MACHIAS, Maine — On Thursday night, viewers of a new National Geographic television series are invited to watch Machias resident Bill Kitchen living alone, totally isolated, at an abandoned amusement park that some believe is haunted.
Kitchen is among a handful of subjects featured in the four-part series “The Watch,” which premieres at 10 p.m. April 9.
A teaser for the show states, “The mind, when left alone, is an interesting thing to watch …”
“The concept is to follow four people who are living alone in a remote, challenging environment,” said Kitchen, who is no stranger to isolation. He was featured in the BDN in 2012 after living alone for 16 months in the Little River Lighthouse on the 16-acre Little River Island at the mouth of Cutler Harbor.
In fact, it was because of his experience at that lighthouse — and the publicity surrounding it — that National Geographic contacted him about 15 months ago and asked if he would be interested in being part of a pilot episode for this show.
The pilot, filmed in February 2014, featured Kitchen at Mount Desert Rock lighthouse, located on a remote, treeless island about 25 miles off the coast from Bar Harbor.
The pilot never aired, but the show officially got the “green light” in October 2014.
Kitchen expected to be sent to another lighthouse but, instead, spent the summer of 2014 at the Lake Shawnee Amusement Park, located in Princeton, West Virginia, and abandoned in 1966. Referred to as “Billy” in the episode, Kitchen lived in a motorhome on the property and was assigned to mow, fix fences and keep out trespassers who might be looking to connect with the dead at the rumored-to-be haunted park.
“From a liability standpoint, they have to try to keep people off [the property],” Kitchen said Tuesday.
“It was probably almost every day, someone showed up, often at night,” said Kitchen, who was armed only with a flashlight.
Kitchen lived on the property for a couple of weeks before a film crew spent two days installing cameras and began filming him.
“This crew shows up, a crew that is burying wires everywhere and there’s people on ladders. It’s amazing,” he said. “They keep putting cameras everywhere, indoors and outdoors … There were cameras in the bedroom, everywhere.”
The 20 cameras ran continually with members of the crew several miles off site monitoring the footage.
In addition to stationary cameras, Kitchen was given a handheld unit equipped with two cameras so he could film what was in front of him and his reaction to it at the same time. Footage from this unit is used in Thursday night’s episode in a segment featuring Kitchen and two of what he calls “creepy” old school buses on the park property.
Kitchen was not allowed to watch movies or listen to music to avoid copyright issues related to the filming. The crew also wanted him to feel isolated.
“I knew I was going to be off the grid. I didn’t know to what extent. I thought that I would be allowed to, at least at times, go online. Well, they explained the way they wanted to do this was not only are you not online, you can’t use your mobile phone,” he said. “They really wanted to isolate me as much as they possibly could. No newspaper, no news, no human contact.”
Kitchen said his relationship with the cameras evolved in stages during the six weeks of filming. At first, he would forget and then be reminded that he was on camera. By about the third day, he was always aware he was being filmed. By the end of the first week, he was aware but no longer cared.
“You know [cameras] are there but it doesn’t change a thing. Hey, this is me,” he said.
Next, he started seeing the cameras as companions. “Because you’re so isolated, you become so starved for interaction that the cameras become your friend,” said Kitchen, describing how he would wave and say good morning to one camera on his way to the bathroom.
When filming was done in August and the crew came to retrieve its equipment, Kitchen was sad.
“It was like my friends [the cameras] were leaving,” he said.
Kitchen said he was not prepared for the transition back to normal life.
“I didn’t want to see anybody. I didn’t want to leave the house,” he said. “I had virtually no interest in checking my email or Facebook or looking at Google News, all of which I am pretty religious about doing.”
It took about three months for him to gradually become himself again, socializing and using the computer.
“That was almost as fascinating a process as acclimating to the isolation,” he said. “It was way more emotional both during and after than I ever expected.”
The owner of the old amusement park actually wanted him to stay on as caretaker.
“If I didn’t love Maine so much, I probably would have,” Kitchen said.
He said his mom, who lives in Arizona, is excited about the show and has been telling her friends about it.
“I said, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t tell your friends about it until after you’ve watched it,’” he quipped. “If you have 20 plus cameras on you 24 [hours], seven [days a week] for six weeks, an editor can make you look any way they want to.”