Consistently ranked as one of the best haunted houses in the nation, The 13th Gate is the place to go if you are looking for a thrill. We sat down with owner Dwayne Sanburn to talk about how he got started, the expansion of his business, and what he has planned for the Halloween season.
Visit Baton Rouge: How did The 13th Gate come to be?
Dwayne Sanburn: As a kid, I always loved Halloween and scary movies. I went to my first haunted house when I was about 15 years old, and I just absolutely fell in love. I said, “This is what I'm gonna do.” I quickly realized when I got to high school that it was a business, and I was gonna have to make money to be able to open my own. I went to nursing school, and the week I graduated I rented my first building in Alexandria. A year later we opened up Louisiana Nightmares while I worked for the VA Medical Center as an ICU critical care nurse.
VBR: What does it mean to you to be a locally-owned Baton Rouge business?
DS: I love being in business here. I get to do what I love, which is create, and everyone seems to enjoy what we do. The people here have always supported The 13th Gate. We've become a Halloween tradition in Baton Rouge and I appreciate everyone coming out and supporting us.
VBR: What kind of changes and improvements do you make year-to-year to continue drawing interest and bring in new scares?
DS: I do a lot of things throughout the year to get ideas. I talk to customers, see what's trending, watch new horror movies, read horror books and go to other attractions. Every time I go on vacation, I end up in some cave or something. I'm always looking for the next big thing. And, that's how I discovered escape rooms. There were very few escape rooms in the country when I first opened 13th Gate Escape. We found out that they were really big in Canada, flew there to look at them, and then came back and started creating. I am always watching, analyzing, and talking to the public, so we can continue to innovate and create things that people love.
VBR: How did you make the decision to add escape rooms to The 13th Gate?
DS: For the most part, each escape room has nothing to do with horror, and you're gonna have a totally different experience walking into each one. As soon as you open the door to an escape room, you're transported somewhere else. Cutthroat Cavern, for example, has a lot of influence from “The Goonies,” “Indiana Jones,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” It has a big pirate ship, and there are a lot of things to interact with. While The Disappearance of Flight 13, our newest game, has a flying plane, and it's very sci-fi – straight out of “The Twilight Zone.”
VBR: How does the experience in the escape rooms differ from the haunted house?
DS: The really neat thing about escape rooms is that once you play one, you want to play them all, because they're that fun. A lot of people come here not knowing what to expect, and then they're booking the next one before they walk out the door. Corporate groups come during the day because this is the best team-building activity you could possibly do. All the puzzles are designed where you have to work together, so you have to communicate if you want to escape; it's definitely a team game.
VBR: So Halloween is just around the corner; when do you start planning & building out the new additions to add to the haunted house each year?
DS: We start immediately after we close. We will start tearing out immediately and start building for the next year. People think that because it is seasonal we only work a couple of weeks out of the year, but this is a very, very detailed attraction and it takes a lot of work to maintain, and rebuild it every year. Between the escape rooms and the haunted house, we're constantly working.
VBR: What kinds of people visit The 13th Gate each season?
DS: We have a lot of people for whom coming to the 13th Gate has become an annual Halloween tradition. Our demographic has everyone—we get younger kids who you can't scare, but who love horror. And then you get a lot of the teenage crowd, but we get plenty of families as well. There have been many times that I have seen three generations come through together.
VBR: Do you have any tips or anything you want to tease about new scares and changes for this year?
DS: I encourage everyone to come early, because crowds do get big on the weekends. Thursday or Sunday nights are the nights with a little slower crowd, and you can get right in on those days. I think everyone should just come and see, because we have a lot of surprises and things they're not gonna expect this year for sure.
Dwayne’s love for creating new thrills keeps him at the top of his game and keeps customers coming back every year to see what new things are in store. Check it out for yourself, and experience this season’s additions to the scariest haunted house in the South. The 13th Gate Haunted House is now open for the season; find dates and pricing at 13thgate.com. Check out their website for details on the escape rooms, open year-round, seven days a week.