“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be.
Now put the foundations under them.”
-Henry David Thoreau
The Mystery Castle, one of the valley’s lesser-known gems and a Phoenix, Arizona “Point of Pride.” It is an 18 room, 13 fireplace castle incorporating salvaged junk from the 1940’s and decorated with ancient Native American petroglyphs, mortar and pestles, and local cacti (among other things). But where is the Mystery Castle you may ask? Just get on 7th street and head south, all the way. When you hit South Mountain turn left and in a few hundred yards you will be there. There, nestled in the side of the mountain, just below the tailings of an abandoned gold mine is Boyce Gulley’s, Mystery Castle.
The story begins in 1927 when Boyce Gulley learned from his doctor that he had Tuberculosis. Shortly thereafter Boyce vanished from his Seattle home, leaving behind a wife and daughter whom he would never see again. Three years later he surfaced in Phoenix, AZ and promptly began construction on what is now the Mystery Castle. Boyce never again contacted his family, and it to this day it isn’t clear why a man who would spend the last 15 years of his life building a castle for his loved ones would abandoned them in the manner in which he did. After his death and per Boyce’s instructions, his attorney reached out to Mrs. Gulley (wife) and Mary Lou (daughter) to transfer his estate and follow through with his will and final wishes. Mrs. Gulley and Mary Lou were surprised, to say the least, and promptly took possession and moved into the castle. There they would live for the rest of their lives. Mary Lou lived there until she crossed in March of 2010.
The story goes that Mary Lou and her father often built sand castles on the beach, but these castles would inevitably be washed away with the tides. This prompted Mary Lou to ask her father to build her a big strong castle someday, perhaps in the desert where there was no water so that it would not be washed away. What strange and hidden foresight; or perhaps it was fate, but in those days people with TB were sent to hot dry climates to recover from their affliction. In fact, this is how Sunny Slope, a north Phoenix community, got its name as it was originally a TB quarantine during Phoenix’s earlier years.
The Mystery Castle is primarily built from adobe, concrete, mortar, and native rock from South Mountain, but mixed all throughout the house one will find all manner of salvaged items of Phoenix’s early days as well and automobile parts and even early refrigerator glass serving plates. Pieces of throw-away brick fragments from the early Phoenix brick plant are also worked into the architecture. These rejected bricks becoming warped, melted, and burned in the firing process seemed to fit seamlessly into his desert fortress. Frank Lloyd Wright would eventually visit the castle and take a liking to the integration of these brick. He would soon after incorporate them into his work and name them accent stones. The concrete is especially interesting as it has cracked very little in comparison to other concrete poured around the same time. It is said to be a secret “recipe” containing sand, cement, caliche, and goat’s milk among other things.
The Castle is quite extensive as it contains Eighteen rooms, thirteen fireplaces, parapets, a chapel, bar, and purgatory. Spiral staircases seem to be everywhere, some of concrete, others wood, but most of them lead to beautiful concrete decks which one can view the night sky or take in a view of the city of Phoenix below. The main deck is something to behold however and we’ll get into that shortly.
A secret trap door in the floor of the purgatory room also adorns this home. It was under this locked trap door that Boyce left gold nuggets, $500 dollar bills, the deed to the house, and a valentines letter his daughter had written to him years before. The kitchen was state of the art, if not a little rustic and was designed with a sloped center drain in order to be entirely hosed down for cleaning. The oven was set at waist level like modern-day ovens and the kitchen had a work island and central hanging cupboards, both unprecedented in those days. The castle’s furnishings seems to span 40 years, but it was Mary Lou’s taste which put the final touch on the castle. Today the castle has been left Mary Lou intended, and can still see this unique hybrid of early Phoenix pioneer antiques, and priceless Indian artifacts from across the state of Arizona. One such artifact is a priceless Apache basket.
Not a bad work of architecture for a dying shoe salesman from Seattle. However, it is this authors opinion that Mr. Gulley was a bit more complicated and definitely more interesting than first appears. Was it simply tuberculous that brought B.G. To Phoenix, or were there other influences in his decision? Why would a man who obviously loved his family so much and spent fourteen years making his daughter’s dream come true just disappear without a trace to never make contact again? Why Phoenix? Is it just the hot dry weather or was there more going on here in the Valley of the Sun than has been written into the history books.
Although there is no obtainable documentation, it is this writers opinion that Boyce Gulley was a Freemason. And an influential one at that. I don’t just throw this theory out there, and when I first visited the Mystery Castle, Freemasons were the furthest thing from my mind. Below is a detailed list of my reasoning. My research is solid, so if you are in doubt, please perform your own due diligence and verify for yourself.
