Last month I visited the Hemingway Home and Museum in gorgeous Key West, Florida.
I started in Miami, drove through the Keys over two days, and spent my last two nights in Key West—the whole trip planned around winding up here. The house and property were amazing, and the journey there wasn’t bad either ☀️🌊
There are myriad cool stories and legends associated with this house, like:
Hemingway wrote some of his best received work while living here, including the 1935 non-fiction Green Hills of Africa, and the 1936 short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”.
The swimming pool on the property cost $20,000 when built in 1938—an equivalent of $330,000 now—and was the first swimming pool in Key West.
The ~50 cats that live on the property! About half have thumbs and extra digits, but they all carry the polydactyl gene even if they have the normal amount of toes. Some are allegedly descended from Hemingway’s own polydactyl cat Snow White (or Snowball, some say) given to him by a ship’s captain. (Apparently thumb-cats were preferred as ship’s cats back in the day because they have better balance than regular cats and are better climbers 👍)
The fountain base that used to be a urinal, taken by Hemingway and friends from a nearby bar.
Hemingway allegedly chose the house because it’s across the street from the lighthouse (the tallest structure on the island) so he could more easily find his way home from the bars. I see a theme here.
Hemingway’s writer’s retreat with the actual typewriter he used.
Last month, I paid a visit to Stephen King’s house and some other King-related spots in Bangor, and I might as well have been stepping into Derry, Maine and the pages of It. Besides the house, here are all the other cool King things I saw in town.
First stop on the tour was the Paul Bunyan statue that inspired the scene in the novel where the statue comes alive and attacks Richie. (The statue’s also featured for a second in It: Chapter Two, though not this exact one since it was filmed in Canada). This was one of the scariest parts of the book for me—inanimate objects coming to life was always a big fear of mine as a kid—and it was kind of creepy to see in person.
Next up was the sewer grate at Jackson and Union that, according to King lore, served as inspiration for where little Georgie gets murdered by Pennywise. This was just down the street and around the corner from King’s house, and I could imagine him walking around the neighborhood when writing the novel, cooking up wonderfully demented ideas.
I saw two grates at this intersection: According to the internet, the round one is allegedly the One, but the square one looks more like the original cover. Who knows—a demented, supernatural clown luring you into either would be equally bad. In any case, I was the weirdo taking pictures of ordinary-looking sewer grates, though I’m sure that neighborhood is used to King fans being extra.
Speaking of stepping into the pages of It, the other side of the Jackson/Union intersection looked straight out of Derry. This could’ve been Bill and Georgie Denbrough’s quiet, tree-lined street, their white, clapboard-sided house uphill from the sewer grates.
The neighborhood was adorable. It’s the kind of place so quaint and sweet that it might make a horror author on a stroll wonder whether everything is as idyllic as it seems. I kept thinking, Ugh, I want to live in a cute sleepy town with sinister stuff lurking under the surface!
The next and maybe coolest stop on mytour was the Thomas Hill Standpipe. Just down the street from the sewer grates and only a few blocks from King’s house, the standpipe is an iron water tank with a wood frame jacket that controls Bangor’s water pressure and holds 1,750,000 gallons of water. In the novel, it’s where Stan first encounters It/Pennywise and sees horrible visions of the victims who drowned in the tank (there have been no IRL drownings, I checked. For reasons.)
As I rounded the corner in my rental and got past a cluster of trees, I was shocked by how this huge thing just came out of nowhere, located smack in the middle of a quaint little neighborhood. Part of it was the fact that, unlike most water towers, it’s not perched on legs—it’s squatting flush on the ground next to you, hunched at the top of a somewhat steep hill.
That was the other part: I should’ve known that the Thomas Hill Standpipe located on Thomas Hill Road would be situated on a hill, but I thought it was such a weird spot to put a gigantic water tower (if it were to break, I imagined the houses on the hill below it being washed away in half a second), and being sat at the top of a hill added even more to its hulking presence.
