Tommyknockers tour a look at King’s Bangor

Posted June 16, 2009, at 8:16 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — It’s not news to anyone — Stephen King fans, Bangor residents or otherwise — that the fictional town of Derry, Maine, featured in several of King’s books is based on the Queen City. Think of Derry as Bangor’s evil twin. The real city is a safe, vibrant, beautiful Maine community, while the fictional city is a place where 300 people go missing each year.

What’s not known by most, however, is just how specific many of the references in King’s books are to many Bangor landmarks and locations. A visitor to Bangor, or even Bangor residents looking to learn a few new things about their hometown, would do well to hop on board one of the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Tommyknockers and More tours. The first public tour for this season is set for 2 p.m. Saturday, July 4, leaving from the Bangor Waterfront. The cost is $12 per person, and proceeds go to the GBCVB.

The tour, a narrated 1½-hour drive through the city, takes its name from the 1987 King novel “The Tommyknockers,” which takes place not in Derry but in another fictional Maine town, Haven. It features numerous spots in Bangor that have direct connections to parts of King’s writings — from Bangor International Airport, the setting for his novella and movie “The Langoliers,” to Mount Hope Cemetery, the inspiration for the “sematary” in “Pet Sematary.”

“This tour is as much about Bangor as it is about Stephen King. It’s Stephen King’s Bangor,” said Scott R.C. Levy, artistic director of the Penobscot Theatre and now in his third year as the guide for the tour. “Plus, I get to fulfill my dream of being a tour guide or travel agent. And I get to tell stories about the ’Gor, through the lens of the world King writes about in his books.”

The stops on the tour range from major landmarks to the mundane. For instance: there’s a manhole at the corner of Thomas Hill Road and Union Street, right by Shawn T. Mansfield Baseball Stadium, which is exactly the manhole through which King envisioned Pennywise, the demonic villain in “It,” emerging. There’s the tree-filled area along Kenduskeag Stream, near Valley Avenue, that is the basis for the Barrens, an undeveloped area near the downtown of Derry, also featured in “It.” The Kenduskeag also serves as the inspiration for the river in the novella “The Body” and the movie “Stand By Me.”

The list goes on and on — even the freshly repainted Paul Bunyan statue at Bass Park plays a part, when it comes alive and tries to kill a character in “It.” Levy is pleased to point out that his own organization, the Penobscot Theatre and its home, the Bangor Opera House, are mentioned in the first paragraph of Chapter 12 of King’s book “Insomnia.”

“I’ve got it framed,” said Levy. “King’s mark is all over the place.”

While there are the four public tours — the others are set for Aug. 16, Sept. 20 and Oct. 25 — the visitors bureau also will book private tours for groups coming through the area. Each summer 10 or more of these private tours are booked, with Levy as guide.

“We always get a bus full of tourists from Hawaii,” said Levy. “And, interestingly enough, the question I always get asked is, ‘So how cold does it actually get in the winter?’ People know King’s works and the movies, but they’re as interested in the history of Bangor as they are the King aspect.”

In addition to the Tommyknockers tour, the GBCVB organizes other events and services. These include Wheels on the Waterfront, a car show set for September, and the Bangor Greeters, which brings together community members to welcome visitors to town at Bangor International Airport and at the American Cruise Line ships that dock at the Bangor Waterfront. The Bangor Greeters program is accepting new volunteers; to sign up, or to reserve a spot on the Tommyknockers tours, call 800-91-MOOSE.

“We’re here to invite people to the area. We want to put heads in beds, to get people into restaurants and businesses, and to come to all the fun events we have in the area,” said Kerrie Tripp, director of the GBCVB. “We like to show off our city to everyone that comes in, and, hopefully, invite them back again.”

Though about 75 percent of the tour-goers are from out of state and the tour is geared toward tourists, the remaining 25 percent are made up of residents.

“I think people from Bangor are surprised by just how much they get out of it,” said Levy. “You get a fresh perspective on your city, and you learn a lot about it.”

eburnham@bangordailynews.net

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