- The concrete of the castle is of an exceptional quality. Although Freemasonry is a fraternal order and it is the ideas of building and structure that define and direct it’s members today, make no mistake, they are builders. They harbor within their halls to this day the same knowledge base which allowed them to build the castles and bastions of power of old. The institutions they have established throughout history are founded on very physical and dare I say literally “concrete” know how.
Cats- Cats are everywhere. In sculptures, embroidered onto pillows, paintings, and if that weren’t enough; like Hemingway’s home in The Keys, The descendants of Mary Lou’s cats still roam the property and called it home up until a few years ago when the last one passed. Boyce too was known to keep “18” cats to wander the property and keep the critters at bay (according to the tour guide). What is significant about cats you may ask. Cats equal Egypt and Egypt equals Freemasonry. Seems quite a stretch to the average person, however, if you delve into other areas of this site, much on this topic is laid out in detail. Also, a quick search on the internet will generate dozens of websites devoted to this topic.
- Mathematical symbolism. There is definitely numerology integrated into the Mystery Castle.
- The two sets of stairs leading up to the castle consist of “7” steps each. 77 is a very special number as it is a product of 11 (one number above the complete number 10 and 7 the holy number of God.
- The “3” steps between the cat pillars on the main deck. The first three levels of Freemasonry and known as the blue lodge and consist of “Entered Apprentice”, “Fellow Craft”, and “Master Mason.” This might not seem something to notice at first but when you realize that most Mason’s Lodges have 3 steps leading to the front entrance, it stands out. Also, they lie between two pillars topped with cats. Cats were sacred to the Egyptians and Freemasonry is structured upon ancient Egyptian esotericism.
The number “12” is found to a large extent all over the castle, from steps to layers on fireplaces. Boyce was the 13th child. Jesus was the 13th after the 12 apostles. Could this have been the underlying meaning? There are “13” fireplaces. Once again the number 13 is an extremely important number to the masons. “13” is all over the founding of this nation; from the 13 colonies to the number 13 all over the dollar bill. King Solomon spent 7 years building Jerusalem’s Temple and 13 years building his own house. “13” is always seen as an evil or deceitful number in the bible and it seems Boyce stopped just short of this number all over the house. Please see my article here for more information on this.
- There are “18” rooms, 1+8=9, the most sacred number in numerology. A house is comprised of rooms and the fact that this one has exactly “18” cannot be happenstance in my opinion, at least not in conjunction with all the other numerical coding. I have not attempted to decode every aspect of the Castle however even to the average person the obvious numerology should be quite transparent. It would be my guess that there are solstice and equinox markers as well if one were to search and take note on said days.
- There are “13” rays coming off the main fireplace in the living room just off the kitchen.
Mayan calendar- There is a black Mayan calendar disk set in concrete overseeing the main deck and compass. Once again, this taken alone would mean nothing, but in concert with everything else lends certain intent and understanding I believe. Of what exactly I’m not sure, as we can only guess. Maybe the origins of the Native Americans. Perhaps a link between Egypt and the Americas. I don’t pretend to know.
- Serpents- Serpents are an underlying theme throughout the castle, especially on the main deck where they are set into the concrete in a very artistic manner on both sides of the compass. True, Boyce was an eccentric but how many people decorate their homes with snakes? Many Masonic degrees are named after serpents as serpents are seen as keepers of wisdom.
- The Main Deck Compass/Altar- Laid out in the center of the main deck is a compass. It is true to true north, and like all Freemason’s precision and direction and an underlying theme in their lives and work. This is a very intriguing area of the home as this is where the Pillars of Boaz and Jachin, and the cat guardians are located on either side of the “3” steps. This is also the area overseen by the Mayan calendar and the location of the sun blocks which let light into the bar/hell below. There is also a “sight” here, which perfectly frames old Phoenix. This may seem arbitrary until you understand that the founding fathers of Phoenix, AZ incorporated a pyramid into the street grid system of old downtown Phoenix, it is this area which is framed in the “sight”. In my opinion, this is the energetic “center” or “engine” or “heart” of the entire castle and is without a doubt a “Sun altar”.
- Pillars of Boaz and Jachin- According to the Bible, Boaz and Jachin were two copper, brass or bronze pillars which stood on the porch of Solomon’s Temple, the first Temple in Jerusalem. These two pillars are also main components of any Masonic altar. Once again, there are two main pillars on the main deck or “porch” which are topped with statues of cats. These pillars scream Freemasonry.
