This Sunday (9/11) Creepy Catalog will be live on Facebook from room 217 of the Stanley Hotel — the very room where Stephen King was inspired to write The Shining. In preparation, I interviewed Karl Pfeiffer who has lead 250 paranormal investigations at the hotel as a resident ghost hunter. Some of what he collected can be viewed on his YouTube page, and he’s filled us in on some of the stories below:
Can you give me an overview of your relationship with The Stanley? (What you did, how long, etc) How did you come to work there?
I worked for the Stanley Hotel for about five and a half years, leading the weekend public paranormal investigations. I began helping with the public investigations in the early fall of 2010 when I became friends with the resident ghost hunter at the time. When the hotel decided to expand the hunts in January of 2011, I began officially leading the investigations.
My three coworkers and I would take two groups of ten or less on an hour tour and then a four hour investigation. We concentrated primarily on the concert hall, a building that was both easy to secure and also one of the buildings on the property that had the most interactive spirits. The spirits knew what we were up to, and if they wanted to come out, they’d come out for us. We worked at the hotel until this past spring, when the hotel decided to nix the public investigations and paranormal conference-style events.
Particularly in the last seven months we were up there, we dove deep into research, experiments, and investigations after the public left, documenting it on a vlog series and later webseries called Spirits of the Stanley.
Can you tell us about the different entities that are said to haunt the hotel?
Most of the entities haunting the property are either residual echoes, in which you have to be in the right place at the right time to experience the phenomena, or interactive spirits, which we believe to be humans who have died who remain on the property for one reason or another. We’ve got some dozen or more of these spirits on the property, from Mr. and Mrs. Stanley themselves, to many old employees and guests, to the occasional passer-through.
The really special part of my time at the hotel was being able to watch how the activity changed over time. No ghost story is set in stone; either the spirit’s original story is constantly being questioned or the spirits come or go just like we do. The spirits of the concert hall were the easiest to befriend (and we do consider them friends).
Every once in a while we’d run into something I’d label inhuman, but those experiences were rare. Everyone has their own different classification of “inhuman”. Some religious beliefs say that anything inhuman is angelic or demonic. I lean more toward considering them a diverse population of intelligent beings who just aren’t human. What we would occasionally experience is a presence I’d call animalistic — not good, not bad. Very intense and intelligent, but not exactly on the same level as we are, which is to say we were never able to establish communication. It was more of an extremely distinct presence in the room.
What’s the best room for a ghost hunter to stay in, in your opinion?
The hotel rooms are hit and miss! The way I look at it, most of the spirits in the main building are still just doing their jobs, and those that may be interested in interacting with guests, well, there’s about a hundred rooms! So the odds are tough if it’s a busy night!
That said, my favorite room is 401. Known as “Lord Dunraven’s Room” (The original landowner of the property before Mr. Stanley purchased it), when that room was active, I’ve had a few good nights! Objects moving, shadows, communication, sense of presence — all the good stuff. My coworker Connor would say 407 though. For some reason confused often with 401, in 407, Connor has experienced doors slamming and objects being knocked from people’s hands. But that room has usually been quiet for me. At the end of the day, I’m all about the concert hall of course. But I’ve logged far more hours there.
What’s the most interesting experience you had while working there?
Around the time I left, I’d logged almost exactly 250 investigations on the property, so I’ve probably forgotten more things than I remember! But I think some of my favorite experiences really book-ended my stay there.
Early on, in December of 2010, I dozed off on an investigation (of course, the only time that’s ever happened!) around 2am while in room 1302 with two friends. While out for only about ten to fifteen seconds, I saw this incredibly vivid face in my mind, clear as day (which is unusual for me). It was a man’s face crossed with a pig’s face, and instead of eyes, only two eye sockets. Decidedly unsettling! But what took it from a strange “dream” to something more was when I learned that the hotel’s resident psychic, Madame Vera, had experienced the exact same entity in the room a year before, and that the description matched what’s called an elemental spirit, specifically the one at Leap Castle in Ireland, which has been described as half-man half-animal, and with eyes so black they appeared to be or were only eye sockets. Neither of those things I knew before dozing off that night.
On the flip side, toward the final months of my work at the hotel, my team and I were digging into a series of experiments using an SB-7 Spirit Box in the concert hall. The SB-7 is a controversial device because it’s essentially a random noise generator. It scans through AM/FM radio stations and, surprise!, people hear voices coming out. But we decided to take the device to a different level, and isolate an individual listening into the feed with noise-cancelling drummer’s headphones and a blindfold and have that person speak aloud any words or phrases they hear, completely unaware of the questions being asked by the other investigators. What we thought would be an interesting exercise in coincidence and chance turned into full conversations back and forth. Ghost? Psychic activity? Super-hearing? We don’t want to jump to conclusions, but we were honestly blown away.
Without getting into that further here, we documented those experiences in a series of webisodes on our team’s Facebook page if anyone would like to watch. Facebook.com/SpiritInvestigationsTeam/videos.
Have you ever been truly afraid there?
You know, fear is a funny thing on an investigation. There seems to be a difference between imagination running away from you, what you call “true fear”, and what I think could be the change in the environment from a spirit presence.
