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The Dark History Of The Overlook Hotel From 'The Shining'

Updated July 27, 2021 129.8k views13 items

There's never been a haunted house story quite like The Shining. When the Torrance family sign on as winter caretakers for the Overlook Hotel in Colorado, they know they're going to deal with a fair amount of cabin fever, but they're woefully unprepared for the spirits that roam the halls of the hotel.

The spirits in King's novel are horrifying and gruesome, but they're held in place by the Overlook. Not just a haunted hotel, the building and the very ground on which it's built have long been cursed. The history of the Overlook is rich with horrible mafia violence, underhanded dealings, and personal tragedy. Of course, this is all ficitonal, and the structure most people recognize as the Overlook is, in fact, Oregon's Timberline Lodge, where exteriors were filmed for Stanley Kubrick's adaptation. 

The Shining and its multiple adaptations have given life to the Overlook time and time again, which makes tracing its history, the theories about the spirits inside, and its effects on those who lived within its walls both deeply troubling and fascinating.

  • Built In 1907, The Location Was Chosen For Its Seclusion And Beauty

    Photo: The Shining / Warner Bros.

    Robert Townley Watson began construction on the Overlook Hotel in 1907. Chosen for the serenity of the nature surrounding the site, the structure took two years to build. In 1980's The Shining, hotel manager Stuart Ullman explained that Native Americans went after the construction crew for building on sacred land.

    Even with the attacks, the crew continued building on an Indigenous interment ground. Once finished, the structure was named the Overlook, literally meaning not to notice something. At the time, its name was likely a reference to the view (it is technically looking over gorgeous scenery), but in time, its name came to be incredibly ironic.

  • In 1927, The Hotel Became A Top Destination For The Wealthy And Glamorous, Including Henry Ford

    Photo: The Shining / Warner Bros.

    In 1977's The Shining, Jack discovers a pile of old desk registers that illustrate just how popular the Overlook was in the early years of operation. According to the hotel's records, the Overlook became a destination for the American upper crust in 1927 when Henry Ford and his family stayed at the Colorado resort.

    Stars followed in Ford's footsteps, and shortly afterward, the Overlook played host to Jean Harlow in 1930, as well as Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. After looking at the ledgers, Jack concludes that the management must have been spectacularly bad if they couldn't stay open with so much money passing through the hotel.

    It's not clear if the hotel's monetary woes in this era were caused by poor managerial decisions or the ghosts haunting the Overlook's hallways.

  • In 1945, There Was A Lavish Party In Which A Man In A Dog Costume Named Roger Was Slain

    Photo: The Shining / Warner Bros.

    Anyone who's seen 1980's The Shining has no doubt had the man in the dog mask that Wendy sees while running through the upstairs hallways of the Overlook seared into their brains, but there's more to his story than a cinematic non-sequitur. In King's original text, the man in the dog mask is identified as "Roger," a man who had a fling with Horace Derwent in Cuba before following him to Colorado.

    A ghostly woman explains to Jack that while Derwent is bisexual, he never maintains relationships with the men he sleeps with. She says Roger was only allowed back into Derwent's presence after agreeing to do so as a "doggy." Roger was so infatuated with Derwent, he spent the entirety of the lavish party dressed as a dog and performing tricks for Derwent while howling along to the band.

    King doesn't go into detail about how Roger the Dogman left this mortal coil and joined the spirits of the Overlook, but it's likely that foul play kept him in place in the hotel.

  • Horace M. Derwent 'Saved The Hotel' When He Bought It In The 1940s

    Photo: The Shining (1997) / ABC

    In 1977's The Shining, King writes that the Overlook was sold multiple times between 1929 and 1936. It wasn't until after WWII that the hotel was purchased by Horace Derwent, "a millionaire inventor, pilot, film producer, and entrepreneur." Ullman explains that while Derwent had the Midas touch everywhere outside of the Overlook, he didn't have the same luck with the hotel.

    After sinking $3 million into renovations for the Overlook, Derwent ended up selling the hotel to a group of investors from California. Even though Derwent's tenure at the Overlook didn't see any visitors, the hotel is as grand as it is because of him. This would not be Derwent's final visit to the Overlook Hotel.