The viewing deck up top is only open to visitors a few times a year. While I’m sure the view from the top is spectacular, you pay with the journeys up and down the dark, narrow staircase, one of the places where Stan contends with some creepy shit. Just look at it.
Summit Park across the street slopes downhill from the Standpipe and is allegedly where King wrote a large chunk of It on a park bench. This was a a very small park, and there was only one bench, with FREAK spray-painted across it. This may or may not have been the same bench that King frequented in the eighties, but I could still imagine him sitting there writing, coming up with Stan’s ghosts. The Standpipe looms even larger from the park, since the park is downhill. And I’m not ashamed to admit that when the sun started setting, I thought, Yup, it’s Getting Out of Here o’clock.
In downtown Bangor, I noticed a canal running through the heart of downtown, and again I had a feeling of living in the locale of It, since It works insidiously through Derry’s water/sewer system (like through the sewer grate and the Standpipe) and a canal like this exists in Derry too.
It’s actually called the Kenduskeag Stream and it flows into a nearby river, but you could’ve fooled me. Stumbling across something in town that undoubtedly inspired Derry made me smile every time, and made me want to stay in town for a while and write a creepy novel of my own. (Really, this is not a bad writing exercise, to base a fictional town closely on a real one and just add a dash of spooky. Like Tyra says to make it fashion. Take Champaign, Illinois—but make it creepy.)
King obviously loves Bangor since he set one of his longest and most famous novels in its likeness. And it seems that Bangor loves King back, with tributes around the city like this bench featuring him and his dog—though not too much; someone gave our man a funny ‘stache.
Well, not exactly—today is my birthday, and I went to Stephen King’s house last week. But I went partially as a birthday gift to myself, since 2020 has quashed all my international traveling dreams for the time being, and King’s house has been on my list for awhile. Why not go to Maine in the fall, (on a sanitized, less-than-half-full plane), social distance in a small town (comparatively—Chicagoan here), and see some sights?
For the record, I wore a mask and so were most people I saw in towns in Maine, though as you can see, I removed it for this little photo shoot.
Everything about this house was cool, from the detailed, wrought iron gate made to look like spiders and a spiderweb, to the bat and three-headed dragon sculptures serving as miniature gargoyles, to its blood-red color (not to mention the red balloons left by someone—or something). I would expect nothing less from the King of horror. And the fall foliage only added to the aesthetic.
It was a rainy day in Bangor, but it cleared up right before I arrived at the house (thanks, goddesses). I got few minutes alone to take photos before others who made the pilgrimage started showing up in staggered groups, ending with about 7-8 people total before I left, though I’m sure people come and go all day. It was nice to see how calm and respectful King fans are, especially considering the driveway was open and anybody could’ve walked onto the property—warned first, of course, by a “24-hour surveillance” sign.
While most fans hope to catch a glimpse of the author himself, I’ve read that King no longer lives here full-time (I’m sure the most prolific horror writer in the U.S. has a multitude of homes). He and his wife Tabitha are in the process of turning the house into an office for King’s estate, a home for his archives, and as a retreat spot for visiting writers.
The wooden sculpture in the front yard was just unveiled in April 2020. King hired Josh Landry, a chainsaw sculptor based in Maine, to transform the dead remnants of a massive ash tree that was partially removed a few years ago into a sculpture featuring animals and books. The longer I looked at this, the more details I noticed, like that the legs of the bookshelf are made to look like human legs and feet, and the dog at the bottom appears to be a Corgi, a nod to King having been the owner of multiple Corgis, including his current familiar, Molly, aka the Thing of Evil.
While in Bangor, I saw a lot of King-related sights, namely because King based the fictional Derry, Maine featured in some of his novels—including arguably his most ubiquitous, the nearly-1,200-page It—on the town. Check out my post on that stuff here!
P. S. If you’re interested in planning your own Stephen King-inspired trip to Bangor, I recommend this travel blog, Oddities & Curiosities. These guys made a custom Google map showing exactly where all the hot spots are, and I found it really useful. I’ve also heard of guided tours in Bangor for all things King, but I didn’t look into them too much in favor of keeping social distance.