The books. The movies. Even Pennywise’s sewer grate?
Oh, yes. A rolling tour hits all
the King highlights you can stuff into 90 minutes
BANGOR — The bus chugged up a hill, out of the parking lot. Scott R.C. Levy gripped the microphone and let rip with the fast facts.
On our right: The Bangor Civic Center, which appears in the Dark Tower series.
On our left: Bass Park, which is Bassey Park in the books.
And then later on, below us: “The sewer hole that Pennywise the clown comes out of in ‘It’ is right there! It says ‘sewer’ on it.”
Sadly, no stop for a photo op. There wasn’t the time. We had the fictionally haunted water tower to get to.
Bangor is awash in Stephen King, and most people already associate the horror master with the Queen City, but do they know how big his payday was for “Carrie”? Where “Firestarter” had its world premiere? How he and Tabitha decorate at Christmas?
Bet you a lit peace sign they do not. (Hangs right on their front porch, no less.)
Enter, the official tour.
The Greater Bangor Convention & Visitors Bureau is putting on “Tommyknockers & More: The Stephen King Literary Bus Tour,” a mix of little-known facts, real-life sites and film locales. The Kings signed off on it six years ago.
In advance of the tour’s sixth season, Levy gave media a sneak peek.
Artistic director at the Penobscot Theatre, and in his third summer as jovial guide, Levy likes to start with a simple fact base to build on.
The writer was born in 1947. Moved to Durham at 11. Authored “The Village Vomit” as a teen. Graduated from the University of Maine in 1970. Bought his frequently photographed house on West Broadway in 1980.
“And now’s when I say, ‘Off we go.’”
The bus could barely travel a block without Levy piping up.
Passing the Bangor Daily News, he said that the Kings, put off by 400 people showing up on their doorstep one Halloween, ran an ad the next year announcing they wouldn’t be home.
Next to the BDN, the big Paul Bunyan, which Levy said had a cameo in “It.”
One of the first tour highlights: the apartment that King and his wife moved into after getting $200,000 for his first-published book, “Carrie,” in 1974. The building, with chipped blue and gray paint in a tight row of apartments, now has a little plastic skeleton dangling from its porch.
It was a step up from their digs in Orono.
“They now had a little bit more money to move into town and to reconnect the phone lines,” Levy said. “Even got a new car, a blue Pinto.”
Their current abode, another drive-by destination, couldn’t stand more in contrast. According to Levy, the red and cream Italianate villa, with 23 rooms and an indoor swimming pool, was built in 1856, the first house on a street eventually filled with the homes of lumber barons.
On the tour, there’s no stopping and gawking, out of respect for the Kings, but if you had something more permanent in mind...
“There are a couple of houses here for sale on the block, so if you’d like to be Mr. King’s neighbor, by all means, call up one of the real estate agents,” Levy said.
Also making an appearance on the guided ride: Mt. Hope Cemetery, where a scene from “Pet Sematary” was shot; Thomas Hill Standpipe (that haunted water tower); and Bangor International Airport.
“I like telling the story of how the ‘Langoliers’ was filmed at the airport. They had to make it look like Logan,” Levy said.
In King’s books, Levy said, particularly “It,” “Insomnia” and “Bag of Bones,” King writes about the town of Derry, a thinly disguised nod to Bangor.
“The first paragraph of Chapter 12 (in ‘Insomnia’) takes place at Penobscot Theatre. I’ve got that framed at home. That’s pretty cool,” said Levy.
The Bangor Opera House, which houses the theater, was also the site of the worldwide debut of “Firestarter.” Drew Barrymore came to town for the premiere.
“There are a lot of similarities between Bangor and Derry, but the biggest difference is that in Derry, people have a habit of disappearing at the rate of 40 a year, never to be heard from again,” Levy said.
That’s less likely in real life. Perhaps you shouldn’t hang around that sewer grate too long, just the same.
“The biggest similarity is that residents of both Bangor and Derry have the habit of being able to look the other way,” Levy said. “Strange things happen.”
Go and do:
What: “Tommyknockers & More: The Stephen King Literary Bus Tour”
When: July 4, Aug. 16, Sept. 20, Oct. 25; private group tours available
Cost: $12 a person
Details: 90-minute tours begin at 2 p.m. at the Bangor waterfront; reservations required.
FMI: 1-800-91-MOOSE, www.VisitBangorMaine.com
Can't make it to Bangor?
Take the L-A area unofficial Stephen King do-it-yourself driving tour.
Back in 1992, SJ reporter Joel Davison sat down with Stephen King for a lengthy three-part feature that delved into King's life and times growing up around Lewiston. Pulling largely from it and King's own words, here are some suggested spots for a do-it-yourself-driving tour:
• The Public Theatre, 31 Maple St., Lewiston
Back when it was a second-run movie house called the Ritz Theater, King and pals were regulars. During a scary scene of "The Haunting," King says he turned to a friend and said, "Someday, I'm going to do that to people."
Feel the chills?
• West Durham United Methodist Church, Runaround Pond Road, Durham
King grew up next door with his mom, Ruth, and brother, David, and occasionally preached at the church.
• Runaround Pond, Durham
A must-see if not a must-dip-your-toes-into: Skater Johnny Smith knocks his head on the ice here in "The Dead Zone" and it was inspiration for the boys' leechy dip in "The Body," later made into the movie "Stand By Me." (For the record, King told Davison he personally discovered a leech on his bellybutton, not his testicles, like his character Gordy.)
• Lisbon High School, 2 Sugg Drive, Lisbon Falls
Don't look for the plaque flouting it, but King graduated from here in 1966. He even played guitar at senior prom.
• Worumbo Mill, 7 Canal St., Lisbon Falls
King worked here at 19 and the mill inspired "Graveyard Shift" years later.
• Center Lovell
A factoid dropped during the "Tommyknockers & More" tour: The Kings bought a house here in 1977 before buying their home in Bangor three years later. They spend part of the summer on Kezar Lake.
• Former Marston house, Rabbit Road, West Durham
The Marston house, a vacant home King and friends fooled around in as kids, inspired the Marsten House in "Salem's Lot." It was knocked down years ago. Perhaps cruise the street looking for vampire remains?
The city stood in as the fictional setting for King's 2004 ABC miniseries, "Kingdom Hospital." (It was actually filmed in Vancouver, with some local scenery and companies added.) Press material at the time, setting the scene, described Lewiston as "where the ground is uneasy and old secrets have begun to rise to the surface."
Sound like Lewiston to you? While you drive, talk among yourselves.