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Why Stephen King chose Bangor as the model for the town of Derry in horror classic ‘IT’

FILE - Stephen King opens the new gates to his bat-guarded Victorian home in this November 1982 photograph. (CARROLL HALL | BDN)

BANGOR (BDN) -- A quick primer for those who don’t qualify for Stephen King ‘constant reader’ status: Derry IS Bangor — or at least, a fictionalized version of it — and has been featured in several of the horror author’s books, including ‘IT.’

Real life places like the Thomas Hill Standpipe, various residential neighborhoods and the Kenduskeag Stream canals in downtown Bangor appear in “IT” and other novels.

“IT” — the highly anticipated feature film of which comes out in theaters this week — is perhaps the most “Bangor” of King’s many novels and novellas. It takes place almost entirely in Derry. Landmarks from the town, almost all of which have direct analogues to landmarks in real-life Bangor, are crucial to the overall story.

Interestingly enough, however, the story itself has its roots in Colorado, where King and his family lived for a time in the 1970s.

“My wife and I lived with our kids for a year or so in Boulder, Colorado, which was where I got the rough idea for ‘IT.’ I wanted to write about a city that had been haunted by a monstrous entity for hundreds of years,” said King, via email last week.

Despite coming up with the idea for the book in Colorado, King knew he wanted the story that would become “IT” to be set in Maine.

“I wanted it to be in Maine, because that’s the place I knew. Also, unlike Boulder, Maine towns and cities have histories going back hundreds of years,” he said.

King and his wife, fellow novelist Tabitha, knew they wanted to live in one of Maine’s two regional capitals: either Portland or Bangor. Despite King growing up near Portland, in the end, Bangor won out — and the rest is history.

“I wanted Bangor because it was a tougher, harder place, with its history of loggers, the thing about the Brady Gang shoot-out, and all those fightin’ bars like the Silver Dollar that used to be down at the waterfront,” said King. “Also, the geography seemed right. So we moved to Bangor, where we’ve been ever since. It was good for the book and good for us.”

It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation, when it comes to Bangor’s now worldwide reputation as a slightly creepy place. Was Bangor creepy before King created its evil twin, Derry? Or did King put the city on the map with his tales of terror?

Either way, the city has embraced its identity as a spooky town. Businesses like SK Tours, which offers tours of King landmarks in the city, and Gerald Winters & Son, a bookstore that specializes in Stephen King publications and other rare books, have capitalized on it. Last fall, “Vote Pennywise” signs appeared alongside other campaign signs during election season. Local theatre companies have productions of theatrical adaptations of King works planned for this fall, including Penobscot Theatre Company’s take on the play version of “Misery,” and Some Theatre Company’s production of the cult classic “Carrie: The Musical.”

[Related: Professional clowns blame Stephen King's 'It' movie for loss of work]

And with “IT” hitting theaters in just a few days, others in town are getting into the spirit, with a premiere party for the movie set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Bangor Mall Cinemas, and, most frighteningly, Pennywise’s red balloons appearing outside — and inside the windows — of Stephen King’s West Broadway home.

King said he didn’t put the balloon in his window, which of course, begs the question — who did?

…want a balloon, Georgie?

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