The Chapel, the Bar, and Purgatory- One of the main attractions of the Mystery Castle are the three lower rooms just below the deck. The entrance to these three rooms is the Purgatory room (Which is guarded by a knight with a crocodile on a leash at the door. If you turn left from here you enter the bar or (hell), or the left-handed path of the devil. This room even looks like an underground grave. If you turn right you move into the chapel, or the right hand of God, (Many weddings have been held in the chapel over the years). This is a basic Christian belief and much old testament biblical symbolism was co-opted into Freemasonry. I was not surprised to see this, and at the same time, it was quite clever. What’s even more clever is that light blocks have been set into the concrete deck of the main porch or “Sun Alter” which lets light into the bar. There is obviously intense symbolism going on here and I need to further investigate. I’m convinced there is something akin to Chase field, or downtown Phoenix going on here. An energetic engine of sorts. One last thing. Here in the Purgatory room, there is an owl. This owl is positioned so that it is staring directly at the guarded trap door as well as the entrance to Purgatory. This is not an accident in my opinion. If you are reading this article I don’t believe I need to explain what the owl symbolizes.
- The Well- There is a well located at the edge of the main deck which connects to behind the bar in the cantina below. On tour, you will learn that “during parties, guests would make a wish down the well and crank the basket down. In short time they would crank it back up and their wishes will have been granted as the bartender will have loaded the basket with their beverage of choice.” A cute story and innovatively entertaining to be sure, but there is another metaphor at work here as well. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “As above, so below.” I can’t prove Boyce’s original intention with the creation of the well but one can definitely view it in esoteric terms as a (pathway, or connection) between the underground or darker aspects of human nature and the (sun and light) of the sun altar above.
- Gifts from prominent people who have donated to the Castle.
- From the mansion of the first Governor of Arizona George Hunt; a well known and very open 33 degree Scottish Rite Freemason. The same Governor who had himself entombed in a pyramid at the top of an ancient Hohokam astrological observatory in Papago Park. Among the donations were a marble-topped dresser which sits in the Saguaro room, a French-made hand carved antique bed, and a dresser matching dresser which is located in Boyce’s room. Why would a person of such standing feel compelled to donate antique family furniture to a man who never achieved much standing, influence, or even occupied the same spheres of society? I have asked this question a few times while on different tours and was told by the guides that they never could make the connection either. They just figured that they somehow must have known each other. The simple answer is- Boyce and Governor Hunt had to of known one another. But even if they did know one another why would a man of such standing feel compelled to donate furniture to an eccentric castle built on the edge of town? This author’s answer: In Freemasonry, all men are equal within the lodge.
John Wayne too donated a leather horse net which hangs as a centerpiece in the cantina, or bar. Did you know John Wayne was a York Rite Freemason? John Wayne also gave Mary Lou a pair of jeans which she was wearing when she posed for a portrait which hangs in the Saguaro room.
There is also furniture donated to Boyce by the late Senator Barry Goldwater. B.G. was an open and very active Freemason. Read here my investigation of the Doors and Sound Passage public art piece which sits in front of the Barry Goldwater Bank in Scottsdale, AZ.
- A sofa was donated by Frank Lloyd Wright. Was FLW a Freemason? I don’t know, but if anyone has any information on this please contact me. With his power and influence, I’m betting he was.
If that wasn’t enough the deed to the very land upon which to Mystery Castle itself sits was stamped by Franklin Roosevelt in an act of pardoning Boyce Gully. The castle was originally built on a mining claim Boyce had filed. Old Arizona mining law stated up until recently that claim holders could make improvements to land so long as they were actively mining it. Fast forward a decade and adjust for population growth and you have a legal battle between Boyce and the city of Phoenix. It wasn’t until Franklin D. Roosevelt personally stepped in and stamped the deed that it became personal property and safe from the clutches of the City. Ironic the city of Phoenix would later place the Mystery Castle on the City of Phoenix Point of Pride list. At this point, I shouldn’t have to tell you that FDR was a prominent and open Freemason. Just ask yourself, how many times has the president of the United States interjected in civil land disputes wielding the presidential power of pardon to have a piece of property deeded over to someone?
Like I said, there is much more to The Castle than is divulged during the official tour and there is much more to the castle than I have covered here. For the purpose of this article, I kept the information relevant to the esoteric aspects of the structure and Boyce Gulley’s life. I’m not even sure the tour guides completely understand the depth or complexity of the Castle themselves as it relates to Freemasonry. But they are awesome guides and each knew Mary Lou personally as they were close friends of the family. On my last tour, they told me how Mary Lou herself hired them to continue the tours after she could not any longer and how they’ve had many a Thanksgiving dinner in the Castle If you haven’t been there I urge you to take a couple hours and check it out for yourself. It truly is a Phoenix treasure.
Tip: if you go, look up to the right as you are walking up the main steps from the parking area. That scar you see about a hundred yards up the side of the mountain was one of Boyce’s gold mines.