January 4, 2010
Surviving the Stanley Hotel
Article and photos by Mike Brody (except where noted)
Forget ghosts - I'm scared of elk.
Yeah, spirits rattle chains and point at you in the middle of the night with empty eye-sockets. That's pretty scary. But elk are gigantic and wild and their poop looks like piles of chocolate Whoppers. Ghostly cries of "Get out!" aren't going to hurt you; but a mouthful of misidentified elk-pellets is at least going to ruin your smile for a day. I would much rather run into a poltergeist than a frisky bull elk in rut-season who thinks my brown coat looks like Scarlett Johansen.
To illustrate, here are my top three most frightening things in the world:
1. Horny elkSo according to my list, this makes the luxurious Stanley Hotel, in Estes Park, Colorado, the scariest place on the planet. The place is swimming with paranormal activity and elk-related shenanigans. (As far as I know, Nickelback has never graced the Stanley with their presence. Although, I could be wrong. The singer, Chad Kroeger, does have some elk-ish qualities.)
Chad Kroeger? OR Chad Kroeger?
Opened in 1909, the Stanley is a 138-room Gregorian-style hotel located next to what is today known as the Rocky Mountain National Park. It was built by F.O. Stanley, inventor of the steam engine vehicle, the "Stanley Steamer." (Not to be confused with the "Cleveland Steamer.") I am jealous of F.O. Stanley for two reasons. First off, because he is a successful businessman. And secondly, because he has two initials at the beginning of his name and can pull it off. It would never work with me. "M.B. Brody." It looks okay in print, but if you say it out-loud it sounds like you have a stutter. Stammering business tycoons are seldom intimidating. "I drink your m-m-m-m-ilkshake." "Do you?"
Oh, and you might have heard of the Stanley for another reason as well. It's the place that inspired a little book by Steven King called The Shining. King, who many years ago stayed in room 217, allegedly went for a walk in the hotel, saw the two ghost children in the hallway, dropped some Whoppers, and the rest is history. In addition, King also went on a hike of the outside property and found a small burial group for deceased pets, which became the basis for Pet Sematary. It's amazing to see how small the hotel and cemetery are compared to the scope of the novels. King has his critics, but after seeing the inspiration for his work you simply cannot deny the scope of his imagination. And that's not even the end of the celebrity of the Stanley. Less famously, but not less awesomely, parts of Dumber & Dumber were filmed there such as when Jim Carrey walks up the steps in his fuzzy boots and the "We put a man on the moon!" bar scene. Other renowned guests include Theodore Roosevelt, John Philip Sousa, "Unsinkable" Molly Brown, Bob Dylan, Tony Bennett, Johnny Cash, Emperor Akihito of Japan, Wayne frickin' Newton, M.B. Brody, and many others. Now, contrary to popular belief, Jack Nicholson has never been a guest at the hotel. That is, unless you count the Nicholson impersonator.
(I wonder how many people he fools on a regular basis? I wonder if he worries about Jack aging badly? Are there impersonator groupies? Are there impersonator turf wars? Does he keep the impression up even when he's got the runs? Would the real him ever be able to say, "You can't handle the truth!" without people laughing? I have so many questions! Did I ask any of those questions when I met him later in the week? No. I just gave a thumbs up and giggled.) But I wasn't at the Stanley Hotel just to stalk Jack Nicholson impressionists. I was there to do "paranormal comedy" and host a three-day Beyond Reality Events conference, which also included a charity auction benefiting multiple sclerosis. Beyond Reality is the company that organizes events for the SyFy Channel's show Ghost Hunters. In addition to the 200+ attendees, guest speakers included Grant Wilson, Amy Bruni, Kris Williams, and Britt Griffith from Ghost Hunters, author (and my co-host for the week) Jeff Belanger, demonologist Adam Blai, Syd Schultz from TAPS Boot Camp, and EVP experts Mark and Debby Constantino. Attendees are given the opportunity to hunt for ghosts by themselves and with the speakers. Unfortunately, Jason Hawes was unable to make it due to a last-minute case of H1N1. He's all better now, but I will forever call him Boss Hog Flu.
