Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Stephen King's Maine - Day 3 (Orono, Orrington, Ludlow and Little Tall Island)

Stephen King was a quick study in terrifying people, as evidenced by this UMO "public service announcement"
Continued from PART 2: BANGOR AND DERRY

On our third day in Stephen King Country, we started visiting locations just outside of Bangor.  First up was a short jaunt to King's alma mater, the Univeristy of Maine at Orono.  This is where the author wrote his earliest Bachman novel, The Long Walk, as well as an unpublished novel called Sword in the Darkness, which still exists in the special collections of the campus library.  It's also where he wrote his earliest Night Shift stories: "Here There By Tygers," "Cain Rose Up," "Strawberry Spring," "The Reaper's Image," "Jerusalem's Lot" (the foundation for the novel 'Salem's Lot) and "Night Surf" (the foundation for the novel The Stand).  Years later, UMO also became the setting of the 1999 story "Hearts in Atlantis," which is based on King's experiences as a college freshman during the late 1960s.

King spent his freshman year in the Gannett Hall dorm on the northeast side of campus.  On the back side of the building, there is a lawn overlooking three other dorms, including Androscoggin Hall (named for the meandering river that runs through King's hometown of Durham, and once provided the life blood for local industry).  In a senior year editorial for the school newspaper, he remembered his initial impression of the place:

"There I was all alone in Room 203 of Gannett Hall, clean shaven, neatly dressed, and as green as apples in August.  Outside on the grass between Gannett and Androscoggin Hall there were more people playing football than there were in my hometown.  My few belongs looked pitifully uncollegiate.  The room looked mass-produced.  I was quite sure my roommate would turn out to be some kind of freak, or even worse, hopelessly more 'With It' than I.  I propped my girl's picture on my desk where I could look at it in the dismal days ahead, and wondered where the bathroom was."

Gannett Hall (view from Androscoggin Hall)
Androscoggin Hall (view from Gannett Hall)
The next four years awakened King socially and politically, and built his confidence as a writer.  By the time he graduated from UMO in the spring of 1970, he couldn't imagine being anything other than a writer.  That summer, he rented a house nearby and started an early draft of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger.  The epic story quickly overwhelmed him, and he abandoned it in favor of simple horror stories that he could sell to men's magazines.  (In those early days, money was a deciding factor... as it is for most young writers, who feel the need to justify their seemingly self-indulgent habit to polite society.)  The rest is history.

While in Orono, we visited the house and noted that it would have not only provided King with an inspiring view of the rushing Penobscot River, but also a view of a train trestle spanning the waterway.  Perhaps this was an early inspiration for "The Body" / STAND BY ME?

Penobscot River (view from Orono)
train trestle near the Penobscot River in Orono
Later we turned our attention to the south of Bangor, beginning with the small town of Orrington.  This is a pretty sedate community on the east side of the Penobscot River -- a quick stopover between Bangor and Bucksport.  Its main claim to (literary) fame is that this is where King wrote Pet Sematary.  Just as the author substituted the name Derry for Bangor, so he fictionalized Orrington during his brief residence there in the late 1970s, re-naming the town Ludlow.  According to the novel, Ludlow exists south of Bangor, west of Hampden and Winterport, and north of Bucksport (and Derry).

Louis Creed, the modern-day Dr. Frankenstein whose life gets turned upside down and inside out by Indian magic, describes his house as "a big old New England colonial (but newly insulated, the heating costs, while horrible enough, were not out of line in terms of consumption), three big rooms downstairs, four more up, a long shed that might be converted to more rooms later on - all of it surrounded by a luxuriant sprawl of lawn, lushly green in this August heat."  The Kings lived in a similar house off of River Road, a busy stretch of two-lane highway that was responsible for the death of the family cat... and the birth of an idea.  The other main inspiration was a real pet cemetery in the woods behind their house, which has (according to King researcher George Beahm) been picked clean by rude fans over the years.

The house in Orrington where Stephen King wrote Pet Sematary
We continued south on River Road (passing only a few eighteen-wheelers from the Verso paper mill in Bucksport), then headed east on Route 1 toward Ellsworth.  The city of Ellsworth is a kind of gateway to the "downeast" region, including Maine's biggest tourist destination: Mount Desert Island.  Ellsworth was also one of the primary shooting locations for the film PET SEMATARY.  The scene that takes place at Louis Creed's hospital was shot on the steps of the Ellsworth City Hall, and the cemetery itself was constructed indoors at a military installation nearby.  (I'd love to know where the Micmac burial ground was created... Maybe somewhere inside Acadia National Park?  I'm hoping that the forthcoming documentary Unearthed and Untold will provide a definitive answer.)

The location of Louis Creed's house from the film is actually a bit further east, on Point Road in the sleepy town of Hancock.  This setting is a bit more remote, and it's hard to imagine that very many trucks pass through there, since the road dead ends on the water less than a mile from the house.  Nevertheless, some fans insist that they have had to dodge fast-moving trucks on this road.  Fact or fiction?  You be the judge.  Regardless, the vast woods surrounding the property offer plenty of inspiration for dark imaginings. 

