Bangor is one of the most famous towns in the world, though some may not realize it. Fans of renown horror author Stephen King know Bangor well, but by another name: Derry.
The fictional town is a thinly disguised version of Bangor, where the author has lived for decades. Derry appears in no fewer than 24 of King’s stories and provides the major setting for the novel “It”.
Maine Public recently took a tour of the real Derry with a tour company exclusively devoted to showcasing Stephen King’s Bangor.
It’s the second run of the day for SK Tours of Maine. The SK stands for “Stephen King,” though King is not affiliated with the business.
This family has come Pontypridd, Wales. They’re all big fans of King’s work, says Tina Fox.
“It must be an incredible mind to come up with such stories, and I wanted to have a feel of where he was and lived,” she says.
The dark, maroon van is suitably styled for a tour into the macabre, with a Poe-style raven painted on the side. Toward the back, a deranged clown appears to burst through the side. It’s a nod to one of King’s most evil characters from the novel, “It,” who would speak to children from the sewer.
“Even now to this day when I see the gap on the sidewalk, between the road and the sidewalk, I think of ‘It.’ To this day I do that,” Fox says.
“Yeah, Pennywise ruined clowns for a lot of people,” says Stu Tinker, who has been running the tours full time for seven years after retiring from the book trade and selling his shop, Betts Books.
Tinker has been following King’s career for more than 40 years. Over the decades, he met and hosted the author for book signings and got to know his story. Eventually, his shop came to sell nothing but books by Stephen King and by his wife, Tabitha, also an author.
King, through his descriptions of Derry, basically put Bangor on the world’s map, Tinker says.
“It’s amazing how many people come to Bangor, Maine, because of Stephen King. I’ve had people from Kuwait, I’ve had people from China, people from Russia, it’s from all over the world, and they’re all brought here because of Steve. He doesn’t want to admit that he’s a celebrity, but he certainly is,” he says.
The tours take from two and a half to four hours. Stops include the graveyard where some parts of the film “Pet Sematary” were shot and the drugstore where the King family not only shops in real life, but which also appears in the story “Bag of Bones.”
Visitors see as many as 25 or 30 sites along the route.
“He takes local things, changes the names a little bit. Oriental Jade over here — this restaurant — in the book “It,” that became Jade of the Orient,” Tinker says.
That’s where the protagonists reunite years later at a Chinese restaurant, and at the end of the meal, nasty things emerge from their fortune cookies.
The tour guide offers an account of Stephen and Tabitha King’s many charitable works and donations. There’s a drive-by of King’s big, Victorian home. And you’ll also hear about the author’s real life, which was marked by years of struggle, poverty and actual hunger as a fledgling writer.
And, of course, there’s the actual manhole where King first imagined Pennywise the Clown lurking down below.
Tinker offers two tours each day all summer long, with a less frequent schedule in the slower seasons. The tours fill up fast, he says, and he’s had to turn people away.
Business has become brisk enough to where he could expand beyond his 12-passenger van, but he says he wants to keep things small so everyone can talk together about the stories.
In some ways, it’s like a rolling book club.