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Vowing till death do us part at the hotel that inspired ‘The Shining’

Couples who get married in OctoberattheStanleyHotel, situatedatthedoorstep oftheRocky Mountains in Estes Park, Colorado, sometimes have a hard time getting their guests to RSVP.

Lauren Nichols and Jeffrey Sheffler, who will marry there Saturday, couldn’t convince a dozen of their out-of-town guests to stay onthepremises ofthehotelthatinspiredStephen King to write “TheShining,” 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 fromtheghostly festivities. “My mom called ittheplace wheretheold 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 upthatshe wouldn’t come” — are perhaps a necessary trade-off for couples who want to exchangevowsatwhat many call “TheShining”hotel.

Only a handful of couples who plan well in advance are greenlit for their October celebrations, said John Cullin,theStanley’s owner. Those whodosnag a spot between Oct. 1 and Halloween,thehotel’s busiest season, tend to share a common aesthetic: bridal fangs and cakes with Frankenstein-like surgical stitching can bepartof it. Flower girls dressed asthesinister, not-quite-living Grady twins fromthe1980 horror classic, or table décorthatincludes jars of pig hearts preserved in formaldehyde, can also be used.

Thespookiness oftheplace istheallure for many couples, said Shayna Papke, a popular local planner for Halloween season weddingsattheStanley. “A wedding istheultimate expression of who you are, and there are just people intheworld who, this is who they are,” she said. “They’retheoutliers who like dark music and dark stories. They’re fascinated bythedeathpartof life.”

Many who fitthatdescription flock totheStanley for a ghost tour led bythehotel’s staff or to participate in a séance (More than 100,000 people visit per year; October is busy also because elk walkthestreets and it’s “a really nice time to be in Estes Park,” Cullin said.) Still others consider ittheultimate location for committing to each other.

“Nothing says I love you like murdering your wife and kids, like in ‘TheShining,’ right?” Pingel said jokingly. She worked with Papke to orchestrate their Fridaythe13th weddingatthePavilion, one of three indoor wedding spaces onthesprawling grounds.

Pingel, 35, and Johnson, 36, who live in Los Angeles, chosetheStanley 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 allpartofthataestheticattheir wedding. So were mini coffins used as place settings and cascades of red amaranth flowers meant to mimic dripping blood. Beforethereception, 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 Johnson, an art directoratBravado, which provides merchandising for major pop stars. Friends often comment onthetaxidermic rat on their refrigerator andthefuneral photos hanging onthewalls of their home, said Pingel, an intensive care nurseatThousand Oaks Los Robles Regional Medical Center.

Her custom black wedding gown by Kim Kassas andtheblack bread served with butter topped with beet purée for another blood-like lookatthepost-wedding dinner may not have elicited swoons from traditionalists, she acknowledged. But fellow October brides, like Jennie Wilson, 34, who started preservingthepig hearts she used for table decorations a year before her Fridaythe13th wedding to Kris Wilson, 35, tend to get it.

“Most of our friends would say we’re some oftheweirdest friends they have,” said Jennie Wilson, who does social media and voice-over work for “Cyanide & Happiness,”thedarkly humorous Web comic co-founded by Kris Wilson.Thecouple, from Fort Collins, Colorado, collect bones and horror movie memorabilia; 300 guests came to their weddingattheStanley, which includedtheGrady twin-like flower girls andthecake with monster stitching (“It was supposed to bleed when you cut into it, but it didn’t work,” she said.) Papke plannedthewedding.

Papke will also pull offthevision of Nichols, 39, and Sheffler, 40, of Denver, on Saturday, when they exchangevowsinthehotel’s Pavilion on a date they chose because it’s a hunter’s moon (sometimes called a blood full moon).Thegoal is for a wedding for 140thatis “pretty theatrical,” said Nichols,thesourcing and purchasing manager for a natural tincture company who also owns her own herbal skin care company, Blue Yarrow Herbs. Sheffler is an account executive forHotelEngine, ahotelbooking platform.

Flourishes they dreamed up withthehelp of 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 fromthemovie “TheConjuring.”

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

Papke is ready. She says she prides herself on neverdoing“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 ‘YMCA’ and leave to bubbles intheballroom.”

“I’m totally into it,” she said. She hopesthespirits she often feels watching her when she’s working aloneattheStanley will be, too.

“Everybody knowstheStanley is haunted,” she said.

(Published 27 October 2023, 08:08 IST)

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