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Friday, October 21, 2005

Ghostly Guests
Historic hotels home to spooky spirits, unexplained weirdness

By Valerie Singleton
The Daily Times-Call


Opened by Henry C. Brown in 1892, ghost tales are an intriguing part of the Brown Palace Hotel’s history. The Denver hotel began hosting ghost tours in 2000.
Times-Call photo illustration/Kristin Goode

ESTES PARK — Room 317 was empty — except that its guests hadn’t really checked out.

This was news to Heather Hebenstreit, a 21-year-old woman staying with her mother, Dorise, down the hall in Room 323 on Oct. 9.

She was snapping photos of the 96-year-old Stanley Hotel’s classic decor with her digital camera that day. Hebenstreit aimed her lens at Room 317.

The doorknob shook. And Hebenstreit’s camera stopped working.

Even more strange: There was no one staying in Room 317, the folks at the front desk said.

“It was really creepy, because nothing like that has ever happened to me,” Hebenstreit, a self-professed “non-believer,” says one day later while taking the hotel’s “ghost tour.”

Today, Hebenstreit’s camera is functioning properly — almost.

“See the orb?” she says, pointing to a bright blob in the center of the digital image on her camera screen. “Now I’m beginning to think my camera is broken.”

Terilyn Elibero, a Boston woman taking the tour with her friend Donna Fridgen, sneaks a peek at the screen on Hebenstreit’s camera.

“They say some people are more receptive (to spirits) than others,” says Elibero, whose digital camera has captured strange elements of its own throughout the tour.

Hebenstreit shrugs. “I still don’t believe it,” she says.

Seeing is believing

Kim Ramacher didn’t believe in ghosts, either. Even C.M. Johnson was skeptical.

“I said, ‘Absolutely not. I don’t believe in anything you can’t hear, feel or touch,’” Ramacher, concierge and tour guide at the Stanley Hotel, says of her response when co-workers asked if she believed in ghosts upon being hired in spring 2005.

Twenty years earlier, in 1985, at the Hotel Boulderado in Boulder, Johnson heard tales of her own about the front desk she had begun manning. She recalled the stories she had heard three years earlier, when she was hired as a housekeeper at the hotel.

“I had heard, ‘Oh, there’s been sightings, and these housekeepers won’t go in these rooms,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, what are you talking about?’” Johnson says.

It inevitably happened: inexplicable movement; voices from nowhere; electrical glitches that weren’t electrical at all; light touches in empty rooms; allusions to the past. It took years for these things to unfold for Johnson, mere days for Ramacher.

There were just too many weird things happening to guests and employees of Colorado’s historic hotels. Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel began giving October ghost tours in 2000. Billy Ward, a longtime employee at the Stanley Hotel, kicked off ghost tours for the spirit-riddled hotel in 2004.

“I think there’s a lot of non-believers who walk through the front door, but when they leave, they believe, because seeing is believing,” Ramacher says.

Valerie Singleton can be reached at 303-684-5319 or by e-mail at

A ‘playful, naughty presence’ at the Hotel Boulderado

The window

Old buildings have strange quirks and odd creaks.

A few years back, while doing some maintenance in a room, Johnson found one of her own: No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t open the room’s window. She left to get a tool to dislodge it.

“I came back into the room, and the window was open,” she says.

It was lunchtime; the guests were gone.

“And in an old building like this, you can hear people walking around,” Johnson says.

But there was no one. She closed the window, then walked out again.

When she returned, the window had been opened once more. It was her first experience with spirits in the hotel, she says.

“I was happy,” Johnson recalls. “I was thinking, ‘God, you guys sure took a long time to show yourself to me.’”

Ghosts who like to sit a spell

The Hotel Boulderado has its own set of regulars, but perhaps none are as consistent as the woman in the rocking chair.

Guests and employees have seen her, a woman donning a flowing, Victorian gown and shawl. She rocks in her chair, leaving folks bewildered.

