He dreamed of screams: Meet the man behind the modern haunted house

By John Kelly Columnist October 26, 2016

Itsi Atkins always believed that if he built it, they would scream.

And they did, by the thousands, at Blood Manor, the pulse-pounding, scream-inducing haunted house Itsi unveiled in 1971. When it became world famous — when a British tabloid called it “the sickest show in America” — Itsi knew that it had all been worth it — all that blood, all those severed limbs, all those fake guts and fake snakes, all those monsters, murderers and ghouls…

And to think it started in the wilds of St. Mary’s County, Md.
With Halloween bearing down on us like an ax-wielding maniac, now’s a good time to remember Edwin “Itsi” Atkins, pioneer of fright.

“In all my research, I can’t find anybody who has a live-action haunted house before 1971,” Itsi told me when I rang him up in Georgia, where he lives now. Yes, people had “yard haunts” — elaborate decorations in their front yards — and Disneyland had its Haunted Mansion. But that was an amusement-park ride, which took safely seat-belted riders through a gently scary attraction.

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