This amazing story of a father who built a castle for his daughter from reclaimed objects is complete with mystery, redemption and love. Read the entire article here.
The biggest mystery concerning Phoenix, Arizona's Mystery Castle is why someone would want to build an 18-room palace out of rocks and trash. We already know who built it: Boyce Gulley, a mostly self-taught architect from Arkansas by way of Washington state. We know how he built it: from stone and sand and water hauled in from miles away, so as not to destroy the surroundings, padded out with bric-a-brac like car parts, glass dishes, and old blackboards.
But it turns out the Mystery Castle is also the site of a strange yet heartbreaking tale. Hewn from the detritus of life, it's a memento to lost fathers, kept promises, and letters from beyond the grave.
Until Mary Lou Gulley was 22, she had no idea that her father was building a chimerical mansion. In fact, she wasn't even entirely sure he was alive. Boyce Gulley abandoned his family in 1929, when Mary Lou was five years old. He didn't disappear completely—he exchanged some letters with his wife and daughter—but he never returned to Seattle, and they believed he had deserted them to follow his dreams of being an artist.
In 1945, Mary Lou got a letter from her father, whom she hadn't seen for 16 years. He'd left, he told her at last, because he'd been diagnosed with tuberculosis, and didn't want to be a burden on his family. “It wasn't art I wanted,” he wrote, “it was you.”
The dry air of Arizona, often prescribed for tuberculosis patients, had been more effective than expected, and though he was writing the letter from his deathbed, in the end it wasn't tuberculosis but cancer that did him in. "The theme song of Arizona," Mary Lou noted wryly in her memoir, My Mystery Castle, is: "'I came here umpteen years ago to die, but, oh, look at me now!'"
In the meantime, Gulley's letter said, he'd built this 18-room trash palace, and now he wanted her and her mother, Fran, to live there. They moved in immediately; after all, it was Boyce's final gift. In her book, Mary Lou recalls making childhood demands for a castle of her very own. Elsewhere, she said that one of her earliest memories of her father was of him building her sandcastles on the beach, and promising to make her one big enough to live in. Well, here it was.
Fittingly, there is sand in the mix at Mystery Castle—and rocks, and adobe, and a natural cement called caliche, and even goat's milk. (The milk helps cement and plaster mixtures stick together and makes them easier to work with.) There's also part of a salvaged car, a 1929 Stutz Bearcat, incorporated into the walls; the windshield is used as a kitchen stove vent, and Gulley made windows out of the wheels, rims, and headlights. The castle features telephone pole beams and a wagon wheel fireplace, and the slate floor of the living room is made of discarded schoolhouse blackboards. There is also a bar and a wedding chapel (both no longer used); their creator called the space between them "Purgatory."