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My Mystery Castle (1952)

by Mary Lou Gulley



Mary Lou Gulley

? — 03nov2010



After eluding me for ages, this book finally arrived in the mail yesterday.

The Mystery Castle is a Phoenix landmark, built by the semi-reclusive Boyce Luther Gulley, who, having contracted tuberculosis, abandoned his wife & daughter in Washington state, reappearing in Phoenix in the 1930s. He settled on the side of South Mountain, near the site of what was then the town dump. From there he salvaged building materials, to build the castle he had always promised his young daughter. He ended up living a lot longer than he thought he would, so, room by room, the castle got larger & larger. Upon his death, Gulley's wife and daughter finally found out what had become of him and came to Phoenix. They discovered what he'd been up to in the years since their parting, liked it, and moved in. Mary Lou Gulley still lives in the castle to this day, giving tours of "Daddy Gulley's" castle. Talking to her makes it possible to imagine a better Phoenix, one without all the hundreds of thousands that have poured into this valley in the decades since Boyce Luther Gulley lived in his Castle.

(Bonus: this copy's signed by both Mary and her late mother, Fran.)

  • I shook the worn envelope again and out tumbled a photograph of Daddy. I looked at it wonderingly. He was no longer a mystery man, but just a beloved father with courage and an inordinate love of rocks.
  • I had read of privies and outhouses in the baser history books and the more questionable of grandma's novels. I never had the opportunity to come in close contact with one. I was under the vague impression outhouses had whirled out of view along with ruffled pantaloons. The Castle was overflowing with artistic contrivances, but it lacked 20th century plumbing. Privies were still an instinctive part of it.

    A well-worn path led to the gaunt little black closet which hid in shamefaced necessity behind two mesquite trees. The door was shrunk by the heat, and above it, carved in uncertain scrolls, was "The Pink Privy." The inside was blushed with the most startling pink paint I had ever seen. There were two small seats with no bottoms. They were black cavernous holes, and no telling where the end was -- maybe in Red Occupied China. Each time I found it necessary to patronize "Pinky," I almost hated human nature.

  • The theme song of Arizona is: "I came here umpteen years ago to die, but, oh, look at me now!"
  • Fran was one of those rare people who trod where angels feared to. The courts and judges were just her dish. She had little respect for the laws. Not that she was a female renegade -- she stood staunchly for old-fashioned justice at all times -- but she firmly believed in the outlaw brand of justice: "If you know you are in the right, and that you haven't done anything against your teachings, then take the law into your own hands."

    "I will go to court with them -- and on to hell's burning gate, if necessary. They shall not have one pebble of that Castle!" she vehemently declared. Fran was a born Portia who faced life with a plain spoken flourish.

  • We tramped in banks and loan companies with anticipatory chills of hope, but came out each time with the hot, angry flashes of embarrassing defeat. Everywhere it was the same. "What have you for collateral? We can't take a mortgage on the Castle. Those rocks aren't security."

    And the questions they asked, and the way they peered at us, as if we were being screened for the FBI. Fran and I pushed aside the litter of papers they handed us to fill out.

    "Fran, did you read those questions? I am surprised they didn't ask us if we were constipated, and how many baths we took a week. They ask who our friends are -- we don't even know ourselves. But if we were prosti--"

    "Keep still. I'm tired of hearing about the seamy side of Phoenix." Fran interrupted.

    I wanted so desperately to shake those interest hounds in violent protest of their complacent calmness.

  • (Quoting an Arizona old-timer, circa 1950 -- and, given the sorry state of this valley now, these are truer words today than when they were spoken:) "Arizona might be called God's Country, but I bet Phoenix is the county seat of hell! You know, runnin' this here town is nothin' but a bunch of 1809 politicians tryin' to make a 1950 town on a two dollar budget. Two dollars is about all they have left after the graft. This is the place where graft, sun and sin rule. If there were only some good men in office here -- men who really cared what happened to the West. These guys ain't thinkin' beyond their own pocketbooks and their own beer bellies. Their ideas of runnin' this town on a small graft scale of them bigger cities is plain corny. If they would only let the West stay Western. How would them Easterners feel if the Westerners started draggin' their saddles and wagon wheels back East and set up business, change their customs and make over their fancy salons into saloons.... What they need in this town is about fifty funerals, and I'd be glad to pallbear at each one."
  • When our burdens became too heavy, even Fran and I headed for the full-toned atmosphere hunched about the Camelback Mountain. We sought means of escape, too, but we couldn't afford the fancy kind -- we were just witnesses to the changing of the West. I had only seen the grubby side, but I found the glittering side more depressing. I watched the well-groomed, tightly-clad participants, their arms and necks heavily adorned, but their faces quite empty with vague pleasures, and wondered if they were the culmination of success. The depths of their souls went as deep as the bottom of a martini glass.

And that's the sort who eventually overran the Valley of the Sun, while the interesting people, people like Mary Lou Gulley, become more and more rare.

You may also enjoy:

Wagner's visit to Mystery Castle
(more photos will be added in due course)