Durham, North Carolina – Did you know that many spooky locations of major events in Stranger Things are based on real locations right here in the Triangle?
Before the rest of Season 4 is released on Netflix next weekend, you can visit the eerie crossroads of Kerley and Cornwallis in Durham – a heavily wooded intersection near Duke Forest, which is the exact location known as Mirkwood in the series, where Will Byers is first chased by the demogorgon before disappearing into the Upside Down.
Mirkwood isn’t the only location referenced in Stranger Things, whose writers the Duffer Brothers grew up in Durham, attending Charles E. Jordan High School. There is also mention of the iconic restaurant Enzo’s, the Eno River, Lake Jordan, and the iconic neighborhood with “good Halloween candy” known as Lochn’ora. There are also theories that the rock quarry where ‘Will’s body’ is located is the same quarry the Durham students visited at the River Eno – and that the Dungeons & Dragon panic of season 4 could make referencing urban legends and a true murder case centered on NC state steam tunnels.
In fact, much of Hawkins is based on Durham and the Triangle itself – and the childhood memories of Ross and Matt Duffer.
“These places are within a mile or two radius of each other,” says Heath Jones, a YouTuber known as Uncle Clockwork who grew up in Durham in the 1980s.
Much like the kids in Stranger Things, he spent his teenage years at “Hawkins” and even played Dungeons & Dragons in his mom’s basement with his friends. He investigated many of the series’ “hidden references” to the Triangle – some well-known and some a bit more mysterious.
With his tips, you can also visit the spookiest places in Hawkins before watching the final episodes of Season 4 of Stranger Things.
Actual Stranger Things locations in Durham
Jones’ teenage years were a lot like the kids in Stranger Things. He even attended the same high school as the Duffer brothers.
“The show really brought back flashbacks of my childhood very strongly,” Jones says. “When they dressed up as Ghostbusters at Lochn’ora, it was my favorite movie that year. They were playing Dragon’s Lair, and it was one of my favorite games. The kids in the show do exactly that which I was doing in the 1980s.
He make a video visiting some of the Durham locations referenced in the show and sharing some of his insights and childhood memories.
“You can actually find fan-made maps and official Hawkins maps online that show how everything is laid out,” he says. “You’ll start to see all kinds of different Durham landmarks.”
1. Black wood
Mirkwood is one of the most popular real places to visit on a Durham Stranger Things tour.
In the show, the kids tell the police that Will Byers has gone missing around Mirkwood, which is their personal nickname for the place “where Kerley and Cornwallis meet”. Kids pick the nickname Mirkwood based on the largest forest in Lord of the Rings, because the intersection is on a spooky stretch of road surrounded by dense forest.
Eagle-eyed viewers like Jones immediately recognized the intersection of Kerley and Cornwallis as a very real intersection that exists in Durham.
Much like the intersection in the show, the real intersection is also surrounded by a very odd looking heavily wooded area near Duke Forest. One can almost imagine children rummaging through the thick, wild woods in search of their friend Will.
It makes you wonder if the Duffer brothers grew up telling ghost stories about the woods near Kerley and Cornwallis when they lived in the area.
Loch Nora is the Halloween candy district, where people hand out “full size candy bars”.
Loch Nora is known as a wealthy community in Hawkins. In Durham, not far from Kerley and Cornwallis, there is an area known as Lochn’ora, which is also a large area with beautiful houses.
Even more proof that it’s supposed to be in the same place: The curved brick sign and lettering at the entrance to the neighborhood in the TV show closely matches the actual entrance sign.
Can anyone from Durham confirm – does this area also give out good Halloween candy?
3. Jordan Lake, the Eno River (and Rock Quarry)
In Season 2, Will Byers creates a series of drawings that are eventually assembled into a map revealing secret underground tunnels. Bob Newby identifies two bodies of water that Triangle members have found instantly familiar: the Eno River and “Jordan Lake”.
However, Jones also uncovered a potential mystery. Jones thinks the rock quarry where “Will’s body” is located in season one could potentially be a reference to Eno Rock’s career.
“There’s a park located off Howe Street off I-85, and if you walk through the woods, you’ll find the rock quarry,” he says.
Jones says all of the students at Jordan High School, where the Duffer brothers attended, used to visit the rock quarry for Senior Skip Day, so it would have been a popular spot, likely well-known to the brothers.
