If you happened to be driving around the area of Bangor, Maine (pronounced “Bang-gore”), odds are you'd think it was just an average New England town. But to horror fans, it's a holy place. As the hometown and current residence of Stephen King, the town served as inspiration for dozens of his books, filming locations for several of his movies, and even bears markers of his influence. If you've ever read IT or 11/22/63 and wondered what the little town of Derry would actually be like, then wonder no longer — I went on a tour of Bangor to see the sights for myself, and you can too.
Our particular tour was organized by Sony for members of the press as part of the screening process for The Dark Tower, so there were a lot of touches that, unfortunately, you would not see on a public tour (unless you have access to a private jet full of red roses and a bunch of Tet corporation business cards for everyone in your ka-tet). Almost everything else, however, you can definitely experience.
We started by flying into Bangor International Airport, which served as the backdrop for The Langoliers, a 1995 horror miniseries based on the Stephen King novella Four Past Midnight. It’s not much more than any other small airport, but they do have some memorabilia on the walls.
Next up: lunch at Dysart’s Restaurant & Truck Stop, which is said to have inspired the location for King’s short story Trucks, which later became Dixie Boy Truck Stop in the film Maximum Overdrive. (The restaurant is also well known for a viral video about their chicken pot pie’s “buttery, flaky crust.”)
Accompanying the press along the way was Robin Furth, Stephen King’s research assistant who helped him keep track of the many characters, names and places in the Dark Tower series; the personal encyclopedia she wrote for King was later published into its own book called The Dark Tower: The Complete Concordance, and she also plotted the graphic novel adaptation. Some people are still surprised to learn she’s a real person, she joked with us, because her initials are the same as Randall Flagg’s.
But the real stars of the tour were lifelong Bangor residents Stu and Penney Tinker. Previously the owner of a local Stephen King-centric bookstore, they’ve been doing guided tours (led by Stu, who has enough incredible stories about working with King to fill a book of his own) on and off since 1991, and now operate SK Tours of Maine on a full-time basis.
Their “Tour of Stephen King’s Derry” covers 30 different locations relating to the author’s life, stories, and films, including the trailer where he first wrote Carrie (and where his wife Tabitha famously plucked it out of the trash)…
The kitchen store that lent its name to Randall Flagg, and Mount Hope Cemetery across the street, where Pet Sematary was filmed (and where King hangs out a lot — he even borrows names from the headstones for characters)…
His house, and the radio stations he owns and operates with his wife Tabitha. WZON is named after The Dead Zone; WKIT-FM is K for King and IT for… well, you know.
And plenty of locations that inspired IT, including the Thomas Hill standpipe, the bench where King wrote much of the novel, and the infamous storm drain that inspired the book in the first place—which Stu knows how to dress up for the best pictures, of course.
As you’d expect, the tour also ends at a Gerald Winters and Sons, a specialty bookstore filled with Stephen King art memorabilia (plus some Lord Of The Rings art, too). If you’re walking around downtown Bangor, you can’t miss it—it’s the building with a Derry Public Works sign and a crate from the movie Creepshow outside.
Dinner was at Oriental Jade, a Chinese restaurant near the Bangor Mall that served as the basis for Jade Of The Orient in IT (There were no eyeballs in the fortune cookies, I promise).
And the pièce de résistance: just before the fan screening of The Dark Tower was set to start, Stephen King waltzed in to have a chat and sign copies of The Gunslinger for us. Like I said earlier, that’s not necessarily something you’ll get to recreate for yourself on your Maine vacation, but you never know—Stu told us that King’s frequently seen going about his business in the town, and sometimes even encounters the tour groups as he’s walking his dog, Molly (the Thing of Evil).
All in all, it was an incredible experience to walk around the place that influenced King’s work, made even more incredible by the sheer amount of knowledge both Stu and Robin could share with us along the way. If you ever find yourself up in that part of Maine, do yourself a favor and check out SK Tours — and make sure you prepare something to say to King if you come across him, just in case.
Would you go on a Stephen King tour of Bangor, Maine? Let us know in the comments below!
Images: Victoria McNally