The question on my mind as I prepared for the Stanley Hotel’s annual Shining Ball: Is my costume good enough?
Every October, the iconic hotel in Estes Park, which is the focus of Westword’s current cover story, “Shine On,” hosts one of Colorado’s most exclusive Halloween parties. It makes sense. The 107-year-old hotel is rumored to be haunted and served as the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining; you’d be hard pressed to find a better location for a Halloween bacchanal.
As it turned out, most guests felt the same. At this year's Shining Ball on October 22, they went all out with their costumes…and their drinking (more on that later).
Upon entering the Stanley’s concert hall, I was immediately greeted by the sight of a twelve-foot-tall clown (on stilts) manipulating a set of strings to puppeteer his five-foot marionette date. There were also amazing costumes from The Shining, including multiple sets of blood-spattered twins and a few crazed, ax-wielding Jack Nicholsons.
The North Mississippi All-Stars filled the room with punchy blues music, and masked couples were getting frisky on the dance floor.
Many of the costumes were truly elaborate – one-of-a-kind creations that were likely rented from professional costume shops or handmade. Comments I later saw on Facebook confirmed this suspicion.
Usually I’ll wait until the night of Halloween to throw together a makeshift costume with whatever I can find in my closet. But even though I'd made extra preparations for the Shining Ball (I was a Victorian skeleton with a top hat and a cape), I felt as though my costume barely passed muster.
That’s not only because the Stanley Hotel has an international reputation, according to its owner; from what I gathered from conversations with guests at the ball, part of the reason people went all out was because of the financial and logistical commitment involved in attending the event.
Sure, the tickets are pricey. But most also realize that it’s not the best idea to down red-rum punch and then drive the dangerous, windy highway 34 back to the Front Range. That means that most of the partiers had either booked a room at the Stanley many months in advance or were staying at one of the cheaper lodging options in Estes Park.
In fact, I spoke to more couples from out of state than from Colorado. Two couples I talked to – also dressed in Victorian garb — came from California’s Bay Area and had booked their rooms eleven months in advance. Others there were treating it as a special occasion, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries.
Of course, given that few planned on driving that night, it did lead to debauchery. At one point during the party, I went out on the porch of the concert hall and found three separate people puking over the guardrails.
“Should we call an ambulance?” asked a concerned zombie woman.
“Let’s wait on it,” replied a man (ironically dressed as a bloody surgeon).
At the end of the night, after the music ended, I ducked into the main hotel building, which is separate from the concert hall, to see if any of the other party-goers had migrated there. Instead, I found the lobby and the long, carpeted hallways on the upper floors of the hotel to be completely empty. I couldn’t help but imagine the spooky scene from Kubrick's The Shining of the little kid, Danny, riding his tricycle. It was perfect.
And it also reminded me of something that the Stanley Hotel’s owner, John Cullen, told me during an interview: that he wants guests' experiences at his hotel to be unforgettable. My evening certainly was.
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See our complete slideshow of the Shining Ball.