Stanley Film Fest Day 2: Ghost Hunting In A Haunted Hotel

Devin tries to bust some spooks in the hotel that inspired THE SHINING.

I may have had a paranormal experience.

The Stanley Hotel aggressively bills itself as a very haunted place, and they offer regular ghost tours and ghost hunting expeditions, giving the credulous and the skeptical alike the chance to tromp about an admittedly spooky hotel in the dark. I count myself as a hopeful skeptic; I want to believe in ghosts and the paranormal, but more and more science seems to have made it clear this stuff isn’t happening.

And then I saw a ghost light.

But first let’s take a couple of steps back. The ghost hunting didn’t happen until quite late - it began and 2am and I wasn’t in bed until past 4. The rest of the day at the Stanley Film Festival was given over to movies and enjoying the extraordinary hospitality of this unique hotel.

I went to a screening of Vanishing Waves, a Lithuanian film that had made a bit of a hit on the festival circuit. The story of a man who delves into the mind of a coma patient and falls in love with her, Vanishing Waves committed a cardinal sin: it wasn’t weird enough. It was filthy enough; the movie includes some of the most explicit and realistic sex I’ve ever seen - including porn.

After that was the whiskey tasting. The Stanley boasts an incredible 500 whiskeys, ranging from the low end to the stuff that costs more than a week at the hotel. The tasting was a lot of fun, even if we didn’t try the hotel’s best stuff (I won’t turn my nose up at a bunch of free Macallen 12 any day of the week). The tasting was serious business, and we were taught the proper way to ‘nose’ our whiskey, and what sorts of meanings the odors held. I don’t know that I felt entirely educated at the end of the tasting, but I was pretty drunk.

Next I had a big decision to make: whether to see the remake of Maniac, starring Elijah Wood, or watch The Shining, projected outdoors on the Stanley’s front lawn. I ended up choosing The Shining - how perfect a place is this to watch it? - but I ended up wimping out after a little while. It was fucking COLD out there; while it’s fitting for The Shining, I eventually couldn't feel my hands. I made my way back to my room to wait for the evening’s big event: the ghost tour.

According to Scary Mary, the Stanley’s official clairsentient ghost tour leader, the hotel is particularly haunted due to the mineral make-up of the mountain. This, she explained, is a place where the veil is thin, and spirits are near.

The ghost tour began at 2am in the Billiards Room with a long story about the history of the hotel. I was there with Badass Digest regular Amy Nicholson, and she immediately drifted to one corner. “That’s interesting,” Scary Mary said. “You were immediately drawn to a spot of very active energy.” Amy, it seems, is a sensitive. This would come up again later.

The group was largely made up of filmmakers. It was a huge group, maybe 30 of us, and the tour wasn’t truly intended for a mob of that size, but Scary Mary did her best. She took us first into the tunnel system below the Stanley, which is a pretty spooky place. She called out Eric Kohn of Indiewire; the spirit children (they were ever-present) had told her that he had moved their candy (see yesterday’s report for more on that).

The time in the tunnel was quick and not very scary. But our next location would be a real mind-bender - the highly haunted Concert Hall. Scary Mary knew a number of ghosts by name, including Paul, a security guard who died in 2005 who hates people being out after curfew, a ghost child named Matthew, and a mysterious woman named Lucy, provenance unknown. All Scary Mary knew was that Lucy liked to hang out in the lady’s room and enjoyed Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.

After hearing some tales (and holding lollipops out in offering to the ghost kids), we all stuffed into the lady’s room. There Scary Mary had some of us try pushing a stall door that she said would be pushed back at us. I did feel... some sort of resistance, but suggestibility - the lights were out, Mary is a great storyteller - can’t be denied. One girl who tried the door triggered a message from the ghosts: Mary correctly guessed the girl had worked with special needs kids in the past, and said that she was being tailed by a ghost named Billy (Mary warned us that some of us may have brought spirits along for the tour). The girl seemed impressed by the revelations.

Next was Lucy’s room. There’s a door that Lucy can close on command - which seems like a grim way to spend eternity, performing shitty door closings for ghost tourists. Mary crammed us all in the room and began her endlessly effective spiel and then commanded Lucy to close the door. We waited with bated breath as... nothing happened.

Mary was puzzled. This always worked, she said. Maybe Lucy needed some support, Mary reasoned, and asked us all to join her in a rousing version of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. It was a surreal moment, this room packed full of horror filmmakers, serenading a spirit.

It didn’t work.

Next up: Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog. Nobody knew all the words except Mary and that girl with the Billy ghost, who seemed a bit like a drama club type. Then Mary figured it out - someone’s coat was blocking the door. Everyone was resituated and Lucy was again implored to perform her parlor trick.

And the door closed.

Mary opened and it did it again, and again the door closed. It was impressive, but it seems likely that there was some aspect of the door that wasn’t level or something, and that it would always close on its own, ghost or no ghost.

What came next wasn’t as easily explained. Mary again turned out the lights and called out to Lucy to manifest. Our guide told us to look for spirit lights in the room, but not to confuse them with optical nerve illusions. Those would appear white; real spirit activity would be another color, perhaps red or green.

We sat for a while. I will say I was impressed with the way everybody pretty much went with it all; there weren’t many jokers cracking wise or making ‘booooo’ noises during the dark periods. Everybody sang. It was a nice communal experience.

“I see a light!” the drama club girl cried out. “It looks like a firefly. Over the couch.” I was sitting on the couch and I looked around; the dark was impossibly black and then suddenly - for only a moment - I saw a pale blue light. It winked in and out of existence in a second. Then I saw it again, at a different place. And again. Every time it was appearing in between Amy and the Denver Film Society’s Keith Garcia. I whipped out my phone and lit it up, hoping to catch Keith in the act of holding a device of some sort that emitted light.


The weird light appeared a couple more times. The lights came back on and I asked Keith if he had something in his hand, maybe a digital voice recorder, which might have that kind of a blinking blue light. He promised he didn’t, and reiterated that promise later. If he was fucking with us he wasn’t paying the joke off.

Was that a ghost light? I know that Amy wasn’t holding anything. It’s interesting that she had been originally drawn to the corner that Mary said was active; had the light come to Amy because she was sensitive? Did the ghost recognize something in her?

Or was it all a bunch of jerks in the dark overreacting to something perfectly reasonable and explainable?

Before we left Mary tried to get the ghost children to interact with us by playing ring around the rosie. Results were slim, but then Mary told us the kids were tugging at her skirt; I looked around behind her and did see what looked for all the world like her hem being tugged back AWAY from her body. I thought maybe she had been jiggling her butt to get the skirt to move, but would it have moved directly outward, as if tugged by a string?

The tour ended at 4; we were exhausted and creeped out in the best possible way. As everybody went home to their rooms Mary warned us we might be visited by the children, who would look to give hugs or tickles. I woke up in the middle of the night with the word ‘No!’ on my lips, but I don’t recall any ghost children being around.

Maybe they’re waiting for tonight.