I flew into the Denver airport the day before the conference and was greeted in baggage claim by several giant paper airplanes hanging from the ceiling. It's reassuring to know that the largest international airport in the country views aviation like a fourth-grader does. Then, on the hour and a half drive from Denver to Estes Park, I wondered out loud if we were going to see any elk. Answer: Holy crap, yes. They were never NOT there. The minute I got there, two large females stared me down as if to say "Come eat grass with us, Brody. Forever and ever." As much as I wanted to, I couldn't. I had work to do, ghosts to look for, and besides, my poop doesn't look hilarious. I'd never fit in.
Doing paranormal comedy is always a blast. Perhaps you're wondering what the heck that entails? It's pretty simple. I basically get up in front of a room of ghost people (the live ones) and do 30-45 minutes of jokes about ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, whatever. It's always been a lot of fun and the Stanley show was no different. The highlight for me involves the Jack impressionist again. I was on stage doing a joke about the "Shack Hack" and how it can say weird things like "Help" or "Hello, Brody," but that it can also say "Kobe Bryant," and "We want the funk." So Jack, always the big Lakers fan, comes up to me after the show and says in his flawless imitation "You're a very funny man. But leave Kobe the f$#@ alone!" Don't be funnier than me, Jack.
After the show, I ventured off to investigate the grounds with my good friend Adam Blai, the demonologist. To put it plainly, a demonologist is someone who studies demons. They aren't priests, but oftentimes they will assist in exorcisms. Various demonologists will have differing views on an assortment of topics, but one thing they all agree on is that demons are not to be toyed with and that it's not a hobby. Adam is a very laid-back and funny guy, but he takes his work very seriously. He also has a dead-pan monotone that would put Ben Stein ("Bueller....Bueller...Bueller...") and Steven Wright to shame. He says everything in the exact same inflection, no matter how mundane or dramatic it is. So it wouldn't be out of the ordinary to hear him say this in the same breath:
"Cyndi Lauper is the greatest singer of all time. The Devil just walked in."
"Are you going to finish that sandwich? Your eyes are bleeding."
But that's cool, because you want your demonologists to be calm and collected. You don't want to be hanging out and suddenly hear, "OHHHH SH$##%#(#&^#^!!!!!! Hey, why'd Brody run away? I was just about to tell him about the new episode of Lost."
Adam and I wandered the Stanley until we randomly ended up in the billiard room, where we were joined by my friends Justin and Kysa from Wisconsin Illinois Paranormal Solutions (W.I.P.S.). The room is spacious, with a large gas-fireplace and several wood and glass doors around the perimeter. Other than the glow from the fire, the room was devoid of light. There was nobody else around in the room or outside. As the four of us sat on the floor talking we suddenly heard a rapping noise from the corner by a door leading outside. One of us said, "If there's a ghost in this room making that noise, please do so again to make us aware of your presence." Just then, in the exact same spot, we heard two loud knocks. Then the door leading outside started to slowly open. "Oh crap, the door's opening!" I yelled. And then WHOOSH, the fire went out, plunging us into darkness. The person next to me practically jumped into my lap. All of this happened in the span of about five seconds. Now, you could say that this is all just a coincidence. And I'd probably agree with you. The wind (which actually there wasn't much of) probably opened the door, which then blew out the fire. However, we checked the handle afterwards and it was broken. You couldn't open the door unless you pulled really hard. So yeah, probably a coincidence. But it's the pimpest coincidence ever. Seriously, if only I could rig that scenario in my apartment. I wouldn't even need anything else in there except for a wonky door, the fireplace, and one tiny love-seat. Sadly, that's not too far off my actual living situation. Except minus the fireplace and add a Bigfoot statue and six shark jaws. What's up ladies?!
