In January 1917, Gordon Mace registered a homestead patent for the Baldpate Inn, a bed-and-breakfast near Estes Park inspired by the mystery novel Seven Keys to Baldpate. In keeping with the book’s theme, he and his family gave each of their guests a key to keep. It’s thought that the cost of metal made the tradition too expensive shortly after the hotel opened, so visitors began donating keys instead. A century later, the inn houses a collection of about 30,000 keys, all with their own stories to tell.

Father Of Invention

It’s believed that Clarence Darrow, the lawyer who was later tied to the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, launched the Baldpate’s key-giving tradition. Legend has it Darrow gave the hotel its first key in 1923.

The Little Engine That Could

The Union Pacific Railroad Co. donated a key to the City of Denver train in 1936 after it made its first journey from Denver to Chicago. When it debuted, it was the fastest long-distance train in the country.


Former University of Virginia instructor and bursar E.J. Carruthers donated the key to the room (number 13 in the West Range residence halls) where Edgar Allan Poe lived as a student.

Crypt Keeper

While Stanford University exchange student Richard Spencer was visiting Cairo in 1937, he took a key out of a lock in the Tombs of the Caliphs—where the Egyptian royal family is buried—and snuck it back through customs.

Out of This World

Denverite Russ Bixby worked as a scientist at a research base in Antarctica. The key he donated in 2001 belongs to the building where long-running experiments on cosmic ray particles have taken place.

Mystery Solved

Sherlock Holmes’ address—221B Baker Street—is frequently mentioned in his detective stories. In tribute, a Denver-based Sherlock enthusiasts’ society created a fake key to the fictional flat for the Baldpate.

Lost And Found

In 1952, seven-year-old Timothy Johnson stole the key to Baldpate’s room number seven when he stayed with his family at the hotel. He returned it 60 years later, in 2012.