Imagination running away from me? Absolutely. As a creative person who loves all things Creepy, I’ve had dozens of nights where my nerves ratchet up when it comes to the idea of some slenderman-looking thing slinking by an open doorway! Then you hear some loud bang, whether supernatural or normal, you’re gonna leap a couple feet!
But true fear? Very rarely. The paranormal is something you don’t want to mess around with. I believe there are entities out there that, call them what you will, draw on negative energy and suffering, and if you’re reckless in reaching out to the other side, you never know what you’re going to get. That said, after five years up there, I don’t believe I’ve run into anything like that, which would prompt a certain kind of true fear response from me. At least, not anything that’s persisted into my home life or beyond an isolated eyebrow-raising investigation or two.
Were you ever asked to ‘play up’ any of the haunted history for the tours?
No, as the resident investigator, most of the stories found their root in the research we were conducting, whether that was into the history of the spirits’ stories or into the way the spirits themselves tended to interact with the guests. And we always prided ourselves on presenting the information with a healthy dose of thought behind it. Beyond that, the hotel is very reluctant to embrace their supernatural side — without putting words in their mouth, I’d say that they see the supernatural as more… tacky? And they’re more interested in cultivating the historical, resort-style hotel that the property was in its prime. So no, they had no interest in embellishing an already storied place.
Do you have any good stories of a paranormal experience another staff member or guest had, but you weren’t there to experience firsthand?
There’s always plenty of experiences to go around! Part of the job was hearing oftentimes dozens of guests stories a month! It’s the nature of the beast. As someone who’s actual very skeptical about most supposed spirit interaction, I can’t do much with guest stories.
That said, I love validation and correlation. So I think the most compelling were when we were first interacting with the spirit Eddie, who wasn’t one of the historical spirits on the property, but started showing up out of the blue a few years back. We believe Eddie was a relatively recent death, in that what he did seem to develop over time, evolving from smells, to physical interaction, to communication. It took us a good year or so to put his story together enough to put him on the tour. Which is to say, we weren’t talking about him with our guests. What do you know, six months into those interactions, we finally spend some time at the hotel during the day and get to chat with the daytime tour guides and they’d been experiencing a spirit named Eddie who had a very similar backstory. Was it exactly the same as ours? No way. But was it similar enough that we were bowled over by the similarities? Absolutely!
You won Ghost Hunters Academy and worked with Ghost Hunters International, what’s something most people might not realize from just watching on TV?
There’s a lot! I think the more subtle realization is that it’s not this big battle between pseudoscience and science in order to “prove” ghosts. That seems to be every conversation regarding television; whether it’s science, whether it’s “proving” anything, whether it’s all bullshit — I’m a big proponent for reminding people that television isn’t the only approach. Scientists: go study this; study the environment over time; look for changes before, during, and after a manifestation, collect the data. Enthusiasts: go have fun; go have experiences; go challenge your beliefs. But don’t mistake the two. You’ll never prove ghosts on television. You’ll never prove them with photos or video. “Proof” is a scientific thing. And if you’re not a scientist — if you don’t carry a diploma — you’re not going to prove ghosts. Simple as that. Stop trying to imitate television and “prove” this stuff. Go try to help people. Go have experiences. Go try to learn. Go prove it, sure… but only if you’re qualified.
Half of the skeptic articles I read can be solved with the very simple distinction of just not calling your approach “scientific” if you’re not a scientist.
How do you respond to critics who say it’s faked for TV?
I think this question goes back to my answer on the last one. I always like to remind people that television’s primary goal is entertainment. It’s telling a story. And every show is going to be different in that regard. I can’t speak to any show or episode I haven’t been a part of. What I was a part of was all legit, I can tell you that. But I did come home from Ghost Hunters Academy caring a lot less about whether it was real. I started watching other ghost shows without turning my nose up at whether I thought it was real or not — and you know what? I enjoyed it! I enjoyed it all! The best shows carry a message, even if that message is just possibility and wonder.
But it goes back to my reminder that television won’t prove ghosts. It doesn’t work like that. You can fake anything these days. And proof is a matter of surety. You’re not going to find surety on television. TV is about sharing something, whether that’s a story or information. But it’s not about proof.
So that comes down to integrity. I find the gray line between reality and fiction extremely compelling as a novelist and photographer. But if I’m going to be telling audiences they can trust me — well, that’s my integrity at that point. And that’s very important to me.
You have an interest in paranormal photography, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve caught on film?
I think the most interesting thing is that I’ve never caught anything I’d call supernatural on camera! To the point that I almost wonder if it’s even possible.
The thing about being a professional photographer is that long before you start to capture genuine stuff, you learn HOW MUCH stuff out there ISN’T ghosts. Lens flares, dust, vapor, shadows, pareidolia… the list goes on and on. Excitement about the possibility of photographing a ghost really fades after your 500th dust orb or dragged shutter someone shows you.
That said, I honestly didn’t have a chance to dive too deeply into photography on my Stanley investigations, but it’s something I’ve been developing on a theoretical level for some time now! And I have some pretty exciting ideas I’m hoping to hit the ground running with as a part of a big project I’m developing right now. But I’ve got to leave all that at a tease for now!