Next on our checklist was the Thomas Hill Standpipe water tower, built in 1897 and designed to hold 1,750,000 gallons of water. Across the street is the park where Stanley Uris sits on a bench and observes his favorite birdbath before strange sounds beckon him inside the tower where he comes face-to-face with IT taking the form of drowned, zombie children. The Standpipe was not open for visitors the day we popped by, but we did find Stan’s bench and birdbath. Rumor has it that King also wrote portions of IT from the bench as well.
We drove out to Hermon, Maine, to grab our first proper meal at Dysart’s. The restaurant and truck stop is the setting of the short story “Trucks” (adapted into Maximum Overdrive) about an extraterrestrial signal that causes motor vehicles to turn against their masters. As far as King plots go, it’s easily one of his goofiest efforts and needs to be read/seen to be believed. I ordered a Trucker’s Special consisting of a slab of ham, three eggs over easy, home fries, and a grilled blueberry muffin. Lisa went with a Lobster roll, curly fries, and a Moxie. We felt as satisfied as an over-stuffed Pat Hingle.
Maybe the most sought after Stephen King attraction is the 31-foot tall Paul Bunyan statue that stares out over Bangor’s Main Street. When the city was first incorporated back in 1834, Bangor was considered the lumber capital of the United States, and the sculpture of the mythological lumberjack was commissioned in 1959 as part of their 125th anniversary. The beast comes alive under the possession of Pennywise and chases Eddie Kaspbrak through Bass Park, spewing bats from a shark-toothed grin. The Paul Bunyan statue of my mind is an enormous, terrifying tower of a man, and seeing it in person was a lot like the first time I witnessed Mount Rushmore. Huh, I thought it would be bigger.
The next leg of our trip primarily concerned itself with Pet Sematary. We left Bangor behind and drove 15 minutes to Orrington, where we traversed the street that claimed the life of a family pet and served as the impetus for King’s most nihilistic novel. Route 15 doesn’t feel like much when you’re traveling on it. It’s a wide, two-lane strip of asphalt that can’t compare to the terror of the New Jersey Turnpike. You have to park yourself on the shoulder to appreciate its danger.
In 1978, while King was teaching at the University of Maine at Orono, his family rented a two-story house planted on the edge of Route 15. Shortly after moving in, a neighbor called King to notify him that his daughter’s cat Smucky got smushed by a speeding truck. Overcome with anxiety by the inevitable heart-to-heart conversation with his daughter, the first pang of Pet Sematary went off in his noggin. Today, a family still lives in the Orrington home, but the makeshift animal graveyard behind it is long gone thanks to tourists trudging through the yard to snatch photos.
Bangor’s Mount Hope Cemetery was one of the first garden cemeteries established in the US. The idea was that citizens could wander the grounds, enjoy the pond and the hilly landscape, and appreciate the nature of their loved ones’ final resting place. As a college kid, King spent many afternoons and evenings rambling around inside, and if you look closely you’ll spot the names of several characters (Carrie White, R.G. Flagg), and a few of them would eventually find their way into its soil (Georgie, Gage Creed).
Mary Lambert shot several scenes in Mount Hope for her cinematic adaptation of Pet Sematary. Our goal was to recreate a few of the shots from the film; most importantly, the one of King as the minister presiding over Missy Dandridge’s funeral. The cemetery is massive, and it took nearly an entire afternoon of stumbling through it to find the exact locations from the film. During that time, we were surrounded by fat, gluttonous mosquitos. Neither of us bothered with bug repellent, but they seemed primarily concerned with face meat, and because I’m a foot taller than Lisa, most of those bastards made their meals out of me. That night, feeling victorious for having secured our mediocre re-creations, I counted 33 bites upon my head and shoulders. I used all of my willpower not to rip the flesh from my bones.
A week later, while at home, click-clacking away on my computer, I reached up to rub a stiff neck. I discovered two large lumps. I panicked. Cancer. I have cancer. I was certain of it, and I went into an extreme sense of worry (that is how I like my narratives, remember). Lisa agreed that the lumps did not look good but assured me that it could be the result of any number of things. I wouldn’t hear it. We had to go to the emergency room asap. We waited for a good 30 minutes, and during that time, I was considering chemotherapy, planning out my will, and deciding who would inherit my comic book collection.
When the doctor finally saw us, he took a half-second beat and said, “Lymph nodes!” Huh, what? “Those are your lymph nodes,” he continued. “They’re the garbage collectors of the body. What have you been up to?” I told him about our trip, and Lisa told him about the mosquitoes. “Yeah, that could do it. Come back if they don’t go down in a week.” Seven days later, they were gone. No big deal. I get to keep my comic books.
Walking through Bangor was a dream come true; a childhood fantasy made a reality. It’s a pilgrimage I would recommend to anyone raised on King, or anyone who wishes to take their fiction to a higher level of immersion. Lisa entered the town limits curious as to the draw of the Stephen King universe and left a card-carrying member of his fan club. She’s currently halfway through ‘Salem’s Lot.
Before we departed, we returned to the King estate. Even early in the morning, no tourists were present. We got out of the car. We snapped our selfie. I would share it, but the quality of the image is rather dreadful, and our morning faces are not a sight for strangers. Instead, I’ll leave you with a picture of myself resting upon the Standpipe bench with a beaming smile upon my face. I might as well be sitting in my own brain.