South Charlotte

Feel creepy? Dead and Breakfast is for you

As Halloween approaches, there will be a spike in traffic through the Country Woods neighborhood of Mint Hill, where spectators hungry for a little Halloween fright will drive down the dead-end street of Maple Hollow Lane to see the Gildersleeve home.

The Gildersleeves - Chauna, 36, and Mark, 42 - started a haunted-inn theme nine years ago as a creative outlet to share their love of Halloween.

Mark, a creative director, and art director Chauna met while working at Paramount Parks' corporate office in Charlotte, where they managed various projects such as Carowinds' SCarowinds, Ohio's Kings Island-Scare Fest and Las Vegas' Star Trek: The Experience.

Mark, who grew up in Mint Hill, started his own agency in 2003. The business, Gildersleeve Creative, specializes in design for branded environments and themed entertainment for parks, restaurants and retailers.

The creepy Dead and Breakfast 13911 scene at the Gildersleeve home could stand up to any movie set, with its large iron entry gate illuminated by red glowing lights woven through the trees, casting an eerie glow over a large cemetery.

Beyond the gate, through a mist of fog, ghostly cemetery occupants can be seen alongside skeleton counterparts hanging from the branches of moss-draped trees.

Mark said he and Chauna enjoy working on a project where they have creative control limited only by budget, but says the budget can be the most challenging part.

The largest portion of the budget goes toward the electricity it takes to run the lights, special effects, foggers and sound effects, but Mark said it all works out.

"Since Halloween falls in between air conditioning and heating season, it fills the gap perfectly," he said.

"It's all about getting the biggest bang for the buck."

It helps that the two personally design and create all the pieces.

They start with ordinary household items, transforming them into something entirely different, or they create a new item and make it look old.

Chauna said they like to add at least one new piece to the scene every year to freshen it up and keep it interesting. Mark estimates that they spend $650 a year on supplies and electricity.

This year they also solicited students from the UNC Charlotte Theater Department to assist with the installation.

"Although all the things we do are just for fun at Halloween, we use all the same tricks and methods that we do when designing professional scenery and set work," said Mark.

"I really love watching people's expressions when they see our house," he said.

He said the children in the neighborhood like the scary house scene and that his 12-year-old daughter, Ashley, thinks the house is awesome. Mark also said his neighbors are supportive.

"I just hope that our neighbors understand that it's all in fun," said Mark. "We're not scary people or freaks or anything. We just love Halloween and like to have fun with it."