Friday, November 5, 2010

The Ghost Hunters/TAPS take on The Stanley Hotel, part two

[Editor's Note: This is a follow-up to Part One of the Ghost Hunters/Stanley Hotel]

The sprawling Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colo., is more than a luxurious resort in the Rockies; it’s a symbol for so many stories from America’s past.

It stands on land wrested from a greedy British Earl who had acquired it in an illegal land grab. It was built with the wealth and adventurous spirit of F.O. Stanley, the ingenious creator of The Stanley Steamer automobile. It opened in 1909 with superior amenities and technology for the time, and became a destination for the nation’s powerful, but was also a boon to the residents of the town below.

Then, in the mid-1970s, the historic landmark became a pop-culture one when author Stephen King checked into the hotel for one night with his wife Tabitha and stayed there alone on the final night of the hotel’s season. Roaming the empty halls, King developed the plot for The Shining, a horror classic about a haunted hotel out to destroy a snowed-in family of caretakers.

All of The Stanley Hotel’s past is what drives its present.

With a reputation as one of the most famous North American haunted hot spots, it is a beacon for paranormal investigators, including the TAPS team and the Ghost Hunters show. In 2006, TAPS filmed the hotel for both a televised investigation and live Halloween event, and then again this year for the July 7 Ghost Hunters Academy season finale. Moreover, the team has returned several times for ticketed events, including a trip last June and another scheduled for this week.

Even though, as Steve Gonsalves points out, The Stanley is “humongous, and you can’t cover all the areas you’d like to cover” for a full investigation, the hotel has a pull over everyone who visits. Jason Hawes says it is “one of the top places you’d ever want to check.”

“It has all the right elements” for a good case, says Hawes, but he adds that the first time he walked the walls, it gave him creepy feelings.

Grant Wilson agrees the hotel has earned its haunted seal.

“It’s just amazing all around … it’s easy to see how Stephen King got inspired by that place.”

Activity is reported in nearly every corner of the hotel. Employees have heard parties taking place in the empty MacGregor Room; others recount the time a clean-and-sober guest acted possessed and went berserk in Room 412, and supposedly exhibited superhuman strength while being removed; even at the front desk, a night auditor claims books flew off the shelf behind him. Some claims of activity have been debunked and laid to rest, but others persist.

Because of the hotel’s size, and the long list of supposed ghostly encounters, this case file has been split into two parts. Part One, published last issue, covered many highlights of the TAPS investigation of The Stanley’s main building – except for the employee tunnel, that is.

Since The Stanley was basically built atop and into a mountain with granite and quartz deposits, there are areas of exposed rock in this restricted passageway, which Grant refers to as the “catacombs.” According to popular paranormal theory, limestone and minerals (and lead or underground water) help boost ghostly activity and record energy that’s played back residually, which may be the reason for so many reported claims of activity here.

In 2006, when they first visited the tunnel, Jason and Grant heard knocking on a padlocked door, which Jason says, “sounded like somebody was trying to knock to get out.” And when the two returned later the same year for the Halloween show, the knocking from before was outdone by disembodied voices that appeared to be saying “hello,” giggling and saying other indecipherable things.

“Oh my God, what is going on?” Grant says he asked himself. “It sounded like creepy laughter and it was from right around us” and not from out in the hallway or above them. He and Jason ran to other areas of the tunnel, and looked everywhere but found no one else around them.

“It was just us and a camera man.”

Later, about five and a half hours into the live show, a viewer from home picked up a possible EVP from the television while the duo was still in the tunnel. On screen, Grant points out a light being blocked out, and then asks if they are accompanied by a spirit named “Katie.”

“Katie? Is your name Katie?” and his response appears to be met with a hissing “yes” that he didn’t hear in person.

Britt Griffith thinks there is definitely something active about the tunnel and claims to have encountered some “pretty cool stuff” there. Though he wasn’t with the show in 2006, Britt has led many investigative groups at The Stanley.

During the team’s event at the hotel last June, Britt says there were “two serious cold spots that three different people were able to stick their hand in and feel the difference.” Unfortunately, he says no one in his group had a thermometer to gauge the temperature.

He adds, however, that “we had another lady who had her ponytail pulled and that’s actually an area where Grant and I were a year ago when we heard hissing and followed something up into the rafters … and it was no animal.”

“The basement’s a pretty wild area,” agrees Jason.

