Thursday, May 25, 2000

Itinerary: A Journey with Johnny Dixon

By James Card (May 22, 2000)
(Originally published at

I've been to some places described in John Bellairs’ novels, and I hope to see more in the coming years as I get a chance. Some are real places, and some are inspired by real places. Here are some....

In April 1996 I convinced my father to take me to New Hampshire. We always went to the Adirondacks (seeing we are from central New York), but after reading about the White Mountains in several of Bellairs’ novels, I really wanted to visit them.

In The Curse of the Blue Figurine, Johnny and the professor venture to Franconia Notch State Park, slightly west of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range in White Mountain National Forest. I stayed overnight in Lincoln, where Johnny and the professor probably stayed. As humorously described in the book, the Notch area is dominated by a famous rock formation. In Curse the formation is the Hag; in real life the formation is called the Old Man or the Profile. It is really quite a sight. The mountain that held the Hag was Hellbent Mountain. Cannon Mountain holds the Old Man. Below Hellbent Mountain is Hag Lake; below Cannon Mountain is Profile Lake.

And all around the area, like in the book, name after name is taken from the famous formation. Some examples: Profile Auto Garage, Profile Bank, Profile Club golf course, Old Man Boat Rentals, Profile High School, and the Profile Cafe (where we ate). In Lincoln I stayed in a cottage similar to the one Johnny and the professor slept in called the Profile Motel.

Like Hellbent Mountain, Cannon Mountain also is lined with many hiking trails (and on the opposite side of the Profile on Cannon, there is a gondolier service that takes tourists to the top). I hiked the trails and took the gondolier up as well.

Remember when Johnny and the professor eat at Polly's Pancake Parlor? It is a real place! Located in Sugar Hill, it is known to have the best pancakes in the Northeast. It was established in 1933, and indeed the pancakes were the best I've ever had. Also in Curse, I rode the entire length of the scenic Kancamagus Highway like Johnny and the professor had.

You know Mount Chocorua in The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt, the peak Johnny hikes while in the Boy Scouts? The Glomus Estate is also located near the foot of the mountain. Well, the mountain and the small lake next to it are real places. I hiked Chocorua. And you know Kancamagus Center, where Mrs. Woodley ran the Squam House? It is a real place as well, and it looks much like it did in Mummy (fortunately for Kancamagus Center, there is no Mrs. Woodley).

At the end of Mummy the professor and Fergie rescue Johnny and take him up to the nearest hospital in North Conway. The professor's description of North Conway is true: "[It] is a rich little town where people come to ski and drink and sit around and be bored. [153]"  It is also the place where the many tourists who visit nearby Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast and the second most-visited mountain in the world, stay. Luckily for me and the professor as well, we did not stay at North Conway during the skiing season.

In The Spell of the Sorcerer’s Skull there is a lovely little town in the south of New Hampshire called Fitzwilliam. Fitzwilliam is a real place, and the description of the Village Green in the town (also real), which is where Mr. Spofford's Inn was located, is right on target.

Also in April 1996, I took a trip to the Penobscot Bay area on the mid-coast of Maine. As described in Spell, Father Higgins and the two boys drive to Rockland in their search for the professor and take a ferry to Vinalhaven Island. They stayed at Vinalhaven. I didn't stay on the island, but I did stay at an inn on Rockland (I wanted to visit the other islands; unlike Higgins and company I was on a pleasure jaunt). I did spend an entire day at Vinalhaven. Like the three characters, I took a ferry to the island. Bellairs’ description of the ferry (it is called the Governor Curtis Ferry) is perfect, right down to the bus-like seats and water fountains in the two cabins and the loud roaring of the motor. Luckily for me, I didn't see any scarecrows in either cabin!

Bellairs's description of Vinalhaven was also right. The layout of the village was just like it was in the book. Many little details were also correct. For example, you know the Lobster Pot Inn? Believe me, lobster pots are all over the island! I saw them everywhere, stacked up against houses and in piles on the sides of roads. And you know the granite quarry Higgins and the boys walked past? The quarry is real, and the interior of the island is loaded with granite deposits. A lot of these deposits have been mined, leaving pools of water that are very popular among the tourists for swimming.

What I loved about the island most is the fact that it is frozen in time. The village section of the town looks almost exactly like it did in 1952, when Higgins and Johnny and Fergie visited it (I checked; I bought a postcard showing it in the early fifties).

From my experience, Van Twiller, the site of the Windrow Estate in The Revenge of the Wizard’s Ghost, is very much like other towns along the Hudson River in New York. Stark Corners, the town in New Hampshire as described in The Eyes of the Killer Robot, is another place to check out.

As for The Trolley to Yesterday, I really would like to know if there is a 350-year-old house in real-life Topsfield that Bellairs used as inspiration. I already know that the information and facts pointed out in The Trolley to Yesterday during the professor and the boys' journey to Constantinople are very accurate. One day I would like to visit Istanbul myself.

I wonder if there are any towns that fit the description of Stone Arabia, the Maine village featured in The Chessmen of Doom? From what I've read, the descriptions of Glastonbury, Bristol, and the Isle of Lundy in The Secret of the Underground Room are very accurate. I would like to visit these places someday. I could go on and on.

Each book has at least one place which could be visited and checked out. I've only visited the places that are fairly near me (some I haven't mentioned, like Fenway Park and Boston Garden, for example).

All in all, Bellairs surely had good taste when he went on vacation. All of the places I've visited have made utterly fascinating trips. I look forward to more journeys in the coming years.

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