Hotel That Inspired ‘The Shining’ Builds on Its Eerie Appeal – The New York Times


ESTES PARK, Colo. — When a young Stephen King checked into the Stanley Hotel here in 1974, he had a nightmare that inspired him to write “The Shining,” the novel that went on to become Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 cult classic film.

For years, operators of the Stanley Hotel have used “The Shining” and its paranormal plot as pure marketing gold: The resort retains an in-house psychic, offers ghost tours to tens of thousands of visitors a year, and hosts a film festival at which townspeople dress up as zombies and eat “brains.” Mr. Kubrick’s movie plays on a loop in hotel rooms, and the property’s owner, John W. Cullen, said the story had helped him turn the Stanley — which, aside from the horror tie-in, has amazing views of Rocky Mountain National Park — into an “economic fortress.”

Missing from the experience, however, has been the hedge maze that Mr. Kubrick used as the setting for the film’s climax, in which the crazed winter caretaker of the hotel — played by a demonic-looking Jack Nicholson — chases his young son, Danny, with an ax. Danny, who has been having visions of ghosts, famously writes “Redrum” on the wall (read it backward if you have not seen the movie).

Credit…The New York Times

But generations of real-life visitors to the Stanley have been let down to find that the fictional labyrinth is just that. “People kept on looking for the maze,” Mr. Cullen said.

So, to celebrate the 20th year of his ownership of the hotel, Mr. Cullen gave in and built one in June. “People want an experience,” he said. “They want to reinterpret it and tell all their friends about it. And who am I to get in their way?”

At a colleague’s suggestion, Mr. Cullen opted to hold a contest for the design, a move that amplified the public-relations potential. A panel of judges received 329 entries from around the world, and the winner was a New York architect named Mairim Dallaryan Standing.

She called the honor the pinnacle of her career. “I was up until 1 in the morning every day, designing and drawing and sketching and trying to make it work mathematically before I submitted it,” Ms. Standing said in a telephone interview, adding that she was attracted to the challenge of the task, not necessarily its connection to a thriller. She received two trips to the hotel in exchange for her work.

Mr. Cullen chose to form the maze from juniper trees that grow to just three feet high, making the Stanley’s maze far less imposing than the 13-foot labyrinth in the Kubrick film. Mr. Cullen said he was concerned about losing children in the maze.

This summer, that decision has caused some disappointment.

“In the movie, it was like 10 feet tall,” said Ann Henderson, 63, a retired teacher visiting from Greeley, Colo., who called the thigh-tickling labyrinth underwhelming. “He couldn’t see — and that was what was so scary, so important.”

But nearby, Midge Knerr, 64, a hotel employee who served as a judge in the design contest, called the maze the right mix of elegant and intriguing — and another place for visitors to search for signs of the supernatural. Employees, she said, often feel pressure to whip up ghosts at a moment’s notice. “A lot of people come in,” she said, “and it’s like, ‘All right, where are they?’ ”

The fictional hotel in “The Shining” is called the Overlook, and the Stanley Hotel is not the only real-life hostelry to claim ties to the movie. The Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon was used for some exterior shots, though the hotel’s website explains that it lacks a hedge maze. (The labyrinth shots in the movie were taken at a film studio in England.)

The Stanley is a palacelike complex that was built in 1909 by Freelan Oscar Stanley, an inventor who sought to draw upper-crust Easterners to the wilds of the West. It quickly became a base for visitors to nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.

When Mr. Cullen bought it in 1995, it was barely functioning as a business and had several condemned buildings without electricity. Shortly after the purchase, Mr. King announced that he planned to shoot a mini-series based on his novel — he had long hinted that he disliked Mr. Kubrick’s interpretation — and that ABC would pay for hundreds of thousands of dollars of renovations so he could use the hotel as a set.

At the time, “The Shining” was not even part of the Stanley’s business plan. The Kubrick film had been shot at other locations, which continues to be a sore point for Stanley Hotel employees.

On a recent day, about 20 girls from a Colorado youth group had gathered by the maze for a ghost tour led by Aidan Brady, a 23-year-old in a dark suit, with dark glasses and a floppy George Harrison haircut. One of them, Flor Arellano, 14, said she was thoroughly impressed by the maze. “Right away, it’s going to give you the shivers,” she said, “and then you’re already ready for another scare inside of the hotel.”

After the television mini-series version of “The Shining” ran on ABC in 1997, Mr. Cullen amped up the hotel’s horror quotient: He added the ghost tours and hired paranormal guides who recount stories of the lost souls who wander the hallways. Afterward, guides encourage guests to share their supernatural experiences — a sliding cocktail glass, a phantom sound, a mysterious shadow — on the hotel’s Facebook page. The gift shop sells “Shining”-related souvenirs, including a glow-in-the-dark ghost and coffee mugs that say “Redrum.”

“God bless Stephen King for what he’s done for this hotel,” Mr. Cullen said.

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