ESTES PARK, Colo. (CBS News) – If you have a habit of losing your keys, you might want to stay out of the Baldpate Inn. Set them down in the key room of the Estes Park-area establishment and you may never find them again.

The keys in the room — an estimated 30,000 of them — aren’t misplaced. Each one has been brought to this place, a hotel high in the Rocky Mountains, on purpose. They’re small metal donations to the largest public key collection in the world.

“We tell people your first visit to the key room is free, but after that, you need to bring us a key,” said Lois Smith, the owner of the Baldpate Inn, a rustic mountain lodge in Larimer County.

Tourists come to this region to enjoy the breathtaking scenery. But those who stay a night at the Baldpate frequently leave a souvenir behind: a key.

The hotel has keys of every shape, from every state, weighing down the rafters. “We’ve always sagged since I’ve been here,” said Smith. “And you know, by the time I’m 100, I’ll probably sag, too!”

The Baldpate just celebrated its 100th anniversary. It’s named after a fictional hotel that’s even older.

“Seven Keys to Baldpate” was a story about a writer who attempts to produce a novel in 24 hours. He holes up alone at the Baldpate, a mountain lodge closed for the winter.

But all night long, the door keeps getting opened … and opened … and opened … by visitors with their own keys. (Seven, in all.)

Earl Derr Biggers’ 1913 comedic mystery novel inspired seven film adaptations, a smash Broadway show by George M. Cohan — and inspired the original owners of the mountain hotel that closes in the winter to borrow the catchy name, and the theme.

“Legend has it that they gave a key to each guest that came, so each guest had the only key to Baldpate,” said Smith.

Of course, handing out souvenir keys got pretty expensive pretty quickly, so instead, guests were encouraged to leave keys behind. And did they ever.

There’s the key to Mozart’s wine cellar, to Jack Benny’s dressing room, to the U.S. Capitol. There are strange, old keys, like a “scorpion” contraption, and more modern computer encryption keys.

There’s a key to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, even a submarine key.

“A submarine has a key!” mused Smith. “Can you imagine losing the key?”

There is also the employee bathroom key to the American Museum of Natural History. “This could come in handy — those public bathrooms are terrible!” laughed Knighton. “I’m taking this.”

“No! No stealing the keys,” warned Smith.

There’s of course every version of key pun you can think of — mon-key, don-key, Por-key Pig. But most of the keys in the collection aren’t particularly rare. They’re regular old keys (one labeled “Herbie’s totaled Subaru”), significant only to the people who left them behind.

A baby’s first set of keys from Oklahoma. A family’s first house key from Minnesota.

In the original story, the writer was told there was only ONE key to Baldpate. Today, this hotel has tens of thousands of them.

And every single one has a story that unlocks a memory.


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