One book leads to another...

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Guardian of Purgatory

There needn’t be a storm to clear the sand of castles when softly lapping waves produce the same effect. Deeming the endeavor hopeless after yet another unavoidable demolition, a young Mary Lou begged her father to one day build a castle where waves would never flow and he crossed his heart he would.

Boyce Gulley never forgot his promise. Though it appeared quite the opposite in the late 1920’s when he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis and advised he had only a short time left to live. 

Telling no one of his illness or intentions, Boyce Gulley left his Seattle home and family for parts unknown for the next two decades; when his family received a summons from an estate executor requesting their presence in Arizona.

For it was there (here!) in the arid desert that he sought relief, if not a cure, for his illness and the perfect wave-less sand in which to build the castle of his little girl’s dreams. 

Having purchased a ten acre plot of land upon his arrival, Boyce took up residence at the base of South Mountain in Phoenix, living at first, in an abandoned boxcar as he began a quest that would defy earlier predictions of his life expectancy (he lived another twenty years!) and boggle the minds of visitors for generations to come.

Building material consisted of anything he could find and drag home, reportedly with the help of his old mule, Jackson. This included telegraph poles, railroad ties, countless tons of natural stone and river rock and discarded things he deemed reusable such as Pyrex dishes and auto parts, for window frames. (Are you getting the idea that this place might be a bit eccentric?)

By 1945 Boyce had all but finished erecting his monument to Mary Lou, though didn’t live to know if she loved it. One can only imagine what (by then) a young woman might have thought of the massive 8000 Sq. Ft. edifice containing 18 rooms, each on its own level, thirteen fireplaces, an underground Chapel, Saloon and of course, a dungeon (Is any castle complete without one?) where a large iron alligator stands guard over the secret trapdoor of ‘Purgatory’; a small room located between the Chapel and the Saloon. (Mary Lou had to wait three years to find out what her father had left her in the secret trapdoor)

Stutz Bearcat wheel
Other remarkable oddities include crenelated parapets, turrets and a tower overlooking the land through a wagon wheel. On a patio above the cantina there is a wishing well where one could drop their order in a bucket and receive a drink from down below. Hidden chambers abound, and the floor of one room was entirely laid in schoolhouse blackboards!

Settling in was a bit tough for Mary Lou and her mother for the first couple of years. Then, in 1948 a Life Magazine feature story dubbed it the “Mystery Castle”, documenting the momentous opening of the secret trapdoor; which contained gold, cash, letters and a photograph of Boyce Gulley, and sparking enough curiosity to support private tours which provided funding for water and electricity with a little left over to live on.

Mary Lou lived out the rest of her days at the castle; personally presenting guided tours with her signature whim and wisdom of the desert until her death in November of 2010. Tours are still being given weekly and only during the winter months. 

It seems as though all this castle is missing is a ghost to roam the earthen corridors. And while reports of such are few and sketchy at best, they allude to unsettled feelings which could be attributed to the eccentric building and décor rather than anything supernatural. 

But perhaps the hauntings simply haven’t started yet.

Who do you suppose would do the haunting, Boyce or Mary Lou?


  1. Hmm...seems they both might roam the corridors, although I'm guessing it would be more likely to be Mary Lou, in search of her father.

    1. I agree, Stephanie :-) And if they were haunting the place together, would they know it? ;-)

  2. Hi, dear Diedre! Please excuse me for being tardy to your latest "pardy." I'm on the road again today, having traveled across the state and just arrived at my destination and forced to use a borrowed laptop for blogging.

    Haunted or not that place is amazing and I would love to visit and take the tour someday. The story in inspiring. It demonstrates how much we can accomplish, even living much longer than expected, if we set goals and work toward them with passion and vigor. It is very impressive that Boyce was able to construct such a majestic castle using found materials. I would love to explore the subterranean rooms and hidden passageways. I can imagine father and daughter reunited in the afterlife and haunting the castle together.

    Thank you very much for another entertaining and informative post, dear friend Diedre!

    1. Hi there, Shady! I hope you're enjoying whatever you traveled to do and I thank you for taking the time to visit while doing so ;-)
      There's so much about the Mystery Castle that simple words cannot describe and/or blogging space does not provide that it truly qualifies as a "Must See" attraction. Hopefully they've recorded a few of the enchanting stories Mary Lou used to tell, for instance her surprise when she removed a loose stone from a wall and hundreds of coins poured out!
      Take care, dear Shady - and Happy Trails!

  3. That was sad...he wanted to make his daughter happy, was diagnosed with a horrible disease, built a castle for his daughter, and couldn't see her reaction when she saw it. I bed she loved it. But I wouldn't have wanted a dungeon. lol I'd like to go on a tour of that place. :)

    1. It certainly is an extraordinary place and Mary Lou's love for it was indeed evident when she conducted tours :-)
      I like to think that father and daughter have reunited in the afterlife;-)

  4. Hmm, could go either way. It's a toss up.

  5. Oh my gosh. How fascinating. But he left his family to do it and they didn't know where he was at? Yikes.

    Hope your weekend has been great.

    1. Hi Sandra! Yes, disappearing as he did was probably the saddest part about it. He was afraid of being "put away" so as not to infect others with the illness he may not have ever had in the first place.
      Given the heartfelt thought he put into creating the castle and subsequent stories told by Mary Lou, perhaps he redeemed himself a little for earlier (misguided) decisions :-)
      Hope your Sunday is supreme!

  6. What an interesting edifice and all built by hand; amazing! I imagine both father and daughter might choose to haunt the place. Hope they find each other! ☺

    1. I agree, and wouldn't that just make the Mystery Castle experience all the more interesting? :-)


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