A young child’s voice eerily asks, “Want to play a game?”
As the child begins to laugh, a door suddenly flies opens and an organ covered with skulls starts to play. A casket in the corner comes alive as a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning strikes.
Welcome to Plantation Blood.
And this is just the first room in a more than 30,000-square-foot haunted house in south Augusta located off Wallie Avenue that is definitely not for the faint of heart.
“We’ve had many, many people pee in their pants because they were so scared,” Mark Jackson, co-owner of Plantation Blood said, laughing. “That happens quite often. In fact, one experience that I won’t forget is, there was a couple and it was their first date. This young guy had on khaki britches and, bless his heart, he messed his khaki britches up on their first date. I don’t know if he ever got a second date or not, but hopefully he did.”
After 10 seasons of operating Plantation Blood, Jackson said he always encourages visitors to take advantage of the onsite Port-O-Lets before entering the haunted house.
“A lot of times, these folks will come right after supper and they will grab some sodas at the concession stand as they wait in line. They don’t think about going to the Port-O-Lets before they go through,” Jackson said, chuckling. “Then, one of our actors jumps out at them and, the next thing they know, they pee on themselves. But it’s all in fun. It’s part of the scare.”
During the fall and early winter months, Jackson is one busy man.
As the co-owner of Plantation Blood and part owner of Winterland: Lights of the South & Augusta On Ice in Grovetown, Jackson has definitely earned the nickname of “Mr. Holiday.”
“I really enjoy the seasonal business,” Jackson said. “It’s just so much fun to see everyone smiling and having a good time. It makes you wish everyday life was always like that. No one is in a bad mood, and people are just out enjoying a good time with their friends and family.”
About 10 years ago, a friend approached Jackson, who also owns Southern Nature Landscaping Inc., about developing Plantation Blood.
“Ten seasons ago, we were in a down economy and things started to tremendously slow down with my landscaping company back then,” Jackson said. “So, a buddy of mine came to me and asked, ‘What are you doing with that property you own in south Augusta?’ Because all of this land is zoned commercial.”
His friend had already run a local haunted house for a few years, but he was always forced to rent a spot each season.
“He said, ‘What do you think about you and me teaming up and doing a haunt?’” Jackson said, laughing, “I didn’t know anything about the haunted house business, but he said, ‘You know enough about business. We could really make this happen.’ And he was absolutely right. Even during a down economy, it was overwhelming the number of people who would come out to the haunted house. At the time, people were looking to do something that would make them happy and make them smile.”
Ever since Plantation Blood first opened its doors a decade ago, this popular haunt has continued to grow and attracts thousands of visitors each year.
The haunted house now actually extends to four separate buildings, said Mike Theberge, who has designed and built the majority of Plantation Blood.
“We try to scare you around every corner,” Theberge said, chuckling. “The whole room is animated and comes alive.”
Plantation Blood advertises that this haunted house will “violate your personal space in the extreme,” but it won’t drag anyone away from their friends and family.
“We blow fans on their heads and some of the areas even spit water at them,” Theberge said, as he walked over to a hideous demon-like monster hanging from the wall. “An actor will put his arms through here and grab people as they walk by.”
While it can be scary, it’s all in good fun, Jackson said.
“For me, my favorite area of Plantation Blood is the clown house,” Jackson said. “All of our cast does a great job, but that’s my favorite area because it is really scary. And you wouldn’t believe how many people are scared to death of clowns. I mean, it is a real phobia. People are terrified of clowns.”
Jackson said he always knows Plantation Blood is enjoying a successful night when the air is filled with a combination of laughter and screams.
“Each year, there’s a whole new crop of kids and teens who come to Plantation Blood because some kids may not have been old enough last year, but this year, now their parents might allow them to come,” Jackson said. “For example, my daughter turns 13 this week and she’s never been through the haunt. So, this year, she is having her birthday party here and she’s really looking forward to inviting her friends and going through Plantation Blood for the very first time.”
Visitors come from all over the CSRA and beyond to experience the true terror of Plantation Blood, Jackson said.
“This is not just an attraction for Augusta. We have patrons that come from Beaufort, S.C., Lake Oconee, Greenville, S.C., and a lot of people from Columbia,” Jackson said. “When it comes to haunted houses, people either love them or they don’t. And the people who love haunts, they don’t mind making the drive because, for them, it’s an entire experience with their friends because that’s what they love to do.”
