Dan Lawrence worked the 3 to 11 p.m. shift during his career as a dispatcher for the Maine State Police at its now-closed Orono barracks. It was an otherwise unremarkable evening in late October 1989 and the phone rang — not the emergency line, but the regular barracks phone number. Lawrence picked it up.
“The voice said, ‘Is this the Maine State Police?’ And I said ‘Yes, it is,’” said Lawrence, who is now retired and living in Bangor. “The guy on the line said ‘Did you know your phone number is in a Stephen King book?’ And I said, ‘Huh?’”
As it turns out, King’s brand new book at that time — “The Dark Half,” published on Oct. 20, 1989 — contained a passage in which Sheriff Alan Pangborn, one of King’s most beloved characters, leaves a message for another character asking him to contact him at the Maine State Police barracks in Orono. Instead of writing a fake phone number, King grabbed the phone book, looked up the actual barracks number, and published it (866-2121).
Lawrence was on the other end of the line when the King fans started calling, from all over the world.
“I asked the first guy where he was calling from, and he said Japan. Japan! He was stationed there or something. I mean, that’s the mother of all toll calls. Back then, you called from Dover-Foxcroft, and it was a toll call,” Lawrence said. “But people kept calling. I got calls from Australia, from England. All over Europe. From states all over the country.”
For about a month after the book was published on Oct. 20, the Orono barracks received multiple daily calls from curious King fans. Eventually, a bemused Lawrence wrote a letter to the to the Bangor Daily News, describing the situation.
“I remember I said in my letter that I might write a horror story about a state trooper named Carrie, with a haunted cruiser named Christine, and a canine named Cujo, and I’d put Stephen King’s unlisted home phone number in it,” Lawrence said. “I used to get in trouble for being sarcastic.”
On Nov. 21, BDN columnist Renee Ordway wrote a story about it, which quoted King apologizing for running the phone number in his book.
“When I came to that part in the book, I thought ‘Well, I’m using the Maine State Police in Orono, I’ll use the right number.’ I got out the phone book and there it was in bold type,” King said back in 1989.
Lawrence eventually read “The Dark Half,” and after everything ran in the paper, Lawrence went out to King’s office on Hammond Street in Bangor, to see if he could get his copy signed.
“They took my ID so they could be sure it was me, and then they took my book,” Lawrence said. “Sure enough, a couple months later, I get the book back, signed by Stephen King, apologizing for the phone number.”
All subsequent editions of “The Dark Half” have been published with a fake number in the real one’s place. And in 2013, the Orono barracks closed, so even those with a first edition — like Lawrence — won’t reach anybody at the other end of the line, if they try to call.
“It was just such an odd thing to happen,” Lawrence said. “I talked to people from all over the world. You don’t realize how curious people are about things like that. You don’t think people are actually going to call a number like that. And, boy, people really love Stephen King.”
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