After the investigation in the billiard room, I decided to head back to my Presidential Suite (take THAT, Wayne Newton!). As always, there were about 6-12 elk clustered in the front lawn. However, this time I saw that there was a dark human figure standing amongst them. It seemed to be frolicking like a nature spirit of some sort and attempting to communicate with the creatures. I stood and watched, trying to figure out what I was seeing. As the group moved toward a more lighted area, I realized that it was a woman and friend of mine affectionately named "Vegan Mel." Mel works for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), where she often gets naked in public to protest animal cruelty. She also claims to be able to communicate psychically with animals. Here's the thing: Mel is also from Los Angeles, where animals don't exist. Look, I love animals and I don't want things to die. I am not saying that I don't applaud Mel's dedication to a cause she believes in, but I'm not going to lie and say that it wasn't freaking hilarious to watch someone from PETA get chased away by a wild animal. She got just a wee bit too close to one of the big ones and it turned on her and chased her until she had to hide behind a lamppost. You don't need to be psychic to read that message. Hanging off of the pole, she looked like the coldest stripper ever. Unfortunately, elk are bad tippers too.
Later on, a big group of people including Britt and Holly Griffith decided to head into Estes Park for karaoke night. I was kind of tired and didn't want to go, but they harassed me until I caved. "It'll be fun! We're all going to sing!" Translation: "Hey dancing monkey, entertain us some more!" Turns out I was the only one that got up and sang. I had to follow two wasted, thickly-accented Russian girls who sang an almost indecipherable version of "Don't Speak" by No Doubt. It was going to be tough to top. So I decided to pull out the big guns and rock "Do Me" by Bell Biv Devoe. Check out the lyrics of this poetic masterpiece: "The time was 6 o'clock on the Swatch watch, no time to chill. Got a date, can't be late. HEY! The girl is gonna do me. MOOOOVEE, to the jacuzzi. Ooooo, that booty. Smack it up, flip it, rub it down! OH NOOOO!!!!" (I never did figure out what the "OH NOOOO!" was about? What went wrong, Biv? It sounded like it was going okay.) I improvised lyrics, I swayed, I jumped. I gave it 110%. Halfway through the song, I turned to the Russian girls and said in my best Yakov Smirnoff impression: "In Russia, No Doubt sings YOU!" Then, a wasted townie tried to crawl up on stage and steal the spotlight, so during an especially randy part of the song, I dry-humped her off the stage. Then she came at me with a bar-stool. Check out the photo below. I'm pretty proud of my no-look deflection.)
Thankfully, bad karaoke and elk-dodging was only a small part of the weekend. The majority was spent checking out the Stanley, which we got to investigate thoroughly. We inspected the basement tunnel in the main building, as well as the fourth floor (where the voices of non-visible children are often reported in the hallway) and 217 (the Steven King room.) Several attendees reported EVP activity and ghost sightings in each of these rooms. In addition to these, there were spots that we got to look at in other buildings on the property such as room 1302 in the Manor Building and the Music Hall (where a homeless woman who was squatting in the basement passed away). I was told that the basement of the Music Hall was also home to a ghost who haunts the far right stall in the men's bathroom. Supposedly it flushes of its own accord. I spent the better part of an hour staring at that damn piece of porcelain all by myself. Nothing happened. Here's the worst part: I just had a giant can of Monster energy drink. I had to "go" really bad. But I couldn't use the toilet, because I didn't want half of the group to come running in thinking that the Ghost Flusher had struck again. A small part of me is convinced that my friends made up the story. "Let's tell Brody the toilet's haunted! I bet he stares at it for at least 45 minutes! That'll teach him to write 'Blumpkin' on all the pumpkins outside."
Time flies at these events. One minute you're just getting unpacked and next thing you know it's the last night. And for whatever reason, the best night of activity is always the last. Could it be that we all wanted it to happen so badly that we made it occur in our minds? It's quite possible. But if that's the case, then it was a very well-orchestrated plan amongst dozens of people scattered across the entire hotel with nothing to gain from it. Almost every room included in the hotel tour was getting EMF and EVP activity that night. And strangely, several of the EVPs mentioned Adam Blai by name, but never when he was actually in that room. Anytime he would show up the voices would cease to regard him. However, the minute he left again you'd hear "Hate Adam" or something worse. Also, several people were down in the basement tunnel using a "Shack Hack" and getting some very foul language from it. Stuff even I wouldn't repeat. Say what you will about the legitimacy of these kinds of messages, you can definitely rule out radio interference. Let's just say there were sentiments that Garrison Keillor has never expressed on air.