In fact, Jackson said Plantation Blood has a lot of visitors who are simply passing through the area, but happen to see a billboard advertising the haunted house and they decide to check it out.
“We had a group on their way up to Pennsylvania and they stopped in Augusta to visit Planation Blood after they saw our billboard,” he said. “People love our haunt because it’s such a fun environment. If you go to a haunt in some place like Atlanta, it’s a totally different experience. A lot of the haunted houses in Atlanta are hard to get in, hard to get out and you have to pay to park. Here, we have all of our parking on hand.”
Because Plantation Blood attracts so many people from across the region each year, Jackson joked that some local residents question why the haunt is located in south Augusta.
“People will ask me all the time, ‘What made you think of putting it in south Augusta?’ I always tell them, ‘Really and truly, this is a perfect area for it,’” Jackson said, pointing to the huge, fenced-in property off Wallie Avenue. “Personally, I absolutely love south Augusta. But some people are actually scared to come to south Augusta, especially if they live in Columbia County. It’s amazing to me. So, I joke with them and say, ‘Hey, there is really nothing scary about visiting a haunted house outside of West Lake. You can venture out a little ways.’”
Ironically, Jackson said having Plantation Blood in south Augusta actually adds to some visitors’ scare for the night.
“Believe it or not, for some people, they are scared on the way here. They are scared when they get here and they don’t feel like they are safe until they are back in their own driveway,” Jackson said, chuckling. “So, the entire night is a complete experience.”
But more than anything, Jackson said he wants visitors to feel like they can enjoy the haunted house without any worries.
“I want them to get a good scare, but I also want people to know that a big part of our haunted experience is safety,” he said. “We invest a lot of money in our fire system.
We have the same type of fire control board system that a hotel would have. We also have a security staff, Richmond County deputies on hand and we have a fire marshal on site every single night. So, when you come to our haunt or bring your children here, they will be safe.”
A few years ago, Plantation Blood even created a “midway area” that is completely surrounded by a fence that separates patrons from the parking area.
“That way, once your kids are in Plantation Blood, they are inside the gate,” Jackson said. “Because a lot of times parents will drop their teens off and go to Applebee’s or T’s Restaurant to eat and come back and pick their kids up. So we keep them in our midway area, away from the parking lot and away from any outsiders who might want to just come hang out. We don’t want people there for the wrong reasons.”
While some teens are dropped off at Plantation Blood, Jackson said he especially loves seeing entire families come and experience the haunt.
“We encourage parents to stay onsite,” he said. “We invite them to go to the midway area if they don’t want to go through the haunt, get yourself a Coke, have a seat and make yourself at home. There is a stage there, and we always have performers doing great acts. I love when the parents stay because, to me, that adds to the safety of their children being on our property.”
Even before Plantation Blood ends its season, Jackson is already busy preparing for the opening of Winterland: Lights of the South & Augusta On Ice off Louisville Road in Grovetown.
Winterland is the new name for the Christmas attraction because Lights of the South has teamed up with Augusta On Ice owners Chris and Mike Boerner to add an ice skating rink to the festivities.
This year, visitors can marvel at the thousands of holiday lights, enjoy the hay rides, roast marshmallows for S’mores, sip hot chocolate and ice skate all at one location.
“This is my third season with Lights of the South, now Winterland. I oversee all of the activities there, and it’s just amazing,” Jackson said. “The holidays are my favorite time of the year, and there’s always so much going on out there. It truly is a family tradition for a lot of people.”
Many visitors make plans to attend Lights of the South each year because of its quaint atmosphere, he said.
“It’s a good feeling to be able to park out there in a field, get on a tractor and go through the woods and enjoy a huge holiday light display,” Jackson said. “I love that it’s in a rural area. That’s where it needs to be. And there’s like 114 acres out there, but we are only using about 40 acres of it, right now. So, there’s room to expand even more in the future.”
While overseeing both Plantation Blood and Winterland in the fall and winter months can get a little hectic, Jackson said he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I absolutely love it, and I am super appreciative,” he said. “I really enjoy being involved in both locations, and I can’t wait for the holidays to roll around each and every year. Right now, it’s all about Halloween, but Christmas is right around the corner. I honestly can’t get enough of it. I love everything about the holidays.”