Up Close and Personal with Stephen King

How one Maine-based tour company is bringing Stephen King’s fans straight to the source. Plus: Yankee’s editor Mel Allen reflects on his own run-ins with the Maine celebrity author.

By Mel Allen

Aug 25 2023


Stephen King’s Home

Photo Credit : Pixabay

Whenever I see a newspaper story that mentions Stephen King, the mega-popular author and one of the most famous Maine personalities ever, I stop and read it. Partly because King is a compelling writer who also engages in social issues, and partly because I once helped him round up some of his stray pigs.  

OK, here’s the backstory: I began my writing career freelancing for the Maine Sunday Telegram in the summer of 1975. A few months later, King’s second blockbuster, Salem’s Lot, hit bookstores. He was living then with his wife, Tabitha, in a lovely lake house near Bridgton, Maine. The newspaper paid me $100 a story and I was also living near Bridgton, also by a lake, but my dwelling had its water shut off, and I chopped holes in the ice and carried buckets of water into the cottage to warm on the wood stove. 

Our disparate lives came together when the paper asked me to visit King and write about the phenomenon of becoming one of America’s bestselling authors. We were only a year apart in age, and we had a fine visit. And I came back not only with a story on King but also a second one on Tabby’s writing, too.

Soon after, I got a call from King saying that some of his pigs that he was planning to take to market had plans of their own. Could I join the roundup? I did. 

A few years later, after I had started freelancing for Yankee, one of my first features was a visit with King, now living in Bangor and now with children. Together we went to the high school in Hampden, Maine, where he had been teaching when he wrote his first hit novel, Carrie. By this time, 1979, The Shining had solidified his place as “King of Horror,” and his classic novel of an apocalyptic showdown, The Stand, was atop the bestseller lists. After King and I left the school, we went to his home, where he showed me his writing space and his expansive library, and I joined him and his young family for pizza. 

That summer I joined a crowd of friends on the Songo River Queen on Long Lake in Naples, Maine, for a party, which in memory was a book-launch celebration of King’s latest work, The Dead Zone. Then, shortly after my Yankee story was published, I read that novelIn one scene, a fictional Maine newspaper reporter poses a question in a news conference. The reporter’s name? Mel Allen.

So yes, I have read a lot about King in the passing years.

“Derry, Maine” — King’s fictional town that’s loosely based on Bangor.
Photo Credit : Courtesy of SK Tours

Which brings me to Bangor Daily News reporter Emily Burnham, who recently wrote about an unusual tourist attraction in Bangor. Every year, SK Tours of Maine takes King fans from around the world — nearly 4,000 annually — to view his former home on Broadway Avenue and photograph the famous wrought-iron gate with its ornamental bats and dragon. The two-and-half-hour van trips (there are also private tours) are billed as tours of “Derry, Maine” — King’s fictional town that’s loosely based on Bangor. Fans are shown places and landmarks with links to their favorite King novels. The stops come with commentary from Jamie Tinker, who runs the tours with his wife, Jennifer Millar. I doubt there are many people outside the King family with deeper ties to his oeuvre. 

SK Tours
Photo Credit : Courtesy of SK Tours

Tinker’s father began the singular business 11 years ago after owning a Bangor bookstore devoted almost exclusively to King-related books. “I know what King fans are like,” Tinker told the BDN’s Burnham. “You’d better be ready to answer the most obscure, hard questions about his books. They will keep you on your toes. I think there’s a sense that you just can’t be a phony. It can’t be a cash grab. People will sense that you’re not a real fan and you’re just trying to cash in, and they won’t support you. I think the King community definitely can sense when you’re faking it.” 

If you take the tour, you will see Mount Hope Cemetery, the iconic Paul Bunyan statue, the King mansion on West Broadway, the Thomas Hill Standpipe, Mansfield Stadium, and the Bangor Public Library, which the Kings have long supported, among other spots. The van visits the Kings’ old Sanford Street neighborhood, as well. “We cover a lot of miles and entertain nonstop (we hope),” Jennifer Millar told me via email. Maybe I will be a surprise tour customer one day, and just casually mention that, oh yes, long ago, I once helped Stephen King find his pigs.

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