The Stanley Hotel: A Piece of Colorado History

February 3, 2022 | By Opera Colorado | The Shining

By: Bethany Wood & Jennifer Colgan

Nestled in among the majestic peaks of Rocky Mountain National Parks lies The Stanley Hotel, a beautiful and historic retreat, but one fateful visit in 1974 changed the story of this hotel forever. Stephen King had only a brief stay at The Stanley Hotel, but the visit lived on in his memory and grew into the inspiration for one of the most beloved novels in the western canon, The Shining. The room where he stayed is now the most requested one at the hotel and has housed celebrities from Johnny Depp to the Emperor of Japan.

In The Shining, Jack Torrance is inspired by The Overlook Hotel’s sordid history to write about it in his novel. Let’s take a closer look at the history of the real-life hotel that inspired Stephen King.


In 1903, Freelan Oscar Stanley, known as “F.O.,” arrived in Colorado with his wife Flora, hoping to recover from recurring tuberculosis. F. O. made his fortune in the late 1800s through a system that he and his identical twin brother, F. E. Stanley, developed for coating glass plates used in photography. They truly hit the mark with the combination of high quality and low cost of The Stanley Dry Plate, making it extremely popular. In 1904, the Stanley brothers sold their process to Kodak for $540,000 (over $17M today).

F.O. and F.E. Stanley in one of their Stanley Steam Cars.

The brothers’ exit from the photographic plate business gave them time for another project—the invention and manufacture of steam-powered automobiles. They created a small boiler wrapped tightly with steel piano wire to withstand 250 pounds of pressure. The result was a lightweight, steam-powered vehicle that could travel up to 30mph.


F.O. seemed to have it all—his business endeavors were extremely successful, and the mountain air did indeed help him recover from tuberculosis! However, he was not a fan of the rural lifestyle. F.O. and his wife, Flora, continued to winter back east and spend summers in Estes Park, where F.O. soon realized the town needed a more modern, luxurious place to hobnob with visiting friends.

The Stanley Hotel in 1909.

In 1907, Stanley began construction on a hotel. He worked with architect T. Robert Wieger, which featured a small hydroelectric plant above the Fall River and improved access roads. Ultimately, Stanley’s efforts would support the development of power and waste systems for the town of Estes Park, and the hotel was the first fully-electric one in the world!

Stanley loved his grand hotel, but it never made a profit. Stanley once said, “I come out here in the spring and bring thirty thousand dollars…and I go back in the fall with ten or fifteen thousand.” Stanley’s other enterprises made up for the losses, but, eventually, the founder decided to sell. In 1926, Stanley sold his hotel to three investors, calling themselves The Stanley Corporation. The corporation, however, was unable to fulfill its obligations. When the hotel fell into foreclosure, F.O. repurchased it in 1929 before selling it again the following year.


Although Stephen King never claimed any narrative connections between The Shining and F.O. Stanley’s personal history, the parallels in their stories are uncanny. King’s novel ends with the explosion of the Overlook’s boiler—an ironic end for an edifice based on The Stanley—whose namesake invented the boiler that powered hundreds of motor cars. Equally ironic, The Shining features a protagonist overcome by an addiction to alcohol, a substance F.O. Stanley abhorred and barely tolerated in his hotel.

In addition to King’s novel, Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation has forever linked The Shining with the image of identical twin girls dressed alike, speaking, and moving in unison. F.O. Stanley and his identical twin F.E. dressed similarly throughout their lives, making it difficult for even family members to tell them apart. The twins continued this practice until F.E.’s tragic death in 1918 after his Stanley Steamer swerved to avoid another car and overturned.

Today, the hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and includes a restaurant, spa, and bed-and-breakfast with panoramic views of Lake Estes, the Rockies, and Long’s Peak. Thanks to The Shining, it has gained a reputation as a setting for paranormal activity, and guests can go on guided ghost tours.

See images of The Stanley Hotel come to life as part of an opera set! Tickets for Opera Colorado’s February/March production of Moravec & Campbell’s The Shining are on sale now>>

Have you ever been to The Stanley Hotel? What would you be most excited to see?


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