Just a few yards from The Stanley’s main building is the Manor House with 38 guest rooms. On the third floor windows have been reported to open and close on their own, but it’s Room 1302 which is considered to be the center of activity. Pictures have allegedly been pulled off the walls, and lamps thrown on the floor in this room when someone leaves.

But it was a table that caught the attention of TAPS in 2006.

While investigating with Dave Tango and Lisa Dowaliby, Grant said they moved around the hotel a little before settling in 1302 because they all felt it was “different.”

“I got this strange feeling … there’s something in here,” says Tango. A young investigator-in-training at the time, he says he felt watched, and was very uncomfortable. He asked for a sign; for a spirit to make itself known. It was very quiet when Grant asked camera operator Kendall Whelpton to use the unit’s LCD screen light to illuminate the table while he changed the tape in the mini-DV handheld camera.

The next instant the quiet in the room was broken with the sound of a table moving, followed by a yelp by Whelpton and Grant’s classic, “What the fetch?” Grant tried to react by filming with the mini-DV, but was shaking too much.

An experience Grant says is on the edge between personal experience and evidence, Whelpton’s camera didn’t catch much of the movement but he says he saw the table and chair lifting up and dropping. The camera operator – who had entered the job with Ghost Hunters as a skeptic - had never seen anything like it before, and still cannot explain it; he’s a believer now.

Tango is frustrated he didn’t see the event, but says he heard the “terrible scream” from Whelpton. For Grant’s part, he reflects that he’s experienced a lot of stuff, and “things don’t scare me, but they do shock me,” and Room 1302 definitely impacted him that way.

Yet as significant as that activity was for Grant, Room 1302 isn’t his favorite location at The Stanley.

“I like the concert hall. I mean, John Philip Sousa used to play here so historically it’s cool, but it’s also the most active – we’ve had tables flip, chairs flip – and it’s never let us down.

Based on her experience, Callea Sherrill, the hotel’s resident paranormal investigator, agrees with Grant and believes the third building of The Stanley has the most “interactive activity.”

“The rest of the hotel we have quite a bit of residual activity but we do have some interactive,” she says before adding, “When you’re down in the concert hall it’s kind of reversed.”

The story of the concert hall is that a homeless woman, lovingly referred to as Lucy by investigators, lived in the building and froze to death. She reportedly haunts t the hall and tries warm herself. Along with some other spirit claims here, the ghosts of the concert hall are said to touch or slam doors on visitors.

For Amy Bruni, the concert hall is always the first location she wants to check out on investigations. Amy wasn’t along for the ride when TAPS first filmed the hotel in 2006, but has racked up “wild experiences” in the building over numerous events. She echoes Grant and says it never fails to impress her.

“It’s always been a great spot,” she says. “We’ve had doors slam open and close, we’ve had chairs thrown out here … we using the laser grid and watching something block out the light [on the stage].”

Even last June, Amy says she was taken aback by the activity she experienced in the concert hall.

“We had a table against the wall that lifted up off the wall a good six inches and slammed back down … then, once everybody left, it was just Grant and Jason and I, and we were hearing a full-on conversation going on downstairs.”

“We thought we accidentally left people down there so we ran downstairs and no one was there.”

However, even if most of the TAPS team can relate a personal experience or several about The Stanley Hotel's haunted identity, there’s one notable investigator who cannot: Kris Williams.

Kris joined the team after in 2007, after the televised investigations, but has visited the hotel multiple times. She’s led teams of investigators and explored the entire hotel, but has yet to witness anything at The Stanley. And she’s OK with that.

“It’s gorgeous, and I love going back every time – but I have haven’t had any experiences there,” she says.

But Kris makes the point that that’s the truth, and very “normal” aspect of paranormal investigations. Even at famous haunted hot spots, you still have to be patient.

“We’re on TV, sure, but we’re really no different than anyone else when it comes to the results we can get or the waiting we have to do.” She adds, “Some researchers don’t experience anything for three, four, five years, but you have to keep at it.”

“Don’t get discouraged,” Kris offers. “With all the history, it’s an amazing place and when something does happen – to me or anyone else - it’s worth it.”

With that hopeful sentiment, Kris Williams highlights the optimism and enthusiasm that makes The Stanley Hotel not only one of the most famous haunted destinations in the country, but an American story that endures to this day.