I can’t think of a more perfect name for a castle than Gimghoul. The word just sounds eerie and mysterious. And, as it turns out, so is the place.
When researching a trip to Chapel Hill, NC, I unearthed an intriguing legend about Gimghoul Castle. Back in 1883, Peter Dromgoole (again, I’m crazy about the name), an 18-year-old student vanished. The rival for his love supposedly killed him in a duel and then tried to hide and bury his body under a large stone. Strange bloody red splatters appeared on the rock, staining it.
The next day beloved Fanny came looking for Peter, but Dromgoole had disappeared. All that remains is the reddish rock. Some say his ghost haunts the property, or is it Fanny?
Believe what you want; Gimghoul Castle was built on the site of the boulder, near the university campus. Completed in 1926, tax records reveal it is owned by a secret society: none other than The Order of Gimghoul. The fraternity-like group was founded in 1889, based on the legend of Dromgoole and the ideals of medieval times, similar to the Knights of the Round Table.
On my visit to the Tar Heel state, my curiosity was up. I had to find the foreboding estate.
I drove over to Gimghoul Road, a neighborhood street lined with two-story colonial homes and picture-perfect yards looking like they were maintained by gardeners. I stopped a lady trimming her bushes and asked for directions. She told me, “You’re almost there. Keep on going when the road narrows and turns to gravel. The castle will be on your right; you can’t miss it.”
And, sure enough, the street dwindled to a rocky path, bordered by overgrown hedges and ivy. The Norman-looking structure appeared, the top of its round tower shining in the sunlight. Small Rapunzel-like windows dotted the column. Ominous “No Trespassing” signs surrounded the grounds of the brown stone masonry mansion.
Instantly, my mind conjured up images of local kids daring one another to ring the doorbell or run around the fortress. I bet you don’t find many trick-or-treating there.
Being by myself, I certainly didn’t want to stir up any ghosts or Gimghoul members. I approached the property’s edge and set my camera on a tripod. As I shot these photos, I noticed a car semi-hidden in the driveway, but no other signs of occupancy.
I returned home more curious than ever and turned up a listing on the International Registry of Castles and another with the NC Historical Society. A prior investigator uncovered the Order’s records in the UNC Wilson Library. Some, interestingly enough, have restricted access. Those materials include a few past membership lists naming prominent students, professors and noted alumni as part of the group. Today, most believe the fraternity initiates ten male juniors a year.
But, keeping mum is what secret societies are all about, and like good mysteries, no one is talking, not even the ghosts.