The undisputed master of horror, Stephen King has written countless bestsellers over the last 50 years, and many of his novels and stories have been transformed into films. Vampires, homicidal killers, and supernatural beings with strange powers fill his stories, but one thing remains constant: Nearly all of his stories are set in Maine. King has lived most of his adult life in Bangor, and you can discover the inspiration for his stories by roaming the city’s dark streets and its nearby woodland streams — preferably at night when a touch of evil seems to cling to the lamplit lanes and empty parks. For deeper insight into the Maine connection, sign up for a guided excursion with SK Tours.
The author’s home in Bangor looks appropriately ominous with its blood-red color scheme and creepy wrought-iron fence complete with a spiderweb-like front gate topped with bats. It lies on historic West Broadway (near Hammond Street), which is lined with large properties dating back to the boom days of the lumber industry. King moved into the 19th-century Victorian in 1980 and wrote the majority of his works from this Gothic mansion. These days he spends little time here, and plans are afoot to convert the property into a writer’s retreat.
Dating back to 1834, Mount Hope Cemetery is America’s second-oldest garden cemetery and contains many gravestones from the 19th century. The wizened oak trees, tiny lakes, and pockmarked hills make an atmospheric backdrop — and were a natural stand-in for the cemetery depicted in the film version of King’s Pet Sematary (1989). The novelist himself featured in a cameo here, when he played a minister presiding over a funeral. Even if you don’t care for the film (the 2019 remake is marginally better), the cemetery evokes all the atmosphere of a disturbing King story, particularly if you visit late in the day when the shadows are long.
Hidden away in the backstreets of Bangor, stands the towering Thomas Hill Standpipe, a wrought-iron water tank with a white wood exterior that serves as a water storage facility for the city. Looking for all the world like a very obese lighthouse, the Standpipe was the inspiration for a sinister scene in It when Stan encounters Pennywise for the first time. Though no horrific drownings have occurred, a young boy did fall to his death in 1940, after which the city closed the standpipe to the public. Stephen King aside, some Bangor residents believe the place is haunted, and hear footsteps and children’s cries from inside the water tank.
From 1966 until 1970, King studied at the University of Maine in Orono and received his BA in English. The young writer with big dreams paid his way through college working as a janitor, gas station attendant, and at various other jobs. You can seek inspiration in the Fogler Library — a place where King and his future wife Tabitha Spruce hung out after meeting for the first time at a writing workshop led by Professor Burton Hatlen.
A short walk north of downtown Bangor leads to the Kenduskeag Stream, a churning waterway lined with forested banks. Sawmills and gristmills once dotted the stream, with the remnants of one mill still standing guard. The Kenduskeag serves as a fine stand-in for The Barrens in It, as the home base of the Losers Club in their battle against Pennywise. Myths and stories abound from decades past, like the tale of two lovers who supposedly jumped to their death from the 150-foot-high cliff known today as Lovers Leap.
Maine has its share of good indie bookstores, but for fans of darker tales, Mainely Murders is a must. It was opened by fans of Stephen King in a carriage house next door to their 1790 federal-style home and stocks some 3,500 secondhand books devoted exclusively to suspense, crime, and detective fiction. The off-the-beaten-path location in Kennebunk makes for a rewarding first stop when driving up from Boston and other points south.
Bangor’s deep ties to the lumber industry are on full display on Main Street near the entrance to town. There, a 31-foot tall, 3,700-pound statue of the mythical lumberjack Paul Bunyan greets visitors. In It, King transformed the giant from mere kitschy roadside attraction into an ax-wielding madman attacking with murderous glee.
This little league baseball field, sometimes called the “field of screams” was donated by the Kings to the city of Bangor back in 1991. King coached his son Owen’s team back in 1989 and 1990 and even helped the team make it to the Maine State championships. He later wrote about the stadium in an essay for the New Yorker entitled Head Down, which King considers one of his best pieces of non-fiction writing.
Set on Route 2 a few miles north of Bangor, lies a restaurant supply and kitchenware store with a very catchy name. Or at least so thought Stephen King, who was inspired to create a character named Randal Flagg who appeared in nine novels, including The Stand, The Eyes of the Dragon, and The Dark Tower series.
The fictional town of Derry is an obvious stand-in for Bangor, but sometimes King blurs the boundaries between the two places. At the corner of Jackson and Union — an intersection that exists in both Derry and Bangor — there lies a rather nondescript sewer drain that played a chilling role in It. This is where Georgie sees Pennywise the clown for the first time and meets a rather gruesome end. Sometimes you may even see a red balloon tied to the drain.
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