Last month, I paid a visit to Stephen King’s house and some other King-related spots in Bangor, and I might as well have been stepping into Derry, Maine and the pages of IT.
First up on the tour was the Paul Bunyan statue that inspired the scene in the novel where the statue comes alive and attacks Richie (it’s also featured for a second in IT: Chapter Two, though not this exact one since it was filmed in Canada). This was one of the scariest parts of the book for me—inanimate objects coming to life was always a big fear of mine as a kid—and it was kind of creepy to see in person.
Next up was the sewer grate at Jackson and Union that, according to King lore, served as inspiration for where little Georgie gets murdered by IT. This was just down the street and around the corner from King’s house, and I could imagine him walking around the neighborhood when writing the novel, his brain cooking up wonderfully demented ideas.
I saw two grates at this intersection; according to the internet, the round one is allegedly the One, but the square one looked more like the original cover. Who knows—a demented, supernatural clown luring you into either would be equally bad. In any case, I was the weirdo taking pictures of ordinary-looking sewer grates, though clearly I wasn’t the first to do so.
Speaking of stepping into the pages of IT, the other side of the Jackson/Union intersection looked straight out of Derry. This could’ve been Bill and Georgie Denbrough’s quiet, tree-lined street, their white, clapboard-sided house uphill from the sewer grates.
The neighborhood was adorable. It’s the kind of place so quaint and sweet that it might make a horror author on a stroll wonder whether everything is as idyllic as it seems. I kept thinking, Ugh, I want to live in a cute sleepy town with sinister stuff lurking under the surface!
The next and maybe coolest stop on my tour was the Thomas Hill Standpipe. Just down the street from the sewer grates and only a few blocks from King’s house, the standpipe is an iron water tank with a wood frame jacket that controls Bangor’s water pressure and holds 1,750,000 gallons of water. In the novel, it’s where Stan first encounters IT/Pennywise and sees horrible visions of the victims who drowned in the tank (there have been no IRL drownings, I checked. For reasons.)
As I rounded the corner in my rental car and got past a cluster of trees, I was shocked by how this huge thing just came out of nowhere, located smack in the middle of a sleepy little neighborhood. Part of it was the fact that, unlike most water towers, it’s not perched on legs—it’s squatting flush on the ground next to you, hunched at the top of a somewhat steep hill.
That was the other part: I should’ve known that the Thomas Hill Standpipe located on Thomas Hill Road would be situated on a hill, but I thought it was such a weird spot to put a gigantic water tower (if it were to break, I imagined the houses on the hill below it being washed away in half a second), and being sat at the top of a hill added even more to its hulking presence.
The viewing deck up top is unfortunately only open to visitors a few times a year. While I’m sure the view from the top is spectacular, you pay with the journeys up and down the dark, narrow staircase, one of the places where Stan contends with some creepy shit. Just look at it.
Summit Park across the street slopes downhill from the Standpipe and is allegedly where King wrote a large chunk of IT on a park bench. This was a a very small park, and there was only one bench, with FREAK spray-painted across it red. This may or may not have been the same bench that King frequented in the eighties, but I could still imagine him sitting there writing and coming up with Stan’s ghosts. The Standpipe looms even larger from the park, since the park is downhill. And I’m not ashamed to admit that when the sun started setting, I thought, Yup, it’s Getting Out of Here o’clock.
In downtown Bangor, I noticed a canal running through the heart of downtown, and again I had a feeling of living in the locale of IT, since IT works insidiously through Derry’s water/sewer system (like through the sewer grate and the Standpipe) and a canal like this exists in Derry too.
It’s actually called the Kenduskeag Stream and it flows into a nearby river, but you could’ve fooled me. Stumbling across something in town that undoubtedly inspired Derry made me smile every time, and made me want to stay in town for a while and write a creepy novel of my own. (Really, this is not a bad writing exercise, to base a fictional town closely on a real one and just add a dash of spooky. Like Tyra says to take something and make it fashion. Take Champaign, Illinois—but make it creepy.)
King obviously loves Bangor since he set his second-longest (unabridged The Stand beats it out) and arguably most famous and universally beloved novel in its likeness. And it seems that Bangor loves King back, with tributes around the city like this bench featuring him and his dog—though not too much; someone gave our man a funny ‘stache.
Probably that jokester Richie.