Saturday, May 14, 2011

Arizona - Phoenix - Mystery Castle

The story behind the Mystery Castle in Phoenix, Arizona is so fantastical and fairy tale-like that its hard to believe it's real.  One afternoon in the early 1930s, Boyce Gulley went to a doctor's appointment and found out that he had tuberculosis and probably only months to live.

Stricken by the news and not wanting to infect his family with the extremely contagious disease, he simply left his job, family and life without a word to anyone and went away to wait to die.  After travelling a bit, he ended up in Phoenix where he decided to use his last days fulfilling a childhood dream of his 7 year old daughter Mary Lou.

Saddened as her sand castles were washed away by tides at the beach, she used to ask her father to build her a real castle.  This is what he set out to do, armed only with 2 years of architectural training and much ingenuity, resourcefulness and determination.  Making bricks out of local sand, cement and goats milk and using found and disposed objects such as windshields and hubcaps of old cars, wagon wheels, refridgerator panels, pyrex dishes, coloured glass and tiles, he began to build a castle.  Inside, he filled the rooms with all sorts of oddities and souvenirs from his travels and scavanging excursions.

It seems the heat of Arizona healed him of his tuberculosis, but still he did not go home or contact his family.  Instead, year after year he continued to expand the castle until he passed away of cancer in 1945.  Upon his death, Mary Lou, now 22 years old, received word that Bryce had left her an 8000 sq. ft. castle with 18 rooms and 13 fireplaces (although no running water or electricity).  Mary Lou and her mother moved into the castle and gave guided tours to generate income.  Business picked up when Life Magazine did a feature on the castle and its owners.

There was a trap door at the entrance of the castle, guarded by a metal crocodile.  Mary Lou was given strict instructions not to open the door until 1948.  When she finally did, she found a deed to the castle, two $500 bills, a piece of iron ore, a photo of her father right before his death, and a valentine that she had made him when she was 7. 

Mary Lou continued to live in the castle until she died in November 2010.  As much of an eccentric collector as her father, Mary Lou seems to have added many whimsical items to the castle.  As we continued the tour, room after room were stocked full of Southwestern art (probably Bryce's contributions), stuffed animals (probably Mary Lou's) and other knick knacks.
Dining Area


Parlour - Items from Madame Jenny's Brothel in Jerome?

There is a Cantina/Bar area down in the basement, and a wishing well up on the top level patio.  The well acts as a dumb waiter where you could place your order for drinks in the bucket, and the drinks would be sent back up to you.  The bar is made up of half of an old stagecoach wagon.

Mary Lou loved cats and the cat motif shows up repeatedly in sculptures, paintings and even rocks painted to look like cats.  She kept a pet cat up in one of the towers who might have been named "Agatha Christie the Cat of Mystery " based on this pillow painted by "Picatso".

Portraits of both Boyce and Mary Lou are scattered throughout the castle, as well as  clippings of articles from Life Magazine and other newspapers that have visited the castle.  Many celebrities have toured the castle including Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne.

Bryce Gulley left his daughter a unique expression of his love, which she embraced and made the centre of her whole life.  Somehow I think she would have traded it all to get back those 15 years with her father.

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