Get Married at the Stanley, a Spooky Hotel Inspired by ‘The Shining’


Couples who get married in October at the Stanley Hotel, situated at the doorstep of the Rocky Mountains in Estes Park, Colo., sometimes have a hard time getting their guests to R.S.V.P.

Lauren Nichols and Jeffrey Sheffler, who will marry there Oct. 28, couldn’t convince a dozen of their out-of-town guests to stay on the premises of the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write “The Shining,” his novel turned film, after staying there in 1974. And Melanie Pingel, who married Kyle Johnson there Oct. 13, was compelled to reserve a quiet space on a separate floor for guests who needed a moment away from the ghostly festivities. “My mom called it the place where the old ladies get to go have a break from it all,” she said.

These and other concessions — Jennie Wilson, a 2017 Stanley bride, was told by a guest “straight up that she wouldn’t come” — are perhaps a necessary trade-off for couples who want to exchange vows at what many call “The Shining” hotel.

Only a handful of couples who plan well in advance are greenlit for their October celebrations, said John Cullin, the Stanley’s owner. Those who do snag a spot between Oct. 1 and Halloween, the hotel’s busiest season, tend to share a common aesthetic: bridal fangs and cakes with Frankenstein-like surgical stitching can be part of it. Flower girls dressed as the sinister, not-quite-living Grady twins from the 1980 horror classic, or table décor that includes jars of pig hearts preserved in formaldehyde, can also be used.

The spookiness of the place is the allure for many couples, said Shayna Papke, a popular local planner for Halloween season weddings at the Stanley. “A wedding is the ultimate expression of who you are, and there are just people in the world who, this is who they are,” she said. “They’re the outliers who like dark music and dark stories. They’re fascinated by the death part of life.”

Many who fit that description flock to the Stanley for a ghost tour led by the hotel’s staff or to participate in a séance (More than 100,000 people visit per year; October is busy also because elk walk the streets and it’s “a really nice time to be in Estes Park,” Mr. Cullin said.) Still others consider it the ultimate location for committing to each other.

“Nothing says I love you like murdering your wife and kids, like in ‘The Shining,’ right?” Ms. Pingel, said jokingly. She worked with Ms. Papke to orchestrate their Friday the 13th wedding at the Pavilion, one of three indoor wedding spaces on the sprawling grounds.

Ms. Pingel, 35, and Mr. Johnson, 36, who live in Los Angeles, chose the Stanley for what they hoped would feel like “an elegant Victorian funeral” to their 105 guests.

A ceiling-strung contortionist, ghostly white-eyed cabaret dancers in fishnet stockings passing Champagne flutes and a hearse with flamethrowers and bat wings were all part of that aesthetic at their wedding. So were mini coffins used as place settings and cascades of red amaranth flowers meant to mimic dripping blood. Before the reception, guests opting to have tattoos were asked to sign waivers giving their permission to be inked by a local artist with designs including a grim reaper.

“Our taste is a little different than most people’s taste,” said Mr. Johnson, an art director at Bravado, which provides merchandising for major pop stars. Friends often comment on the taxidermic rat on their refrigerator and the funeral photos hanging on the walls of their home, said Ms. Pingel, an intensive care nurse at Thousand Oaks Los Robles Regional Medical Center.

Her custom black wedding gown by Kim Kassas and the black bread served with butter topped with beet purée for another blood-like look at the post-wedding dinner may not have elicited swoons from traditionalists, she acknowledged. But fellow October brides, like Ms. Wilson, 34, who started preserving the pig hearts she used for table decorations a year before her Friday the 13th wedding to Kris Wilson, 35, tend to get it.

“Most of our friends would say we’re some of the weirdest friends they have,” said Ms. Wilson, who does social media and voice-over work for “Cyanide & Happiness,” the darkly humorous Web comic co-founded by Mr. Wilson. The couple, from Fort Collins, Colo., collect bones and horror movie memorabilia; 300 guests came to their wedding at the Stanley, which included the Grady twin-like flower girls and the cake with monster stitching (“It was supposed to bleed when you cut into it, but it didn’t work,” she said.) Ms. Papke planned the wedding.

Ms. Papke will also pull off the vision of Ms. Nichols, 39, and Mr. Sheffler, 40, of Denver, on Oct. 28, when they exchange vows in the hotel’s Pavilion on a date they chose because it’s a Hunter’s moon (sometimes called a blood full moon). The goal is for a wedding for 140 that is “pretty theatrical,” said Ms. Nichols, the sourcing and purchasing manager for a natural tincture company who also owns her own herbal skin care company, Blue Yarrow Herbs. Mr. Sheffler is an account executive for Hotel Engine, a hotel booking platform.

Flourishes they dreamed up with the help of Ms. Papke will include a black wedding gown accessorized with bridal fangs and bat wings, a best man dressed as a dragon and an animatronic Annabelle doll from the movie “The Conjuring.”

“She’ll kind of float around,” said Ms. Nichols of the doll that will be on rollers. “I guess we’re trying to scare people. But in our minds that’s normal. Jeff and I are just alternative.” A skeleton couple will top their cake.

Ms. Papke is ready. She says she prides herself on never doing “weddings where everything is styled very pretty, where it’s a white dress and blush flowers and guests walk in and it’s chicken and mashed potatoes and then people dance to ‘Y.M.C.A.’ and leave to bubbles in the ballroom.”

“I’m totally into it,” she said. She hopes the spirits she often feels watching her when she’s working alone at the Stanley will be, too.

“Everybody knows the Stanley is haunted,” she said.


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