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Mystery Castle

Wild Boomer Women tour Mystery Castle with our guide Ramone. In the wedding chappel
Wild Boomer Women tour Mystery Castle with our guide Ramone. In the wedding chappel
Sue Barenholtz

The Mystery Castle in Phoenix, AZ

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I saw that Wild Boomer Women was going to tour the Mystery Castle so I signed up. I had always wanted to go so I was excited to finally see it - at least I thought I was seeing "it". Turns out where I thought we were going was Tovrea Castle, but I was delighted to tour this "new" find, something it turns out I had not heard about.

The castle was hand built by Boyce Luther Gully. In 1927, Gully found out he had Tuberculosis and had only 6 months to live. Afraid he might infect his family and not wanting to make them watch him die, he abandoned his wife and young daughter (without telling them why) in Seattle and headed to Arizona where he had heard the climate was better for his illness.

His daughter Mary Lou was only 7 when he left but they had many happy days building sand castles. He called her his princess and promised her one day he would build her a castle to live in. He started building the castle in 1930 using a variety of materials including stone and adobe mixed in with salvaged auto parts, rail road tracks, telephone poles, misc. junk, and artifacts he found, including petroglyphs and unusual glass dinnerware that he bought in bulk for pennies.

For the next 15 years he kept building, until his death in 1945. The result is an 8,000 square foot, 18 room, three story castle with 13 fireplaces. It has a wedding chapel, cantina, and a dungeon. Parts of the castle were unfinished and have stayed that way. The house had no electricity or plumbing until 1992 so the fireplaces came in very handy and the building materials allowed for much cooler summers inside.

Unfortunately he didn’t live to tell his family what he had been doing all these years. Upon his death, his attorney notified his wife and daughter that they had inherited a castle in Phoenix. Shortly after, they moved into the castle.
Now, here’s what they mystery is all about. In addition to the castle, Gulley left instructions that his family was not to open a trap door in the house for three years after his death. LIFE magazine heard about the castle and the trap door and came to do a story about the castle and the opening of the trap door. The January 26, 1948 story headline gave the “mystery” castle its name "Life Visits a Mystery Castle: A Young Girl Rules Over the Strange Secrets of a Fairy Tale Dream House in the Arizona Desert."

Mary Lou lived out her life in the castle until her death in 2010 at the age of 87. She never married and lived alone in the home after her mother died in 1970, with the help of a caretaker named Ramone who was our tour guide. Prior to her death, Mary Lou gave most of the tours. The only room that was off limits was her bedroom, which still remains off limits. Ramone wants to preserve her privacy but also told us that her cat still lives in her room. She had a great love for cats which is the main theme of the home’s unusual, eclectic décor.

What was under the trap door? You’ll have to hear it for yourself by touring the castle. The Mystery Castle is on the Phoenix Historic Property Register, ensuring that it will be preserved as a legacy to Mary Lou. It has also been designated as a Phoenix Point of Pride.

The Mystery Castle is located in the Foothills of South Mountain Park (two miles south of Baseline Road) at 800 E. Mineral Road in Phoenix, Arizona 85040. Tours are offered from October through June between the hours of 11:00 am to 4:00 pm, Thursday through Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 5-12. For more information, please visit http://www.mymysterycastle.com.