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Life imitates art in western Maine

When most of us think of Maine, we picture coastal fishing towns, preppy island resorts, and vintage lighthouses. A tour of western Maine is an adventure through lakes and forests in a region filled with real and imagined ties to novelist Stephen King. Bridgton, where King raised his children, became the town of “Castle Rock” in his stories. The writer summers at Lake Kezar (Dark Score Lake in the book “Bag of Bones”). Less than an hour from Portland, thousands visit this region to canoe, enjoy the fall foliage or ski. King’s sources of inspiration can also be traced.

Stephen King is from Durham, Maine, and is perhaps the best-known native son of the state. Whether you’re a fan of King or not, a tour of the southwestern state offers attractions for everyone: skiing on the Sugarloaf or Sunday River, great antique and local craft shops, romantic lakefront bed and breakfasts, and steamboat rides. by the Songo river. The other story is told by King in the thrillers of him and the locals whose lives surround him.

Western Maine grew as a logging center. The tales sprang from the loggers’ camps, where from September to April the workers shared work, meals and stories. The best place to see this heritage is at RJ Richard’s store (on Rangeley High Street), also known as “The Mad Whittler”. The son of a lumberjack who lived to be 93 years old, he makes a living by crafting life-size figures with a chainsaw. Ladies shouldn’t feel left out, Richard will introduce you to his worldwide “Bunny Club” by giving you a little wooden rabbit. Visit Rangeley Lakes’ Logging Museum, which features artwork dedicated to the lumberjack lore. “The Mad Whittler” himself directs the tour, full of spirit and appreciation.

Ask your Rangeley innkeeper or hotelier for a good spot to pick blueberries in season. Here, too, is a stone farmhouse with views of mountains near and far: this was the residence of Dr. Wilhelm Reich, an Austrian immigrant in the 1940s and 1950s to Maine, who was equal parts Sigmund Freud and Nikola Tesla. Reich was a proponent of a human energy he called “orgone.” A tour led by a volunteer who knew the scientist includes the doctor’s study, his B-movie technical crew, and the rooftop viewing platform. The view is captivating.

While in the Rangeley Lakes area, dine at the Kawanhee Inn and Restaurant in Weld, a log-framed lodge where a young Stephen King worked as a dishwasher. He orders the mild soup and finishes with a local dessert filled with blueberries. Teddy Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover are among those who came here to fly fish with “Fly Rod” Crosby, a colorful local woman who met Annie Oakley. Not far from here is Naples, a lakefront town where King worked as a kitchen boy at a defunct hotel called The Woodlands. There he met a black cook who served as a model for Dick Halloran, the clairvoyant chef in “The Shining.” The rest of the impetus for this story was King’s real-life winter job as caretaker of the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, built by a certain Francis Edgar Stanley. A must-see for both King readers and car lovers alike is The Stanley Museum in Kingfield, aptly named. This white-columned building, once a school, houses vintage steam cars from the early 20th century that broke land speed records. The museum’s founder, Susan Davis, will whisk you around town in style in a rare Stanley. Kingfield is best known for the slopes at Sugarloaf, for East Coast skiing there is no equal.

To top off a night here, dine at the stately Herbert Hotel, a restored Victorian building that was one of the first most refined stays north of Boston in its 1930s heyday. Traveling west, you’ll come to Route 302 at Bridgton. This city appears in fiction as “Castle Rock”, which appears in King’s fiction and is the name of the production company that turns the novels into movies. Food City supermarket in the little strip mall at 119 Main Street here was Federal Foods of King’s dream novel “The Mist.” If you’ve read the story, the store is identical to what his mind conjured up. Continue a short drive north to Lovell, where King has a summer home on Palmer Lane in the Kezar Lake area. On the main road here, King was hit by a pickup truck in June 1999; he has since donated ambulances to Bridgton’s Northern Cumberland Memorial Hospital on South High Street. For a possible King sighting, head to the nondescript market called Melby’s on Route 35 in North Waterford. Locals still call it Tut’s, an earlier name.

Stay north to Bethel, where you can have lunch or play 18 holes at the Bethel Inn. Later, grab a bite at Cho-Sun Sushi at 119 Main St. The owner, Pak Sun Lane, is a good friend of both King and his wife, the novelist Tabitha.

No trip to this region would be complete without a stop at Poland Springs. As you approach in your vehicle, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped out of the US and into a New England Oz. Once a Shaker town, the upper crust has flocked here to chat, spa, and drink the mineral waters since the 1910s. Tours of the beautiful period buildings, green grounds, and original water treatment facilities are offered (ask by Elliot Levy, the director of energy conservation). This is where Joseph P. Kennedy spent his honeymoon with Rose and where his children learned to play golf (at a Donald Ross course). Photos of the exhibition walls of the elite crowd. President Coolidge and Henry Ford were summer guests in an era when the wealthy insisted they only drink from Poland Springs. The stately stone entrance is one of only two buildings left from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where the world first tasted Aunt Jemima’s burgers, fries and pancakes. In the small Shaker community next to Poland Springs, visitors can tour their former homes, the meeting house, and shop for souvenirs, music, and literature at the gift shop.

Hiking, biking, presidential folklore and all set against the backdrop of America’s favorite thrillers. Go west, but make it to Maine.

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