Two MaryLou’s! I am posing with a portrait of Mary Lou Gulley who lived for more than 60 years in a hodge podge kind of castle her father built for her out of recycled stone, wood, ceramics, steel, brick and well just about anything you can think of. Mary Lou’s father, Boyce Gulley was a cobbler in Seattle, who left home when Mary Lou was four and disappeared. He had tuberculosis and had been given six months to live. Boyce decided to move to Phoenix so his family wouldn’t have to deal with his illness. However the climate in the southwest restored his health. For some reason he didn’t try to contact his wife and child in Seattle again and remained in Phoenix.He obtained a piece of land and moved into an old railway car on the site. Over the next fifteen years he built a rambling house one room at a time and told everyone it was a castle for his daughter Mary Lou to live in. When Boyce died of cancer in 1945 his wife and daughter were contacted by a lawyer, found out they had inherited the house, traveled to Arizona and moved in. A 1948 story in Life Magazine gave the castle notoriety and Mary Lou and her mother began to receive visitors who they toured through the castle. Soon tourism became an important source of income for them. Mary Lou continued to give these tours herself till she died in 2010. The castle is operated by a private foundation now that Mary Lou established before her death. I was glad that my brother who is here for a couple weeks was willing to go on the Mary Lou Castle adventure with me. Here he poses in the livingroom. Note the camel painted on the back of the couch.The house features a bar. I tried chatting with one of the mannequin clients. The beds in the back are ‘bunks for drunks’ in case someone imbibes too much and needs to spend the night. There are thirteen fireplaces on the site. Most are indoors but this was an outdoor one. Boyce built his fireplaces with cast off damaged bricks he salvaged from a local kiln. In this fireplace he has created a frame for the city of Phoenix in the distance. Mary Lou added many of her own personal touches to the house after taking ownership including this pump organ. It was said to have been the property of a woman who murdered a succession of husbands by baking them chocolate cakes laced with poison. Another intriguing item was this 1996 letter from President Bill Clinton thanking Mary Lou for writing to him to express her political opinions. Our guide didn’t know what Mary Lou had said in her letter to the president but suggested she probably didn’t agree with his politics because when Clinton was visiting Arizona and requested a tour of her house Mary Lou refused.
Visiting the castle was a wierd experience because since I share a name with the deceased owner every time the guide said ‘Mary Lou’ which was often, I gave just a little start even though the photo above is proof Mary Lou Gulley and I look nothing like each other. Mary Lou’s Castle is kitschy and bizarre and you get the feeling that the Gulley family must have been pretty eccentric to have lived there. We met two women in the parking lot who said they had toured the house many times. The house was certainly interesting and its story compelling but one visit will probably be enough for me.