A few years ago, I took a trip to Maine to visit the home of some of my ancestors. My great-great-great grandfather Lewis Kingsbury was a resident of Bath, Maine, and he worked there for most of his life at the Iron Works near the mouth of the meandering Androscoggin River. His son Frederick Kingsbury also worked as a riveter in the same factory. Growing up, I knew very little about these ancestors and even less about Maine. I spent my childhood in Virginia, and most of what I knew about Maine came from Stephen King novels. Naturally that affected my initial impressions of the place.
As it happens, King came of age just a few miles upriver from Bath, in a town called Durham. From about age 11, he lived with his mother and his older brother David in a small house on Runaround Pond Road, between the historic West Durham United Methodist Church and a one-room grammar schoolhouse. King returned to the neighborhood in 1999 for a BBC documentary, and noted that things haven't changed much over the years. The church is no longer in use and the one-room schoolhouse is now a private residence, but the neighborhood he knew as Methodist Corners looks more or less the same.
This is one of the great things about the rural areas of Maine: they do seem to be sort of timeless. Here's how one local writer explains it: "With only 40 people per square mile, the population pressure is not very intense. Even if we consider a more realistic count that eliminates Maine's vast tracts of uninhabited forest, there are still only 200 people per square mile. Massachusetts, by comparison, has an average of 765 people living on each square mile. And because rural Maine had such a strong, 19th century life, remaining rather quiet in this century, the architecture prominent when an area was first settled - or when it found prosperity - endures, even now." Presumably King likes writing about towns like Durham because, in the modern world, such places seem a little bit unreal to begin with.
|Stephen King's childhood home|
|Stephen King's grammar schoolhouse|
|West Durham UMC|
Just down the road from Methodist Corners is Harmony Grove Cemetery, the inspiration for Harmony Hill Cemetery, where Mike Ryerson digs up undead Danny Glick in the novel 'Salem's Lot. It's a small burial ground that no one would be likely to notice unless they already knew it was there. King and his childhood friend Chris Chesley knew, and according to Chesley they were once bold enough to spend a night camping out among the stones. The impressions of that night on the future horror author may now be more timless than the headstones.
Just beyond the graveyard is Runaround Pond, a swampy watering hole where King and Chesley supposedly saw a dead body for the first time. Chesley suggests that King's memory of this event may have inspired the novella "The Body," which was later turned into the film STAND BY ME. As far as I know, King has never spoken about that particular incident... but he freely admits that "the leech incident" really happened here. Runaround Pond is also where Johnny Smith has his formative accident on the ice at the beginning of The Dead Zone, so obviously this real-life setting was important to King.
Researchers like Beahm have turned their attention to Shiloh Chapel, based on Chesley's claim that it too may have been a source of inspiration for 'Salem's Lot. The chapel was built in the 1890s as the home for a controversial evangelical group known -- appropriately enough -- as The Kingdom.
The haunted house may be gone, but the name "Deep Cut" still fascinates me. I have a theory that if the boys in "The Body" / STAND BY ME are starting out in a fictionalized version of Libson Falls (a town just north of Durham), then their destination (Harlow) may be a fictionalized version of Deep Cut. A set of train tracks does run alongside the Androscoggin River, past Shiloh (which is mentioned in the novel), toward Brunswick. The distance between Lisbon Falls and Deep Cut is only about 10 miles -- easily traveled in a few minutes by car. To a kid, however, ten miles on foot can seem like a long way. And the woods in that rural part of Maine get pretty dark at night.
The mysterious Deep Cut Road appears again in Dreamcatcher and in Under the Dome. The name could be a tribute to the old dirt lane in Durham.... or simply an acknowledgment that such roads exist throughout Maine, in rural areas once dominated by the logging industry. There was, for instance, a Deep Cut Road in Lovell, Maine, which a local historian describes as follows:
"All the neighborhood had to cooperate to 'break out the road' after a [snow]storm. This meant that anyone who had cattle must drive them out on the road, up and down, until the snow was packed enough to permit a sleigh or sled to get through. Often the farmer living farthest out on a road would start first and, as he reached the next farm, would be joined by that neighbor and his cattle. Quite a herd would be following by the time they reached the bridge of the village. Then a sled with a six-foot timber attached in front of it would be dragged by oxen over the tracks. Now it was ready for traffic. But when the sun melted the snow on the top during the midday hours, deep ruts were cut. These would freeze when the sun went down and again, the road would be impassable."
