Crixeo: The Stanley Hotel


The True Story of the Stanley Hotel, Inspiration for The Shining

At the turn of the 20th century, Estes Park in Colorado was little more than a rustic outpost for hunters and naturalists who wanted to live in the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains. Much of the land had already been purchased by an Irish aristocrat by the name of Lord Dunraven, who wanted to make the valley a hunting playground for the wealthy. However, the area remained undeveloped. There was no electricity, and the valley itself was difficult to access due to insufficient transportation options and poorly made roads. There were few jobs in the area and even fewer visitors.

Over the last century, however, two men from Maine — both respected for their creative prowess — slowly transformed Estes Park into the famous location we know today. The first was an inventor and musician by the name of F.O. Stanley, and the second was writer Stephen King. Both men would play major roles in transforming the Stanley Hotel and the land on which it sits into the stuff of legend.

F.O. Stanley: The Quintessential New England Gentleman

Freelan Oscar Stanley was born June 1, 1849, along with his twin brother, Francis Edgar Stanley, in Kingfield, Maine. While their parents didn’t have much money, they highly valued the arts and sciences, encouraging all eight of their children to study poetry, music and engineering.

From the start, both Freelan and Francis were enterprising young men. They started out by creating wooden tops to sell to friends and classmates. At age 10, they began selling maple sugar. Next they learned from an uncle how to make violins, and by age 11 Freelan had handcrafted three of these musical instruments. It was a hobby he would continue throughout his life.

Later, while working as the headmaster of a local high school, Freelan created a manufacturing company for the Stanley Practical Drawing Set Factory, which produced school supplies for his students. After one year, though, a fire destroyed the business.

Francis, who was now running a portrait studio, offered his brother an opportunity: they would work together to solve problems in modern photography. The result? The Stanley Dry Plate Company, which sold factory-made photo equipment across the country. It was such a success that the brothers sold the company to George Eastman of Kodak for $500,000 — no small sum in 1905.

By this time, the twin brothers had also entered the auto industry, driven by Francis’ obsession with bicycles and his desire to travel with his wife.

After studying the three engine types available — combustion, electricity and steam — the brothers ultimately found the steam-powered automobiles superior. This led to their development of the Stanley Motor Carriage Company, with Francis serving as engineer and Freelan managing the marketing and sales for the Stanley Steamer. In 1906 their Stanley “Rocket Racer” broke the land speed record by covering two miles in less than a minute, clocking in at 127.7 miles per hour, giving it the title of “Fastest Car in the World” until 1910. The brothers later sold the company to Prescott Warren in 1917, but the steamers went off production in 1927.

In the middle of these advances in photography and the auto industry, Freelan was also recovering from a diagnosis of tuberculosis. What could have been a death sentence turned into a great opportunity, and a new chapter, for both Stanley and Estes Park.