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The Touching History of Phoenix, Arizona’s Mystery Castle

Samantha Franco
Photo Credit: ksblack99 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain Mark - Owner
Photo Credit: ksblack99 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain Mark - Owner

Mystery Castle is one of Phoenix, Arizona’s most unique and heartwarming tourist attractions. It was built out of one man’s love for his daughter, but sadly, they couldn’t share in its beauty together. However, the structure still stands today, and visitors can appreciate the effort he put into building it for his daughter for themselves.

Why Mystery Castle was built

A building made of stone.
Side view of Mystery Castle in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo Credit: ksblack99 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain Mark – Owner)

Boyce Luther Gulley moved from Seattle to the Phoenix area in 1929 after learning he had tuberculosis. As this was before the cure for tuberculosis was developed, Gulley moving to the Arizona desert was in itself a form of restorative treatment for his health. However, he chose to move without his wife, Frances, and his daughter, Mary Lou. Alone in a new place, Gulley took up a strange new activity to keep him busy – he built a ‘castle’ for his daughter.

The idea to build this castle came to Gulley, thanks to his daughter, whom he used to make sandcastles with on the beaches in Seattle. However, when the tide eventually came in and washed their sandcastles away, she would get sad. She said to her father, “Please, Daddy, build me a big and strong castle someday that I can live in.” So that was exactly what he set off to do.

The structure was craftily built

A chapel inside a stone room.
The chapel located inside Mystery Castle. (Photo Credit: Marine 69-71 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

Over a 15-year period, Gulley was able to create an architectural marvel out of found and inexpensive everyday items. The structure was built from things such as stones, automobile parts, salvaged rail tracks, adobe, telephone poles, and more, and was held together by a combination of mortar, calcium, cement, and goat’s milk. Remarkably, this pieced-together building has withstood the test of time.

The castle is three stories tall and houses a plethora of rooms (18 to be exact) varying in function. Some of these include a cantina, a dungeon, and even a chapel. While some parts of the castle remain unfinished today, what has been completed still remains a spectacle to see. The structure was also fitted with 13 fireplaces, which warmed the rooms adequately prior to electricity and plumbing being added to the castle in 1992.

His family moved in before he could finish

The entrance to a stone building.
The entrance into Mystery Castle. (Photo Credit: ksblack99 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain Mark – Owner)

Gulley died in 1945 before he could complete the castle, and in all the years he spent building the structure, he never made mention of it to his wife and daughter. It was only after his death that the two were contacted by an attorney and became aware that they had inherited a property that he had built. Shortly after they had made this discovery, the two moved into the castle.

In 1948, the castle was featured in Life Magazine, where it received its name as ‘Mystery Castle.’ That same year, they began offering tours of their home to the curious public. After Frances died in 1970, Mary Lou continued to provide tours of her home. After she herself died in 2010, the property came under the management of the Mystery Castle Foundation, a non-profit organization.

Read more: Do Spirits Lurk the Halls of the Abandoned Yorktown Memorial Hospital?

Mystery Castle was built from a sense of awe and inspiration, making it no surprise that the quirky building has been designated as a Phoenix Point of Pride landmark.