Upon checking out, some guests have told employees they felt as if they had unwittingly shared their rooms.

“They say, ‘I felt like someone was sitting on my bed last night,’” Johnson recalls at least one guest saying.

A not-so-manual elevator

It takes a lot to faze some employees at the Hotel Boulderado.

For instance, when the manually operated elevator at the hotel gets a mind of its own, longtime staffers tend to chalk it up to the usual suspects.

Some folks on the first floor have watched the light flicker on the third floor, only to ride the elevator up to find no one is there at all.

“I think it still happens,” Johnson says somewhat cavalierly. “It’s just we’re so used to these type of things.”


It was one thing when they messed with her hair.

But Johnson admitted she was a bit taken aback when what she believes was a spirit pulled a prank using a shawl.

During the first incident, Johnson was standing in front of a storage closet when she felt a light yank on her hair. Within seconds, the rubber band holding her hair up fell to the ground.

But later, when she was searching for a hotel guest’s shawl — which Johnson believed would be stored in the lost-and-found storeroom — she became befuddled. She searched through three months’ worth of unclaimed items, and there was nothing. She checked three times, eventually locking the room, to which she and her supervisor — who was on vacation — were the only key holders.

“The next morning when I come in, there is the shawl, draped on the shelves,” Johnson says.

If you go

What: Brown Palace Hotel ghost tour

When: 1 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays through Oct. 29

Where: 321 17th St., Denver

Tickets: Free

More info: Reservations required. Call 303-297-3111

Tales behind the Brown Palace Hotel

The guest in Suite 904

Louise Crawford Hill was once an elite member of Denver’s Capitol Hill society.

For the last 15 years of her life, however, she was reclusive, a widow who had suffered a broken heart when the object of her affections took off with another woman. From 1940 to 1955, she lived in Suite 904 of the Brown Palace.

In 2000, the year the hotel underwent a $6 million renovation, staff began giving tours, one of which featured Hill’s story. As tour guides detailed Hill’s suspected love affair with the man who left her, workers undertaking the renovation efforts on the hotel’s upper floors stripped Hill’s onetime ninth-floor apartment of furniture, carpeting and, most importantly, a telephone line.

“A few days later, the switchboard started receiving calls from her apartment,” hotel historian Julia Kanellos says. “So I stopped telling her story because it made hair stand up on my arm.

“The calls stopped.”

Music appreciation

Some guests have grown so attached to the Brown Palace that they’ve never bothered to check out.

Henry C. Brown, the carpenter and architect after whom the hotel is named, is a rumored longtime guest. And because it was his money that made a vision reality, it’s quite possible that he feels entitled to certain amenities — namely, entertainment, regardless of the hour.

One of the hotel’s bartenders was less than amused when an invisible force twisted the “on” and “volume” knobs on the hotel’s stereo one evening. It was late. The bartender flicked the stereo off, only to be bothered when the knob turned again.

The bartender had enough.

“He said, ‘Henry, please! I am trying to work,’” Kanellos says. “And you know, that music stopped.”

Floating guests from the Navarre

The Brown Palace is home of the Ship Tavern, a onetime gentlemen’s club. Some patrons of the Ship Tavern are rumored to have frequented the Navarre, a brothel on the other side of Tremont Street.

Rumor also has it that there was once an underground tunnel leading from one business to the other. And while no such tunnel exists today, some believe the ladies of the Navarre have found a way into the Brown Palace.

“From time to time, we have reports from guests that they have seen a woman floating above their beds,” Kanellos says.

The train conductor

The train conductor is the Brown Palace’s most common apparition, according to Kanellos.

Maybe he traveled from Denver’s Union Station. Better yet, Kanellos says, he could be a onetime employee of the Rock Island Railroad ticket office that once stood at Tremont and 17th streets.

