Spring is in full bloom in the deserts of Arizona, so many are looking for places to visit and enjoy. One such place is found in South Phoenix and is known as Mystery Castle. When we wrote this story in 2007, Mary Lou Gulley as still living; sadly she died in 2010, but her castle is still open for all of us to visit and enjoy. Hope you like out story…
Here is a link for Mystery Castle too - http://www.mymysterycastle.com/
Tuberculosis was a dreaded disease 100 years ago and much of Arizona’s history at the beginning of the 20th Century has ties to this terrible disease. Entire communities were started to care for those tuberculin patients whose doctors had sent them to the dry Sonoran Desert climate to enhance their chance for life. Tuberculin patients from around the world came to Arizona and built homes, lodges and even castles. Such is the story of Mystery Castle in Phoenix that makes it a perfect adventure to get out and visit today.
Boyce Luther Gulley was one such man who was told by his doctor in Seattle, Washington that he was sick with consumption and if he wanted to live, he had to move from the damp, northwest climate. With such a death sentence, he left the doctors office and without returning to his Seattle home, disappeared from the lives of his wife and the young daughter who he had once promised to someday build a castle.
In the early 1930s he reappeared in the small farming community of Phoenix and claimed a piece of land on the north slope of South Mountain near the town dump. He began to build himself a shelter, using many of the materials that he pulled out of that nearby dump as well as rocks and boulders found in and around South Mountain.
The dry desert climate was good for Boyce’s health and he continued to live year after year always remembering the promise he had made to his daughter. With time on his hands, he continued to add room after room onto his now most unique home using the newly discarded materials from the other citizens of Phoenix.
When completed Boyce’s castle consisted of 18 rooms with 13 fireplaces. Boyce’s use of salvaged materials, auto parts, junk and other southwest and Mexican artifacts made his home a one-of-a-kind palace. As it grew in size on the southern edge of Phoenix, locals began to donate items to Boyce to be added to his desert castle. Original Frank Lloyd Wright furniture found its way into the living area, items from John Wayne found their way into the bar and Barry Goldwater himself gave Boyce some furniture for the unique and eccentric project.
Before he died in 1945, Boyce was quoted to say that the varieties of materials found in his Mystery Castle were “held together by a combination of mortar, cement, calcium and goat milk.” Boyce’s castle contained rooms that served as a chapel, cantina and a dungeon.
In the 15 years that he spent in Phoenix, Boyce had never contacted his wife and daughter to tell them where he was living. So upon his death, his Phoenix attorney traveled to Seattle to make the death notification to the widow and to tell his daughter, Mary Lou Gulley, that her father had indeed kept his promise and had built her a castle. Since Boyce was now dead, the castle belonged to her and her mother.
In 1946 Mary Lou Gulley and her mother traveled to Phoenix to see for the first time their castle. They liked what they saw and moved in! The January 26, 1948 cover story of Life Magazine read “Life Visits a Mystery Castle: A Young Girl Rules over the Strange Secrets of a Fairy Tale Dream House in the Arizona Desert.” That same year, Mary Lou and her mother began offering tours of their castle home to the public.
Mary Lou’s mother died in 1970 but Mary Lou still lives in her Mystery Castle today (note, Mary Lou died on November 3, 2010). Now a Phoenix Point of Pride, the castle is open for public tours Thursdays – Sundays.