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Mystery Castle

In 1945, Mary Lou Gulley received word from a lawyer in Arizona that her father had just passed away. The news was entirely unexpected, as neither she nor her mother had heard from him since he disappeared from their home in Seattle, Washington, more than 15 years before. They had assumed he was long dead, and to hear that he had been living in the Southwest all this time was a total shock.

They were even more surprised to find out they had inherited a large estate south of Phoenix, an 8,000-square-foot home surrounded by almost 8 acres of land. This whole time, Boyce Luther Gulley had been toiling away in Arizona, and the fruits of his labor were his gift to his family.

In the weeks and months that followed, Mary Lou would learn her father's story. While still living in Seattle, Boyce Gulley discovered that he had contracted tuberculosis. Without telling anyone of his ailment, he disappeared. "That was kind of cruel on my mother, in a way," says Mary Lou, now entering her 80s. "But she figured it was for the best… See, he couldn't be around little children. He had to be put in a sanitarium and he didn't want to go into one." So he ran away and eventually ended up in Phoenix, where he staked a mining claim in the foothills of South Mountain and began building a home.

As the teenaged Mary Lou learned the details of her father's undertaking, she recalled a memory from a time before her father ran away. She had played together with him on the beach as a child, spending hours building sand castles that would inevitably wash away with the incoming tide. As one afternoon's effort fell to pieces, she asked him, "Please, Daddy, build me a big and strong castle someday that I can live in." Mary Lou realized this secret house was it. This was her castle. Though he had left his daughter behind, Boyce Gulley had spent the rest of his life fulfilling his promise.

For 15 years, Boyce Gulley had toiled away in the desert, collecting natural stone and river rock to form the walls that would make up the castle. He was an inveterate recycler, incorporating old railroad ties, unused telegraph poles and discarded metal into his design. He used natural copper ore to create a fireplace mantle. Glass trays and parts of an old car formed portholes. He rescued siding from a boxcar, along with railings, windowpanes and furniture from derelict buildings.

In many ways, the self-made architect was ahead of his time. One of Mary Lou's favorite details are the blackened and distorted bricks he used as accents. "These were the rejects in the kiln," she explains. "In my father's day, they were called clinkers.

The late Frank Lloyd Wright started using them and now they're called expensive." Boyce Gulley made ingenious use of space, as well, incorporating fold-up tables and what was likely one of the earliest hideaway beds. He was also cleverly efficient. The back of the living-room fireplace, for example, constitutes the wall of a bedroom behind it, its heated stonework radiating heat so that one fire warms two spaces.

Before his death, Boyce Gulley completed 18 rooms. Among them can be found a caretaker's quarters, a bar, a chapel, 13 fireplaces and a wishing well. Had he been able to continue, there also would have been a swimming pool.

When they found out about the castle, Mary Lou and her mother moved in almost immediately. Boyce Gulley stipulated in his will that if they would stay there at least 3 years, they would also be allowed to access a trap door, under which they would discover a surprise. That surprise turned out to be two $500 bills, gold nuggets and a Valentine's Day card Mary Lou had made for him as a child. After that, Mary Lou never moved out. She fell totally in love with her castle and she lives there still today, offering tours during Arizona's cooler months.

Very little of the unique residence has changed in all these years. Except for the addition of plumbing and electricity, Mary Lou has preserved things as she found them. The home is just as Boyce Gulley built it, complete with its oddly integrated turrets and parapets, a lasting version of the castles he and Mary Lou once built together.

Weird Arizona


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