Tim Washer. Keynote Speaker + Event Emcee

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Ghost in Room 217: Stephen King and The Shining


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Our ghost tour guide, a Colorado University student, unintentionally convinced me that we were in the presence of the paranormal during the Stanley Hotel Ghost Tour because the only time she seemed to be relaxed and unscripted was when she was talking about the ghosts nearby.  (See New York Times article about “Scary Mary”).  I’ve been fascinated by the story of Stephen King’s failure, which led him to a frightening night in room 217, which then led to the novel that put him on the map, The Shining.  It’s a beautiful and redemptive reminder to me that failure is a necessary part of the creative process.

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to write and produce a dark comedy about the story.  For now, I’ll use it as the topic of a new YouTube series: Better Marriage Through PowerPoint.



The Atlantic reported,

“Jim Carrey requested 217 during the filming of Dumb and Dumber, but checked out—so the story goes—after only three hours. “That’s a shady one,” says the hotel’s tour guide Kevin Lofy. “What happened to him in that room, we don’t know. He’s never spoken of it.” A fantastic, if apocryphal, image: Carrey the rubbery actor-medium, the channeler of presences, windmilling out of the Stanley in a post-ghost panic.”

Room 217

This year at the Sundance Film Festival, director Rodney Ascher premiered his feature documentary “Room 237” which explores Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of the story. (BTW, the hotel asked Kubrick to change the room number for the film.)  Another Stephen King feature was announced last week — “The Breathing Method.”  Congrats to my creative partner from the mainframe videos, Scott Teems, who wrote the screenplay!

Special thanks to Barbara Barna Abel and Ann Handley for the creative support and encouragement on this PowerPoint video series.  Thanks to Garth Beams for the animation, and Justin Balog at HOSSedia for this eerie shot of room 217.

Haunted Cheeseburger @ The Stanley Hotel


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There was a time when I didn’t believe in ghosts.

My tour of the Stanley Hotel’s room 217 provided more eerie confirmation in changing my opinion.  While I was filming a comedy documentary short about the inspiration behind Stephen King’s The Shining, we had a few paranormal encounters, yet I found the courage to stick around and have a cheeseburger at Cascades Restaurant.

Stanley Hotel

King, seeking sanctuary from some friends’ harsh criticism of his first draft  — initially about an amusement park where rides came to life and devoured visitors — escaped with his wife toward Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountains National Park.  Snowfall had closed the road, and the Kings headed back down the mountain and spotted a dilapidated Stanley.  King was willing to check-in on the last night of operation for the season, even though the hotel looked pretty spooky.  As they were the only guests, they were given the Presidential Suite, room 217.  (Photo: Justin Balog)

Room 217

Mrs. Wilson, one of the first chambermaids employed when the hotel was built by F.O. Stanley in 1909, is said to still clean and sometimes haunt guests in 217, particularly if they’re messy.  Mr. King had a frightening experience that night, awoke the next day and wrote a new outline for The Shining.

jack_typing

What I love about this story is that it was Mr. King’s failure that played the muse for his masterpiece.   A few days before my visit to room 217 in Estes Park, CO, I had received some harsh criticism on a comedy project.  That same week, I heard a story that gave me hope, just down the road from the Stanley at Hyde Chapel.

Hyde Chapel

Rev. Dr. Stephen Wende shared a fascinating research study from the book Art & Fear.  In short, a class of art students was divided into two groups.  Group 1 was told they would be graded on making a perfect clay pot, while Group 2 was directed to make as many clay pots as possible, regardless of how they looked.

The researchers were stunned to discover that the  absolute best pot was produced by the “quantity” group, not the “quality” group.  In fact, the last two dozen clay posts produced by the quantity group were far better than the one pot produced by the “quality” group…. The researchers realized that all the time the quality group was sitting around thinking and theorizing about how to make the exact the perfect post, the other group was just churning them out.  And they were pretty bad at first, but they kept making them and making them and making them, and they got better as they went along, until by the time they finished, they were making wonderful, excellent pots.

Dr. Wende concludes, “Have you ever thought of the power of being willing to fail and learn and keep on failing until you begin to get it right?”  I guess to some, this seems obvious, but in that period for me, with a bruised ego and overwhelmed with doubt, it was an epiphany.

Like I imagine Stephen King might be, I am grateful for spirits unholy or otherwise, who guide us through the creative process, encouraging us to complete what we’ve been called to do.

Update:

Cascades at The Stanley Hotel: 3 out of 5 stars on Yelp

About the Cheeseburger & Comedy blog series.