Thursday, July 25, 2013

Stephen King's Maine - Day 4 (Durham, Lisbon Falls, Castle Rock and 'Salem's Lot)


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
[Skip to 9:36 in the video below for the official tour...]

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.

Runaround Pond
In his book Stephen King Country, George Beahm talks about another intriguing location in Durham -- a haunted house on Deep Cut Road that allegedly inspired The Marsten House in 'Salem's Lot.   Deep Cut Road doesn't appear on any modern maps, but that's probably because the name has changed.  King says that Runaround Pond was a dirt road when he grew up there, and I suspect the same thing is true of present-day Rabbit Road, Quaker House Meeting Road and Durham Road -- all of which are basically extensions of Runaround, leading toward the tiny settlement of Deep Cut in Brunswick.  If that's the case, then the haunted house seems to be long gone.

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. 

Shiloh Chapel

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)
Just across the street from the Worumbo are the Moxie Store and Al's Diner from King's more recent novel 11/22/63.  In that work, Lisbon Falls plays itself.  So does Frank Anicetti, owner and proprietor of The Kennebec Fruit Company.  In the novel, King describes Anicetti as "an elderly sweet-natured man" who believes "the world's population [is] divided naturally (and probably by genetic inheritance) into two groups: the tiny but blessed elect who prized Moxie above all other potables... and everybody else."

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
A few doors down, we stopped into Dr. Mike's Madness Cafe for lunch.  Although it's a 50's style diner like the one in King's story, Dr. Mike's is relatively new and probably couldn't have been the inspiration for Al's Diner.  Nevertheless, the doc -- a talkative and enthusiastic foodie who greeted us like family -- has embraced the idea that he's part of the Stephen King universe.  When people come in and ask him about King's novel, he points them toward the bathroom.  (In 11/22/63, the bathroom door leads to a time warp.)  Adventurers who follow his lead will find a life-size cutout of Indiana Jones awaiting them.  This good humor, in conjunction with great home cooking, made our stop in Lisbon Falls one of the highlights of our trip.  As for that time machine...

Dr. Mike's Madness Cafe
The ghost of meals passed
When I visited Lisbon Falls in the summer of 2006 (before King had published 11/22/63), there was a crumbling red building across the road from Worumbo Mill -- right around the place where Al's should have been, "across the tracks from Main Street, in the shadow of the Worumbo Mill"  When I returned in the summer of 2013, that red building was gone.  Coincidence?

After our tour of the Durham and Lisbon Falls area, we headed south for the afternoon, passing through the one-stoplight town of Pownal (hometown of Ray Garraty from The Long Walk and Johnny Smith from The Dead Zone) on our way to.... Jerusalem's Lot.  Although King obviously took some of his inspiration for The Lot from Durham, he also says that his haunted colonial town was also based on an apocryphal story he heard about a village in upstate Vermont called Jeremiah's Lot.  A college friend allegedly told him that Jeremiah's Lot was settled during the colonial era but abandoned after all of the founders mysteriously disappeared one day.  King wrote his own variation on this story in the college-era short, "Jerusalem's Lot."  Years later he returned to the fictional town in his second horror novel. 

'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...



  1. Back in 1988, the second level of where Dr. Mike's is was my old apartment. Dr. Mike's at the time was a separate building (and wasn't called Dr. Mikes). However, the restaurant that was there started making breakfast at about 4 am which, when you're a starving teenager with the apartment windows open, isn't a good thing.

    Also, Deep Cut is in Brunswick. It refers to a railroad cut along Route 1. There is a bridge over Deep Cut. On the other side is a boulder that has been painted like a frog since long before my family moved to Maine in the 70s. I verified that it was still there two years ago.

    Deep Cut:

    1. Many thanks for the information, Jeff!

  2. Anonymous1/04/2015

    Stephen was a year ahead of me in high school. The Dr Mike's then (as I recall) was a pizza joint where we all loved to hang out. What a walk down memory lane. Thanks for the memories!

    1. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Anonymous1/04/2015

    Loved reading this. I grew up in Bath, on the Kennebec River. I even knew a Mr. Kingsbury.

    1. Now I'm curious if your Mr. Kingsbury was a descendant of Lewis. As a random sidenote, I recently learned that Lewis's birth surname wasn't Kingsbury. It was Fevreau. I'm sure there's a story in that name change, but unfortunately I don't know it...

  4. The pizza joint was then known as Normie's Pizza. I worked there during high school for Norm Karkos. I don't recall Steve riding in a converted hearse. You might be referring the 57 Cadillac Limo the local taxi company owned.

    1. Hi TD - I'll defer to your expertise, since you were there! The detail about the "converted hearse" came from George Beahm's book STEPHEN KING FROM A TO Z, which also says that the taxi was an "old limousine" belonging to Mike's Taxi of Lisbon. Thanks for chiming in!

  5. Anonymous5/31/2015

    In 11/22/63, the portal to 1958 is in the storeroom, not the bathroom - otherwise, anyone going to the can would have been able to visit 1958 ;-)

  6. Karen Ann Hesketh-Talbot10/02/2016

    My husband and my mother in law were the ones who helped Stephen King on June 19 1999 after he was hit by the van. Stephen King is a great writer and my husband and I enjoy watching his movies!

  7. Karen Ann Hesketh-Talbot10/02/2016

    My husband and my mother in law happen to be the ones who helped Stephen King after he was hit by the van in Lovell Maine on June 19 1999.He was very grateful and thanked them for there help, he even met up with them on his birthday to thank them personally. My Husband and I love watching his movies and reading his books!

  8. Anonymous10/07/2016

    Enjoyed this blog post a lot. I grew up in Lisbon Falls and am a few years younger than Stephen King. A couple of little comments:

    Bath is on the Kennebec River, not the Androscoggin. (But, as you know, Durham and Lisbon Falls are on the Androscoggin.)

    The Worumbo mill was just knocked down this summer, after being empty for many years.

    This year, Frank Anicetti also retired and closed his store.