One of the first times that Lisa Nyhart, 34, stayed overnight at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, she didn’t sleep a wink. It was during her anniversary, and she and her husband had rented a room on the hotel’s infamous fourth floor, which has long been rumored to be haunted. “There were a group of kids—child ghosts, I guess—who kept poking me all night and wouldn’t let me sleep,” she says. “At four o’clock in the morning, when I finally started to drift off, I felt this little playful slap on my forehead. It made my husband jump.” Nyhart, however, wasn’t particularly scared by the experience. “I just yelled at them, ‘You guys need to let me sleep, come on,’” she remembers. “I was never afraid. They’re just mischievous kids up there. Dead kids, but still—just kids.”
Nyhart’s ease in the company of poltergeists didn’t go unnoticed by the Stanley’s staff, and they soon offered her a regular position as the hotel’s official Paranormal Concierge. Unlike other hotel concierges, she can’t make reservations for ghost visitations. She can only tell guests where they’re most likely to find spirits in the hotel. She leads bi-weekly ghost hunting tours of the property, which often last as long as five hours, and is happy to provide pointers and professional ghost-detection equipment for amateur sleuths.
Although there’s no shortage of active spirits at the Stanley—it’s such a poltergeist hotspot that it inspired one-time guest Stephen King to write his horror classic The Shining—it doesn’t mean a ghostly encounter is guaranteed. “It’s rare that nothing happens,” she says. But sometimes ghosts, like anybody else, just aren’t in the mood to perform. “This isn’t a circus,” Nyhart likes to remind impatient guests. “I don’t allow anybody to provoke our ghosts. That’s just disrespectful. Dead people are people too.”
Tense relations between the hotel guests and the spectral tenants aren’t always the fault of the living. Miss Elizabeth Wilson, the hotel’s one-time chief housekeeper during the early 20th century who now purportedly haunts room 217, doesn’t tolerate couples who try to sleep in her bed out of wedlock. “Unmarried guests will drop off their luggage and then go out to dinner,” Nyhart says. “By the time they come back to their room, their bags will be packed and sitting outside the door.”
Nyhart, however, claims she has an excellent working relationship with all the ghosts at the Stanley. “The spirits here are my friends,” she says. “When I go out of town, somebody else will do the tours for me. We use something called an ovilus”—an electromagnetic speech-synthesis device used in ghost hunting—”and it’ll just keep calling up my name. I’ll come back and be like, ‘Aww, did you guys miss me?’” Although she loves all of her ghosts equally, she has a special relationship with Lucy, the ghost of a teenage girl who died in the 1970s and now inhabits the concert hall. “It took a few years, but I’ve figured out what triggers her,” Nyhart says. “People have heard her singing in there, so I play music for her and that usually draws her out. And I’ll bring her candy, like Necco wafers and pixie stix, stuff like that. It never gets eaten, but I feel like she’s happy that we’re acknowledging her and bringing her gifts.”
Nyhart didn’t set out to become a ghost concierge—her first career was as a medical assistant for a trauma surgeon—but she’s always felt a special connection with ghosts. “I’ve had (paranormal) experiences all my life,” she says. “When I was growing up, I always lived in haunted houses. I thought that was normal.” It took a full year of on-site training at the Stanley, which has had phantom squatters since the 1920s, before she felt qualified to accept the concierge position. “I’m still learning new things about the hotel’s ghosts every day,” she says. She has theories on why the Stanley is especially attractive to ghosts. “It’s the limestone deposits in the rock under the hotel,” she says. “It conducts the energy and makes it easier for them to come through. It’s like Red Bull for spirits.”
Nyhart has only been legitimately terrified once at the Stanley Hotel, and it wasn’t because of any of the resident ghosts. “I was on a ghost hunt, on the fourth floor,” she says. “All of a sudden I’m hearing these cracks and creaks in the closet behind me. And I thought, ‘Oh great, here comes the ghost activity.’” But instead, the closet door burst open and out came Kane Hodder, the 6’4″ actor who played the masked serial killer Jason in four Friday the 13th slasher movies.
“He jumped out and grabbed me,” she says. “And I screamed bloody murder.” It was a prank that Hodder, a guest at the hotel, had been planning for hours, and it worked better than even he expected. “The living are definitely more scary than the dead,” she says.
Nyhart has been a ghost concierge for exactly two years, and she doesn’t plan on retiring any time soon. In fact, she may continue on even after she’s left this mortal coil. And she wouldn’t be the first Stanley Hotel employee to do so. “We have a new spirit here called Paul, who was a grounds keeper and security guy until he died in 2005,” she says. “He used to go around and kick people out of all the buildings at 11pm because that was curfew at the Stanley.” Long before she was hired as concierge, she visited the Stanley on a ghost tour with her husband, brother and sister-in-law. “There was a dark hallway that the tour guide didn’t want to go down,” she remembers. “And my brother was just rolling his eyes. He was like, ‘Really? A ghost hunter is afraid of a dark hallway?’”
Towards the end of the tour, her brother snuck away to check out the mysterious hallway, and just as quickly returned. “He was, no pun intended, white as a ghost,” Nyhart says. “He told us that he’d gotten as far as the threshold of the door that’s known as Paul’s room, and he heard a deep voice right behind him whisper ‘Get oooooout.’ So he got the heck out of there.”
If she joins the regular cast of ghosts at the Stanley Hotel someday, she promises not to be quite so hostile with guests as Paul or Mrs. Wilson. In fact, if she has any say in the matter, she’ll spend eternity haunting the concert hall with Lucy. “I mention that to Lucy all the time,” she admits. “I’ll be like, ‘When I pass away, can we be roomies?’”
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on the Bloomberg BusinessWeek website.)