So since the tunnel seemed to be getting the most activity out of any place in the building that night, we decided to check it out. This time my group included Mark and Debby Constantino, Adam Blai, and two women who won the charity auction for a private investigation. We pulled six chairs into a semi-circle in the tunnel, turned off all the lights, and sat in the darkness waiting for something to happen. Then we asked if there were any spirits around, could they please make their presence known to us with a sound or sign of some kind. Ten or fifteen minutes went by with no activity at all. We actually seemed to forget about what we were doing and were basically chit-chatting amongst ourselves when suddenly "BAM!" It was the loudest noise I've ever heard that didn't come from a machine. Even now, I'm not sure what it was. I must first submit that there are a lot of pipes in the tunnel. And they rattle. We were aware of where the pipes were and what kind of sounds they make. And they were loud. But not like this. This came from a different area. It was from a part of the tunnel where there were only rock and metal walls. The crash sounded like someone took a 100-pound metal chair and slammed it against the wall as hard as they could. Violently. With hate. It's always kind of freaky when you're with paranormal veterans of several accumulated decades and even they jump. We were all pretty startled. I believe we even turned on the lights at that point for a minute. (Later on, the two auction winners told me that they played back their audio recorder and heard this: Our group talking amongst ourselves quietly and then a voice says "How dare you not listen to us!" and then "BAM!" I am still currently attempting to track down the two women and get that EVP included in this article. So for now you're just going to have to accept my story, which I understand doesn't count for much.) At this point, the vibe in the room turned ugly and heavy. It became kind of hard to breathe and the lights were back off again. I'll admit, I wasn't having very much fun at this point. I was frightened and really just wanted everything to be over with. It's a strange feeling when you've spent your whole life looking for paranormal experiences and then it happens and all you want is for it to end. And then, just as I was starting to calm down, something touched my foot. It was the weirdest feeling I've ever had. I can't even really adequately describe it. It wasn't like a bump or a nudge. It felt like a very cylindrical shock went right through my foot like an electrical pencil or something. It made me feel very uncomfortable and I actually yelled out at this point. I remember someone asking me if I was okay. I said yes, but was clearly a little disturbed. At times like these, it doesn't suck to have a demonologist around! Adam immediately went to work. He said some prayers and even had some holy water ready. He began sprinkling it around everywhere. A few drops even hit me on the head. The reason I bring this up is not to suggest that something was hovering around or in me, but that I knew the exact moment that he started to dispense the water. The reaction was instantaneous. I could physically feel the room lightening up. It was like a curtain lifted. And I realize I am putting my sanity in contention by saying this, but twice I smelled flowers. There were no flowers down there. In fact, the room had mostly smelled like garbage because, well, that's where they keep the garbage. The thing that later struck me as odd was that at one point all of us were about ready to jump up and high-tail it out of there. But after Adam cleansed the room, we sat and talked for 45 minutes about nothing. The room felt completely free and airy. And like I always say, this proves absolutely nothing. I am fully aware that this could have been all of our minds wishing this to happen. But I'm not here to prove anything to anybody. It's a personal thing. And I'm never close-minded enough to say "This is what happened" or "This is what didn't happen." But I know what it felt like. And it felt like Whopper Time.
I left the tunnel that night at about 3am. Once again, the scariest part of the week had happened at the very end. And how could I top that? Violent bangs, voices and ominous feelings all rolled together. But the Stanley wasn't done with me just yet. As I walked out the front door of the Stanley, I saw the scariest thing of all week. Hands down. At the foot of the front stairway, eyes aglow and calmly eating one of my blumpkins, stood a demon elk from hell. Luckily just then Vegan Mel walked by. So I threw a dollar bill on the ground and ran for my life.