The Mystery Castle in Phoenix is nestled in South Mountain. Check out these 10 facts to learn more about this mysterious Arizona castle.
1) The Mystery Castle is in the foothills of South Mountain
At first sight, it’s easy to see why this castle was given its name by a Life magazine article in 1948. But, if you do a little digging into the history behind this unique structure, you can quickly shed some light on its origins!
2) The Mystery Castle was built by Boyce Luther Gulley in the 1930s
Some might categorize the story of the Mystery Castle as a tragedy. Boyce was prompted to begin construction on the castle after learning that he had Tuberculosis. As the story goes, Boyce, who worked in Seattle at the time of his diagnosis in 1927, left work one day for a lunch-hour doctor’s appointment and was never heard from again. Legend has it that he spent the next three years walking to Phoenix. But what inspired him to spend his remaining years building a castle?
3) Boyce’s Daughter Always Wanted Him to Build Her a Castle
As a small child, Boyce often played on the beach with his young daughter, Mary Lou. One of their favorite pastimes was building sandcastles, though Mary Lou was distraught each time the tide came in to wash away their latest creation. She often begged her father to build her a real, stone castle that could withstand the water — one that she could truly live in. Ultimately, Boyce found himself in the Arizona desert where water was not a likely threat to the castle he began to build for his daughter.
4) Boyce Spent 15 Years Working on the Castle
The castle is supposedly held together not only by cement and mortar, but also goat’s milk and calcium. Much of the castle’s walls are made of stone and adobe. Boyce went out of his way to not disturb the surrounding landscape. Instead, he hauled in materials like sand and rock from over a mile away. But, those are hardly the only materials he used. If you visit the castle, or even see it in pictures, it’s hard to miss the eclectic, mishmash style that brings it to life.
5) There Are Many Unexpected Elements in the Mystery Castle
The unexpected parts incorporated into the structure are endless. Many of the weird items were sourced from the nearby dump, but one can only begin to imagine where Boyce might have discovered some of the other objects or why he decided to include them in this not-so-traditional version of a castle. Just a few oddball objects that you’ll run across touring the castle include chunks of petroglyphs, car parts, old railroad ties, telegraph poles, and a bathtub. The bathtub hangs above the kitchen stove, functioning as an exhaust vent, while the wheel from a Stutz Bearcat ( a well-known sports car of the time) functions like a window in another spot. A windshield became a huge window in the terrace wall, and all over, dishes exist above doorways as transoms.
One of Mary Lou’s favorite elements of the castle were the blackened bricks, called clinkers in that day, that Boyce rescued from rejection and utilized as accents. Supposedly, famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright then later picked up this practice.
6) All in All, There Are 18 Rooms in the Castle
The rooms aren’t even the most impressive thing about the castle, though. It boasts a tower, turrets, and crenelated parapets, as any typical castle would have. Inside you’ll find a caretaker’s quarters, a bar, a dungeon, a chapel, a patio, and a cantina. Boyce had plans for a swimming pool but was unable to complete it. There are a total of thirteen fireplaces to be found in the structure, some so efficiently designed that they heat two rooms at once, and plenty of surprising nooks and crannies. After building the castle, Boyce set about furnishing it with southwestern antiques and Native American artifacts. The whole thing takes up 8,000 square feet and covers eight acres of land.
7) No One Can Deny That the Rooms All Have Character
Over the years, plenty of people were married in the chapel. The dungeon is occupied by a ferocious-looking metal alligator that supposedly guarded the entrance of the trap door and the fabled treasures within. In the cantina, you’ll find a bar made of a covered wagon sawed in half. The cantina connects with the patio on the level above by means of a wishing well. As the story goes, many a porch sitter looking for refreshment has shouted their drink order down from the patio and then hopefully hoisted the pail up from the cantina.
8) The Castle Isn’t Entirely Finished
Unfortunately, Boyce ran out of time before he was able to realize all of his ideas for the castle. It wasn’t until 1992 that plumbing and electricity were finally added to the three-story masterpiece. At one time, the castle’s location was quite remote, but as Phoenix grew, that changed. These days, the castle isn’t really out of the way. How did Boyce afford to build the castle? No one is quite sure. Though he had learned about architectural engineering from a college in Texas for a couple of years, how did he manage all of the work in his failing health? Ditto. Perhaps Mystery Castle is a fitting name after all!
9) Mary Lou & Her Mother Didn’t Learn About the Castle Until Boyce’s Death
After he vanished in 1927, Boyce’s family never heard from him again, and ultimately assumed he was dead. It was in 1945 that they were notified of his actual death by his attorney. This wasn’t the biggest surprise that was in store for them, though. It was also then that they learned they had inherited a castle in Arizona, and they wasted no time moving in. In his will, Boyce stipulated that if his wife and daughter lived in the castle for three years they would also be allowed access to a trap door. When the time finally came to open the trap door, the women found two $500 bills, gold nuggets, and a Valentine’s Day card that Mary Lou had made for her father as a child. Boyce had clearly never stopped missing his family.
10) After Opening the Trap Door, Mary Lou Never Moved Out of the Castle
The castle is often also called the “Castle That Love Built,” and this couldn’t be clearer to anyone than Mary Lou, whose father clearly always cared for her. Until her death in 2010, she continued her father’s work in furnishing her new home and led tours of the castle so that others could witness its beauty. She served as a guide for as many as 20,000 people a year. Now, the castle is owned by The Mystery Castle Foundation, a 501c3 organization. The Mystery Castle has been listed on the Arizona Historic Register, and is a Pride of Phoenix award winner. Call the Mystery Castle to check on their tour times so you can explore this unique masterpiece for yourself!
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