“It was a senior tradition in my day,” Jones says. “But I went to this school about 15 years before them.”
4. Restaurants in Stranger Things: Enzo’s and Bullocks
Two places mentioned in the series are real restaurants you can frequent in Durham: Enzo’s and Bullock’s.
“On the show, Enzo’s is a fancy Italian place, but in real life, it’s a pizzeria just down from Duke Hospital,” Jones explains.
Bullocks is not specifically said to be a restaurant in the series; however, when Joyce suggested a place called ‘Bullocks’ as a landmark, Durhamites were immediately reminded of the popular barbecue spot.
“On the Hawkins map, it’s on Kerley Road,” Jones explains. “In real life it’s near Hillsborough Road.”
Jones says visitors heading to Durham to see Stranger Things locations can pop in for a meal at Enzo’s or Bullock’s for a real experience.
5. North Carolina State Steam Tunnels: Dungeons & Dragons Urban Legends
The most recent season of Stranger Things centers around the “dungeons and dragons panic” that was common in the 1980s.
While urban legends and D&D scary stories were told all over the country, one major urban legend centers around NC State University, right here in the Triangle.
Many NCSU students have heard of an urban legend of a group of D&D gamers who often played in stream tunnels in the 1980s, which were banned due to their dangerous nature. Some stories say they became too connected with their magical personas and started trying to use real magic – or got completely lost in the game. Some legends end in death.
The urban legend survived the very real “panic” of the 1980s when gaming was new, as well as two true crime cases. In the state of Michigan, a student who was playing D&D went missing and newspapers speculated that he may have gotten lost in the steam tunnels under the school while playing D&D with his friends. Meanwhile, at NCSU, a 19-year-old student named Christopher Pritchard has planned the murder of his family in hopes of obtaining their inheritance.
A Washington Post article about the book and the miniseries publication on Pritchard’s True Crime Story described him as “drugged and deep-dipped in the Dungeons and Dragons fantasy game”.
True crime history combined with D&D panic has allowed the urban legend of NC State’s steam tunnels to survive to this day.
Jones remembers being heavily affected by the fear and paranoia people had for D&D gamers as teenagers in the 1980s.
“My mother received a lot of criticism from her religious group for allowing her children to participate in such activities,” he says. “There was a stigma because it was about dragons, demons and wizards. Those who didn’t understand were worried – children gathering in basements, dressing up in weird clothes, pretending to chant spells. Panic based on ignorance.”
However, he says the game has kept teenagers off the streets and out of trouble. Her mother understood that the game used math, grammar, creativity, and even mythology and history.
“I was sitting at the kitchen table with friends instead of getting into trouble on the street,” he says.
6. Skull Rock
There’s no confirmation as to whether Skull Rock, a location in the series where Eddie Munson hides after being pinned as a “murderer”, thanks in part to his D&D association.
However, Jones thinks Skull Rock could also be a real place.
“I bet it could be in the park off Whitfield Road, just down from Lochnora. On the right there’s a park. 10 minutes into the woods there are several rocky outcrops,” he says.
Jones says locals have strange stories tied to these woods, including ghost stories of seeing a little girl running along the riverbank with a man chasing her with an axe.
“Standard ghost stuff,” he says. “Strange lights. Orbs in the trees. Cold spots. It’s weird.”
7. Other Durham Roads Mentioned in Stranger Things
Many other Durham references appeared in Stranger Things – including an overt Durham reference in Season 4, when Murray says, “You’re calling from Durham, North Carolina now” concealing their actual location. A small map of Durham, North Carolina is displayed on a screen.
Other roads and parks in Durham are mentioned as references in the show, such as Forest Hills Park, Mt. Sinai Road, Randolph Road and others.
Hawkins is an amalgamation of Durham, Montauk, and other weird towns the Duffer brothers watched in horror movies growing up.
As in Stranger Things, many neighborhoods have ghost stories told only by the children who live there. It leaves one wondering what ghost stories the Duffer Brothers told growing up in this Durham region – and how many more have been on the show without us knowing.
Now you can go visit most of them on your own to prepare for the release of the rest of Stranger Things Season 4. Uncle Clockwork’s Stranger Things Tour in Durham.