”
You don’t even have to book a room at The Sagamore, New York’s grand Adirondack camp, to rub elbows with its ghosts—they’re frequent diners at the hotel’s restaurants. The Trillium, the resort’s most upscale dining room, has had several reports of a Victorian couple (thought to be among the hotel’s first guests) who routinely descend from the second floor and take a seat in the restaurant’s reception room. There have also been sightings of “Walter,” a portly gentleman who frequents the elevator just outside the restaurant.
Seth Bullock, who was elected the first sheriff of the lawless settlement Deadwood, South Dakota, in 1876 (shortly after Wild Bill Hickok was murdered there), is a prominent figure in Wild West lore—and has grown even more so thanks to the fictionalized HBO series about the origins of the town. Those who want to experience a taste of the sheriff’s famous steely gaze should book a room at the Bullock Hotel, which he built in 1895 with business partner Sol Star. Several guests have reported seeing apparitions of Bullock (recognizable because of his trademark stare) roaming the halls, and many have heard his footsteps and whistling. Most of the paranormal activity seems to center around Room 211, where Bullock purportedly died in 1919.