I must make an admission at the outset. I’ve been a fan of Stephen King’s novels ever since reading The Shining at age 12 (and not sleeping for a week afterwards). With this in mind, I fully expected to enjoy the Stephen King (S-K) tour offered in Bangor, Maine. What I didn’t expect, however, was coming away with a deeper understanding of King the person, apart from King the author.
Located approximately two hours drive south of the Canadian border, Bangor (Derry in the books) has been the setting for several supernatural and horrific events in King’s novels. Everything from killer clowns that lure children down storm drains to coffee shops with time travelling doorways can be found there.
In reality, Bangor is a scenic hamlet of just over 30,000, with another 120,000 people in the surrounding area. Nestled between the hillsides of northern Maine and the Atlantic coast, the city is home to a small but active Jewish community. Its most famous resident, however, is noted horror writer Stephen King, who has lived in the area for most of his life.
The S-K Tour is run by lifelong Bangor resident Stu Tinker (whose name even sounds like a King character). The tour, offered year round, is driven and narrated by Tinker, who by his own admission is a King family friend. Regaled by stories of “Steve and Tabby” (King’s wife Tabitha), tourists are taken to the locales made famous in King’s novels.
Staying downstate in Ogunquit, I initially wasn’t sure the two-hour trek north to Bangor for the tour would be worth the drive. When Tinker told us to meet him at a highway Park ’n Ride, it eerily felt like the beginning of a new King novel in which we were to be the victims.
In reality, however, the four-hour narrated tour is a dream come true for any King fan. Tinker began by taking us to the Mount Hope Cemetery. Situated next to Congregation Beth Israel cemetery, Mount Hope was used for the filming of the movie Pet Sematary. The creepy 18th and 19th century headstones inspired several King novels.
Adjacent to the cemetery is R.M. Flagg Restaurant Equipment. Did you ever wonder where King’s villain Randall Flagg got his name? King would routinely take his daily several hours long walk around Bangor and pass this store. And no, no one in the store is named Randall.
Any avowed fan of King’s novels would be thrilled to visit the Thomas Hill Standpipe on Jackson Street. Built in 1897, this water tower plays a central role in the King novel IT when the bodies of numerous drowned victims are found in it. For months on end, King would sit on a park bench nearby writing the tale of a murderous demon killing local schoolchildren.
If visiting the storm drain and the Barrens aren’t enough, Tinker takes his visitors to see the Kitchener Ironworks, Canal and 37-foot-tall Paul Bunyan statue from IT. Along the way, you’ll pass Kossuth Street, featured in the novel 11/22/63.
Late in the afternoon of June 19, 1999, King was hit by a van while walking on the shoulder of a local highway. Tinker, along with the rest of Bangor, rallied around its most famous resident. The driver of the van, Bryan Smith, was a drifter who previously had his licence suspended for unsafe driving. While hovering between life and death, King reportedly told a nurse that he had “been killed by one of his characters,” before slipping into a coma.
Eventually King recovered from his injuries following years of rehabilitation. As if written by King himself, the 43-year-old driver died suddenly in his mobile home on King’s birthday two years later. There were no signs of violence or trauma.
The highlight of the tour is a visit to King’s home. The nearly 5,000-sq.-foot house, that includes an indoor swimming pool, was built in 1858. The house’s creepy Victorian architecture is matched by the bat and gargoyle fencing the Kings added. Built on one acre of land, the house is visited by thousands of King fans every year.
The Kings have donated tremendously to their local community since first settling in Bangor in 1980. From rebuilding the city’s Central Library, to funding a state of the art Little League field, “Steve and Tabby” have contributed much of their time and financial resources to Bangor institutions.
Whether or not you’re a fan of his novels, the Stephen King tour makes for a fascinating insight into one of the most prolific horror writers of our time.
Michael Stavsky acknowledges the assistance of the Visit Maine State Tourism Board and the Ogunquit River Inn in arranging his family’s visit.