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Wal-Mart may have Twilight Zone site

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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Friday, Oct. 27, 2006

People still get nervous around the former Dixmont State Hospital campus in Kilbuck, and with good reason.

Passers-by along Route 65 cast a wary eye toward what is now a Wal-Mart construction site, fearing a repeat of last month's massive landslide that closed the highway for nearly two weeks.

A scary possibility, certainly.

But the old mental hospital, which closed in 1984, was capable of triggering anxiety even without the potential sudden shift of half a million cubic yards of earth.

So say folks familiar with many of Dixmont's once dilapidated, now demolished buildings.

"A very spooky place," said Marty Patterson, the owner of a video production company headquartered in one of the few Dixmont structures that remain standing. "I saw things happen there that you really can't explain."

Patterson and several cohorts will relate their Dixmont experiences during a new episode of "World's Scariest Places," airing on the ABC Family channel at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Patterson, 45, of Ambridge, Beaver County, took an interest in Dixmont about five years ago while producing a pilot TV program, "Raw Fear."

With the consent of Dixmont's former owner, he and a crew spent time familiarizing themselves with its eerie and abandoned buildings.

"Imagine the Titanic if you put it on dry ground," Patterson said. "Paint was peeling off the walls, windows were missing, piles of dirt were everywhere, bats were flying all over the place."

Deplorable conditions, undoubtedly, but probably nothing that isn't being duplicated in many student apartments on McKee Place in Oakland. Let's get to some spooky stuff before we run out of space.

"One night, we were up there, and the open doors on both sides at the end of the hallway started violently slamming shut," Patterson recalled.

"Doors would slam shut all the time there because of the wind, but usually the doors on one side would fly shut and doors on the other side would fly open. So it was strange, having three, four, five sets of doors coming toward us slamming shut."

The "Raw Fear" pilot, titled "The Haunted Asylum," was shopped to the Discovery Channel and MTV. People in the industry talk. Eventually, ABC Family expressed an interest in Dixmont.

Patterson and fellow Dixmont aficionado Bryce Walat, 31, a technical writer from Kennedy, both were interviewed for the "Scariest Places" episode about a year ago.

Walat said he would not be surprised if the old hospital buildings were haunted by paranormal entities.

"While there isn't any clear, convincing evidence to say these things exist, there isn't any clear, convincing evidence to say that they don't," he said.

The idea that restless spirits might still wander the old Dixmont grounds raises an interesting possibility. Wal-Mart shoppers may have to get used to a supernatural variation on a familiar retail theme blaring over the store speakers:

"Exorcism needed in aisle six!"

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