The house from the movie PET SEMATARY (viewed from behind - trucker's POV in the movie)
The house from PET SEMATARY (view from the front)
Judd Crandall's house no longer exists (it was burned down for the movie), but the shed is still across the street.
We continued south to Acadia National Park, the most popular tourist destination in the state of Maine and a location that is mentioned in King's novel The Tommyknockers.  It was uncommonly hot while we were visiting (90+ degrees with 95% humidity), so we mostly stayed in the car and explored the park via the famous Park Loop Road. 

Acadia - looking south from the eastern edge of Park Loop Road
Acadia - looking northeast toward the Porcupine Islands
From the highest point in the park, Cadillac Mountain, we looked down over the town of Bar Harbor -- which some fans say is the inspiration for King's Little Tall Island, the setting of Dolores Claiborne and the TV miniseries STORM OF THE CENTURY.   Instead of visiting Bar Harbor (which is reputed to be a bit of a tourist trap), we headed to nearby Southwest Harbor, the boat-building community where STORM OF THE CENTURY was actually shot.  According to a 1999 article in The Post and Courier, the town's main thoroughfare was used for location shots, and then the town was recreated in an abandoned sugar-beet factory in Toronto!  (A set was necessary because the filmmakers needed to be able to control the weather.) 

View of Bar Harbor from the top of Cadillac Mountain
Near the corner of Main St. and Clark Point Road in Southwest Harbor
Southwest Harbor - view from Beal's Lobster Pier
The following morning, we headed south toward the part of the state that King has written about most affectionately.  Instead of taking Interstate 95, we traveled along Route 9 -- because the area is rich in Stephen King lore.

Our first stop was at Hampden Academy, whre the author was working as an English teacher at the time Carrie was published.  The school has a long history, dating back to its 18th century origins as a seminary.  Today the institution is a massive complex with so many buildings that it was difficult to locate the original site where King would have taught in the early 70s.  On Cottage Street, we eventually found the real-world correlative to Johnny Smith's Cleaves Mills school in The Dead Zone

Hampden Academy - the old seminary building
Immediately adjacent: the Hampden Academy front lawn - site of the Battle of Hampden during the War of 1812
We continued south through the woods (Big Injun Woods?), looking for the fictional towns of Derry and Haven.  In the novel IT, the author situates Derry 30 miles west of Bangor, somewhere along interstate 95 before Newport.  In Pet Sematary, however, he says that Derry is south of Bangor -- apparently somewhere near Haven, the fictional setting of The Tommyknockers.

Haven is situated along Route 9 near the towns of Troy and Albion; the most likely candidate for a real-world counterpart seems to be Dixmont, which has a historic town house and a town office, but not much else.  In the novel, several visitors leave Haven with gruesome nosebleeds and stop at the general store in Troy to clean themselves up.  In the novel, the owner of the store does a thriving business in cheap t-shirts.  We stopped at the store, but didn't see any t-shirts for sale.

Troy General Store
Route 9 near Dixmont
We kept going, following roughly the same path charted by the enigmatic heroine of "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut."  If you haven't read that short story (collected in Night Shift), it provides what is perhaps the author's most detailed geographical description of the state.  Real and fictional places overlap like parallel universes as Mrs. Todd finds new and mysterious shortcuts between Bangor and Castle Rock.  On one route, she passes through the Unity and the village of China Lake (as well as Haven).  On another, she takes an unnamed back road and disappears from the "real" world completely -- never to return.

We decided to stick to roads that exist on traditional maps.  After passing through the sprawling community of China Lake (home to the "China Dine-Ah"), we jumped on the interstate in Augusta.  It would have been easy to route ourselves through nearby Togus and check out the VA hospital where Teddy Duchamp's father was incarcerated in "The Body," or to head for Lewiston (a common point of reference in Stephen King's novels) and search for the "real" Kingdom Hospital, but I was eager to get to the heart of Stephen King Country -- the author's childhood home and the inspiration for Castle Rock.



  1. I believe the Indian burial ground was settled on one of the many flat topped mountains near the house, as the house was a form of command center during the movie and filming.

  2. Anonymous7/16/2014

    My wife and I went to the Creed's house last year, which I have wanted to do for many years. I parked on the side of the road just to the right of what used to be Jud's house. As soon as I exited my car, a large, fast moving 18 wheeler flew past us, in the same direction that all those Orinco trucks travelled. Uncanny! Secondly, the house looks exactly as it did in the movie. When you stand there, you feel as though you are in the movie since little was changed for filming. Great site!

  3. Anonymous9/24/2014

    What was Mr. King's address on river road in orrington? I'd love to visit

    1. I'm hesitant to provide a street address, since this is a private residence -- but it's not hard to spot the house from the road if you know what you're looking for. (My visual guide was a photo in George Beahm's book "Stephen King Country.")


    3. Thanks for the heads-up, Carla.

  4. I really hope that you stopped at the Jonathan Buck Memorial in Bucksport and had a local tell you the story. It's nothing Stephen King related but it's great nonetheless. Bucksport has quite a bit of a dark and ominous history itself.

    1. Thanks for the tip, Josh. I wish I had known about this memorial when I was passing through. Next time...

  5. Mason Merchant8/20/2015

    The inspiration for King's Little Tall Island is the small island town of Beals.Once accessable only by ferry, the town has had a bridge connecting it to the mainland for many years.