Just as those timbers permanently altered the physical landscape, so King's childhood experiences carved out the geography of his fictional world. Castle Rock is named for a location in
William Golding's Lord of the Flies, but its spirit comes from the real towns of Durham and its neighbor to the north, Lisbon Falls. The latter also clearly provided inspiration for the fictional towns of Chamberlain (the setting of Carrie) and Gates Falls (the setting of the short story "Graveyard Shift").
The text of Carrie puts Chamberlain (named for Civil War hero and Maine governor Joshua Chamberlain?) adjacent to Durham, probably somewhere along Royalsborough Road between Durham and Lewiston. It's worth noting that there is a Brickyard Hill in Carrie and a Brickyard Hill Road off of Route 9, just south of the town of Lisbon Falls.... where King went to high school, and rode to school each day (in a converted hearse, no less!) with a girl that he claims was a lot like Carrie White.
When I paid a visit to the Lisbon Falls High in the summer of 2006, the kind people in the administration office let me conduct my own private tour of the building. There were no commemorative markers indicating that the one of the world's bestselling authors had attended school there, but I was enthralled nonetheless. I couldn't help thinking that this was where the "real" Carrie White walked the halls and attended prom.
Libson Falls is also the real-world counterpart to Gates Falls, the setting of Stephen King's short story "Graveyard Shift." Nevermind that Bag of Bones places Gates Falls along "the western edge of the state".... Worumbo Mill, a now-defunct weaving mill in Lisbon Falls, is where King worked the summer job that inspired his first professional horror story. He describes it, in On Writing, as "a dingy fuckhole overhanging the polluted Androscoggin River like a workhouse in a Charles Dickens novel." If that seems a bit harsh, one should realize that mills like this were slowly destroying the natural beauty of the Maine landscape until environmentalists turned things around in the 1970s. Also, there were rats....
Stephen King hates rats.
|Worumbo Mill (with Kennebec Fruit Company in the background)|
When my wife and I stopped in to his store, this larger-than-life character was only too happy to talk about his association with Stephen King and to formally introduce us to his favorite potable. As soon as my wife expressed an interest in an ice cream float, Anicetti pounced, "What flavor would you like?" Before she could answer, he gleefully provided the right answer: "MOXIE?!" She politely asked for chocolate instead. I, on the other hand, couldn't bring myself to let the guy down. He was just so damned enthusiastic. And you know what? My Moxie ice cream float was pretty good. (To me, Moxie sort of tastes like a combination of root beer and ginger ale... Sweet, but not too sweet.)
|The Kennebec Fruit Company|
|Moxie-man Frank Anicetti at work|
|Dr. Mike's Madness Cafe|
|The ghost of meals passed|
'Salem's Lot places Jerusalem's Lot "east of Cumberland and twenty miles north of Portland," on the ocean-side of Interstate 295, near the oldest section of Yarmouth. King goes into a fair amount of detail about the layout of the town, noting that the northwest quadrant (where the Marsten House stands) is hilly and heavily wooded. The northeast quadrant, he says, is mostly open land fed by the Royal River. The southeast quadrant is the prettiest, owing to the success of a dairy farmer named Charles Griffen, whose "huge barn with its aluminum roof glittering in the sun like a monstrous heliograph." The southwast area is, comparatively, a slum.
We entered Yarmouth from the northeast, following the Royal River and passing under the highway. In King's story, this would be the "small wooden Brock Street Bridge." We continued south on Lafayette Street for half a mile or so, until we saw a historical marker on the side of the road. The sign drew our attention to a pioneer cemetery and a few centuries-old houses -- the remains of a bygone community -- as well as a huge barn visible to the southeast.
|Brock Street Bridge?|
Yarmouth is not, of course, a ghost town like 'Salem's Lot. It is a beautiful, affluent and apparently thriving community. But it does have a tragic history. Many of the original settlers buried in the pioneer cemetery died defending themselves from Indian attackers (or so the sign says). Perhaps for that reason, this seemed to me like the most compelling example of art-imitating-life. Beneath the picture-perfect exterior, there was something genuinely eerie about this place... Maybe it was the winged skulls on the top of the colonial headstones... or maybe it was just the spirit of the local historians trying to ward off their connection to America's master of horror.
|Pioneer Burial Ground|
|This gravestone, hidden in the back of the cemetery away from all the others, is just begging for a story...|
Continued in PART 5: BRIDGTON, LOVELL, CHESTER'S MILL AND CASTLE COUNTY