Through the Looking Glass in Stephen King Country

By Jerry Farlow Modified: July 25, 2013 at 2:09 pm •  Published: July 25, 2013
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Dave, a visitor from Cincinnati, was peering down an innocent-looking storm drain in Bangor, Maine, where the evil-grinning clown Pennywise from Stephen King's novel "It" hung out, waiting to lure little kiddies into a chaos only King could imagine.


    "Be careful," teased his wife, Bev, who admitted that she has never dangled her feet over the bed at night since reading King's "Night Shift."
    Then suddenly, although Dave didn't have his arm pulled off by Pennywise, his sunglasses fell down into the drain.
    "Not to worry," the retired Ford Motor Co. employee, assured us as he yanked off the grate, jumped into the manhole and retrieved the lost item.
    We can only hope that Dave lives a long and healthy life.
    My wife and I recently passed through the looking glass of King's Bangor, which is known as the town of Derry in his books. King friend, expert and lifetime Bangor resident Stu Tinker guides people on a three-hour tour of King's Bangor in his six-passenger King Mobile (my name), all the while relating an endless stream of King and Bangor stories and anecdotes, intermittently stopping at spots that have direct connections to King's novels.
    Was Bangor, the former Queen City of lumber barons, the fountainhead for King's demons and monsters? we wondered as the tour began.     
    "The 'Barrens' from King's 'It' is a favorite haunt for King buffs," Tinker said as he led us to a heavily wooded stretch along the Kenduskeag stream, where we viewed the remnants of an innocent-looking old mill and where King envisioned a dark variation of reality that terrified readers the world over.
    "Now we're going to 'Pet Sematary,' or at least King's inspiration for it," he said as we headed off in the King Mobile." Then he asked if we knew that President Lincoln's vice president during the Civil War was from the Bangor area and then took us by his grave.
    I suspect former Vice President Hannibal Hamlin rolled over in his grave when Hollywood made the movie version almost on top of him.  
    "Remember that army of rats in 'Night Shift'?" Tinker asked as we left the cemetery. "Over there is where it was filmed." He pointed to the old waterworks plant by the Penobscot River.
    "I was in about five seconds of the movie 'The Langoliers' that was filmed at the Bangor Airport," Tinker said.
    I thought it best not to ask his character's fate in the movie.
    Tinker told us he's taken people all over the world for the King tour. One family from New Zealand who were visiting Los Angeles decided on a whim to make a side trip to Bangor, just to experience King's fictional Derry.
    No matter where in the world they're from, you say "Bangor," and they say "Stephen King."
    Tinker told us that the Kings have given millions of dollars to local projects, everything from a world-class Little League baseball field to libraries to helping people in need with winter heating.
    "I wonder if he's read 'Pet Sematary,'" a King fan said later, referring to a black cat sitting at the front gate at the spooky-looking King house. The house has become of a mecca of sorts for the writer's fans around the world with its bat-adorned wrought-iron gate.
    "The Kings used to give candy to kids on Halloween," Tinker told us, "but after local schools started arriving by the busload, the tradition ended.
    "One year there were 21 buses in front of the house," he said.
    Our next stop was the Hampden Academy.
    "This is the gymnasium where -- in King's mind -- Carrie got her just deserts and her bullying classmates got theirs," Tinker said, referring to the final senior prom scene from King's novel titled "Carrie." King wrote the book while teaching at the school.
    As we finally emerged from the imaginary evil twin, Derry, to the real world of Bangor, we thought just maybe we had gained a tiny appreciation of the origins of King's demons and monsters. Dave, who had his brush with the evil storm drain, went so far to say the tour was one of the highlights of their East Coast trip.
    We topped off the tour by stopping at Nicky's Crusin' Diner on Union Street, which some have said is the inspiration for King's 1960s time portal from his novel "11/22/63." Even if it wasn't, they have some great fried clams.
WHEN YOU GO
    Stu Tinker's three-hour tour costs $39.95 per person for a party of two, each additional person $25: www.sk-tours.com.
    The Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau offers both Bangor and Stephen King tours throughout the year: www.visitbangormaine.com/tours.
    Jerry Farlow is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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