FORT MILL — John Trigg was the son of a toy man before big-box retailers put the independent toy shop operator out of business. When the business died, Triggs father, Tracy, started selling big-boy toys recreational vehicles and equipment for other outdoor pursuits.
Son followed father into the business at Tracy Trigg RV in Matthews, N.C. In 1986 John Trigg branched out, purchasing the campground on Gold Hill Road west of Fort Mill.
A meeting with some permanent residents of the campground in 1994 forever changed Trigg.
They wanted to have a Halloween event for the dozen or so children who lived at the campground. Trigg cleaned out an old house on the property. The house was at least 107 years old at the time. Trigg found a predecessor of The Herald dated March 1, 1887 glued to the wall.
He turned the house into a maze and opened it to the public. In just four days, the event drew about about 750 people.
The next year Trigg added more to the attraction. Soon his passion became toys of terror.
His simple Halloween haunt has turned into three acres of twisty trails that attract thousands of visitors annually. Its more than just a bump-in-the-night experience. He wants to make you scream, to shake, and he even will spark you with low-voltage panels.
He wants to assault your eyes, ears and even your nose.
Along the way there are smells of death and decay.
And, there is even an aroma so nasty that it affects the actors it spews from an exploding toilet that sometimes showers patrons.
The 18-day extravaganza is, he boasts, either a living horror movie or your worst nightmare.
We know weve got you good when you lose the jewelry out of your ears. Trigg said.
From its simple beginnings the Campground Massacre has grown to a combination of pneumatic props, fog generators and water pumps, realistic plastic figures and 50 mostly unseen actors who yell, jump and scream when you least expect it. The massacre celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
Between props and actors, Triggs fright investment is approaching $1 million. Admission revenue, and the fact that the haunt helps bring more business to the real campground, helps offset some of Triggs haunting ambitions.
The haunt gets its name from its initial scene. There are strings of well-worn travel trailers, surrounded and filled with decaying and dead bodies. If you are not careful, rattling bones will jump at you from broken trailer windows. The culminating experience is an expanded trailer with multiple frights and the exploding toilet.
Nothing goes to waste at the Campground Massacre. When Trigg had to replace the campgrounds water tank, he hauled the old one to the massacre site, took off the ends and then created a slimy, water-dripping tunnel visitors much pass through to get to other haunts.
Dripping water, or hanging fish line that feels like spiders webs, blasts of cold air and ground-clinging fog help create the mood.
To add to the tension, there are more than 40 pneumatically controlled creatures and events. Some, such as the giant Impaler, are meant to capture peoples attention before a scare. Rising 13 feet into the air and roaring and flailing its arm bones, the Impaler is the wow factor. Tripp said.
The lights and motion of the Impaler have your attention in the dark. The scare, however, comes from the voice of the unseen actor who is controlling the Impaler
Tripp admits that while the technology appeals to him, it is usually the simplest, human actions that produce the greatest scares or, as they call them in the business, pop or startle scares.
One of the better pop scares happens as patrons enter the haunts redneck village. Momma redneck is chewing on a bloody leg. Her son is there too in a yard full of trash. Blasts from a propane tank light up the night sky with an eerie orange glow.
As the patrons walk along a boardwalk, they trip a sensor. A door starts shaking, lights start to blink, your attention is captured. Boom. A false window drops. Out pops a bloody head, screaming at you.
You are so scared that to you jump back as much as you are going forward, Trigg said.
Trigg boasts you cant see the entire haunt in just one or two visits. To keep people coming back he adds more each year and moves things around, all in the quest of the perfect fright.
It started out as an art project, a creative outlet, he said. But once I started building, I got the bug and I kept building.
John Trigg, son of a toy man, is now a full-fledged haunter.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066