The Carolina Sternwheeler was transformed into the SCarolina Sternwheeler as a part of the Voodoo Island attraction.
During the early years of Carowinds, the park celebrated the Halloween season with various fall festivals and other celebrations. Nothing truly substantial arrived until the dawn of SCarowinds! When Paramount Parks took ownership of the park, they brought the grandeur and scale of Hollywood to the Carolinas. They wanted to celebrate Halloween in a BIG way.
The Carolinas’ premier Halloween event emerged in the year 2000. Creatives from some of the themed entertainment industry’s top Halloween attractions helped create this new nightmare. “Believe it or not, they brought in folks that had worked at Knott’s Berry Farm and Universal to help us build the initial program. It was very small compared to today’s standards,” said Jerry Helms, Carowinds Vice President of Operations.
One of the early park SCarowinds sign marquees with the now iconic “S”.
There were less than 100 monsters and since this first year was a test of the event, it had a limited number of attractions and offerings. One of those original monsters was Amy Arpan. She began at the park in 1998, after auditioning for Carowinds on a tour stopping in Columbia, South Carolina. She performed as a clown and did magic during the day, and when SCarowinds began she set on her sights on providing frights for guests on event nights.
It was rare for show performers to be a part of SCarowinds in the early years since the singers had to rest their voices for the shows. The audition process would include performers picking up a picture of a monster on a table and then acting out their interpretation of the creature. Another year those auditioning were given scripts and had to portray a doctor and patient. One year performers were given a character and had to portray them to different styles of music. Amy was cast as Casta Spellonyou, the queen of the legendary Voodoo Island attraction. Every 3 minutes a summoning ceremony was held and zombies would emerge from the woods and run toward guests. Amy said that the event had “Fewer attractions and smaller casts. It was really based on experiences the guest would have. A beginning, middle, and end story at each little stop”.
Photo by Robert Padgett from The Charlotte Observer and from Amy Arpan’s Personal Collection
Angel Bordner started working at Carowinds after visiting a job fair with her sister, who wanted to work there. She worked in Merchandise the first year and then joined the Entertainment team as a costumed character cohort and performer. Her first year of SCarowinds she was in House of Darkness, a maze that was a hodgepodge of scary scenes. Today, we have an army makeup artists and costumers but that wasn’t always the case. Angel reflected on her first character: “You did your own makeup. Eventually you got a picture to go off of. Our costumes were very simple. We all had cloaks and I had a spider web over my cloak. Our makeup was very simple. I had a white face with black around my eyes,” she said.
A performer applying their own makeup, a common practice in the first year.
Only some of the park was open and a good portion of the mazes were outside. A screaming pumpkin engulfed by flames was featured on most of marketing materials. The now iconic blood shaped into the letter “S” was plastered over the normal Carowinds logo. Some of the original frights that guests experienced included: Superstition, House of Darkness, Voodoo Island, Terror Visions in 3-D, Maze of Madness, Fear Fest, Southern Night-Mares, Sleepy Hollow and Camp Ha-chet-taw. The park had little atmosphere on the midways, but tried lots of different things. Rides were given scary names, a pirate insulted guests from atop the SCarolina Sternwheeler, and there were briefly chainsaw wielding creatures terrorizing guests on the log flume. There was a heavy focus on having theatrical moments, inspired by the showmanship of Paramount.
A horrifying scarecrow watches for guests in the night fog.
The event was a huge success, growing in size and popularity over the years. The growth of the event exploded when Cedar Fair purchased Carowinds. The company’s experience with Knott’s Scary Farm brought a depth of understanding to creating successful haunted attractions. Now siblings with the groundbreaking Halloween event, Knott’s Scary Farm and other great Haunt events would inject new blood into this monster of a celebration.
Today, the SCarowinds Terror Team boasts a horde of about 400 monsters, 15 attractions, and 3 shows. Horrors await guests across the entire park. Menacing main characters ruling over SCarowinds over the years included The Overlord and The Witch. The popular event set the stage for the many events we have today, giving Season Passholders reasons to come back throughout the year.
Our Terror Team has truly appreciated having SCarowinds be their Halloween home over the years. Helms says, “It’s a chance for them to be complete 180 from who they are. We’ve had bankers, we’ve had lawyers…you would be surprised.” Today, Bordner still works with the event as a Maze Manager and a growing sense of community has kept her coming back year after year. In the early years performers were very spread out and today many of our monsters bond through this massive production.
“Everybody’s unique and different in a good way,” she says. “In the beginning you didn’t see everyone. Now we’re all one big family unit.” SCarowinds provides the chance for so many people to perform for the first time or do what they love every week as a job. Arpan thinks that means something special to our local community. “It provided them a huge, safe, fair environment to do what they love AND get paid for it,” she said.
Angel Bordner performing in the early years of SCarowinds.
When the fog rolls in, it’s one of our most popular times of the year to visit. Our guests and the community truly love SCarowinds. Arpan thinks it brought “good clean Halloween fun” on a large scale to the area. “I think they brought a level of promised quality and safety that might not have existed in the Carolinas before,” she said. “I think they made it more mainstream”.
Of course, everyone has their favorite scare stories. However, Arpan’s is the most unique because it doesn’t involve any guests. One day backstage a wardrobe supervisor expressed his fear of being alone in the Paramount Theater. That was a huge mistake. On a planned night after hours, Arpan and her scare partner agreed on a code word as a cue to jump out of a non-operating washing machine backstage when the supervisor was there. When Amy shot out of the washing machine with a shriek, she only briefly saw him - he had vanished.
“He jumped straight into the air, screamed, and hit the ground running,” she said. “He was no longer in the theater. He was halfway down the service road and was not looking back. He was running for his life.”
“We finished his laundry that night.”