If you go

What: Brown Palace Hotel ghost tour

When: 1 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays through Oct. 29

Where: 321 17th St., Denver

Tickets: Free

More info: Reservations required. Call 303-297-3111

Stories from the Stanley Hotel

Lord Dunraven’s wandering hands

Lord Dunraven’s reputation preceded him when he came to Estes Park in the mid-1800s.

Dunraven was a former European brothel owner. When he settled in Estes Park, he created a new reputation for himself: the man who was illegally homesteading land from the people of Estes Park.

By 1888, Alexander MacGregor, a local lawyer, had had enough. He seized Dunraven’s land — more than 100 acres of which would later be used to build the Stanley Hotel — and ran him out of town.

“I understand Lord Dunraven still hangs around,” Ramacher says. “I heard that he’s been hanging around the fourth floor of the Stanley Hotel.”

Room 405, in particular, is believed to be haunted by Dunraven’s presence, one accompanied by mysterious groping and tugging, according to Ramacher.

“That’s the room to this date that our maids do not like to clean,” she says.

The elevators

Strange things started happening when maintenance workers installed a new motor and cables in the hotel’s elevator, according to a couple staying on the fourth floor who took the elevator down.

First the lights failed to function. Then, without any provocation, the doors opened.

The uninvited guest

The concert hall, one of 11 original buildings on the hotel property, once hosted big-name musicians. It also briefly served as a safe haven for a female transient.

But when hotel staff discovered the woman sleeping in the hall, they threw her out into the cold. Days later, her body was found frozen in the snow.

“Since then, she’s been known to show up in the concert hall,” Ramacher says.

Jim Carrey checks out of Room 217

Room 217 was Stephen King’s sanctuary in 1973, as he wrote “The Shining.” More than two decades later, the room became a source of malcontent for actor Jim Carrey.

Known as the “Redrum Room,” 217 has remained a focal point in the hotel’s history. In 1911, Mrs. Williams, a hotel maid, was injured when a gas lantern sparked an explosion that destroyed rooms 217 and 219. Hotel owner F.O. Stanley paid Williams’ medical expenses and ensured she was in good health, but folks believe she still wanders the room.

In the 1990s, Carrey booked Room 217 while filming portions of the movie “Dumb and Dumber” at the hotel. He reportedly cut short his stay.

“He said, ‘I don’t care where you put me; get me out of this room,’” Ramacher says. “He didn’t want to talk about it. I can only just believe he ran into Mrs. Williams.”

Other mysterious occurrences in 217: guests returning to their rooms to find their clothes folded and shoes neatly organized when no one has entered the room to clean it.

The piano that plays itself

In 1909, the year the hotel opened, F.O. Stanley presented his wife, Flora, with a piano. The Stanleys put it in the Music Room, where famous musicians of the day, such as John Phillip Sousa, played the instrument.

Today, those musicians’ imprints are indelible.

As legend has it, the piano plays on its own, awakening guests who enjoy the music coming from an unoccupied Music Room.

The scariest room of all

While the media has long called rooms 418 and 217 the hotel’s most haunted, it is the Stanley Hotel’s honeymoon suite that takes the cake, according to employees.

“(Room) 401 is, we claim, our scariest room,” Ramacher says.


More people check out of Room 401 than any other room in the hotel, Ramacher says.

“We have moved seven couples out of Room 401 this summer,” she says.

Ghost children

Gaze up at the Stanley Hotel’s highest point — the bell tower — and you might see some of the building’s most notorious guests: a young girl and boy affectionately referred to as the ghost children.

Hotel guests have reported hearing laughter and strange banging noises before seeing the children appear.

“Almost on a daily basis, they come down the stairs and they tell me their story,” Ramacher says.

If you go

What: Stanley Hotel ghost tour

When: 1 and 2 p.m. weekdays; 11 a.m. and 1, 2 and
5 p.m. Saturdays; 11 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Sundays

Where: 333. W. Wonderview Ave., Estes Park

Tickets: $10 adults, $5 children 5 to 12 and seniors

More info: Reservations required. Call 970-577-4110