Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mystery Castle at South Mountain

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir came to Phoenix this weekend, so Jon and I headed downtown for the Friday night concert. I loved every second of it, but especially their rendition of the Nigerian Christmas carol "Betelehemu" (here's a link to a prior performance of it - so, so, so, so, so cool).

My aunt, Becky, is in the MoTab and had several hours free on Saturday before their second concert, so Jon and I were able to spend that time with her. In researching unique things to do in Phoenix on TripAdvisor, I came across the Mystery Castle, a crazy old house built in the 30s and 40s by a crazy, dying man. I sent Becky a link to the website wondering if that was something she'd be interested in visiting, and luckily she said yes because it was one of the coolest, eeriest, most unusual things I've ever seen.

The story goes like this. A man living in Seattle and suffering from tuberculosis was told by his doctor that he had only six months to live. To spare his wife and 3-year-old daughter the pain and horror of witnessing him die an awful death, he left them in the middle of the night and moved to Phoenix, where he hoped the weather would help his symptoms. His wife and daughter knew nothing of his whereabouts until his death 16 years later (from cancer, of all things), whereupon they learned that in his absence, he had built his daughter a castle in the Phoenix foothills. She had often begged him, while building sandcastles on the Washington coastline, to build her a sandcastle that wouldn't be washed away by the sea, and that's exactly what he did. The daughter, Mary Lou, and her mother moved to Phoenix immediately. Mary Lou lived in the castle for 65 years, right up until her death in November of 2010.

The castle has 18 rooms, 13 fireplaces, and is built entirely from natural and salvaged materials including cement, adobe, river rock, auto parts, telephone poles, and train tracks. It wasn't until 1992 that plumbing and electricity were added.

A lot of the design was incredibly whimsical, like the above "picture frame" displaying downtown Phoenix (at the time the castle was built, this framed the entire city). But there were equal parts of the creepy and downright bizarre. At one point, Becky mentioned that she felt like she was in Miss Havisham's lair, and that was before we entered "THE WEDDING ROOM" (!!!), a dungeon-like space adorned with tattered and antiqued lace, shoes of past brides, and an altar with river rock snakes indicating where the couple was to stand. So rad.

This pump organ in the wedding room was said to have once belonged to the "Chocolate Widow of Tombstone" who, according to legend, poisoned six husbands with arsenic-laced cake and buried them all at Boot Hill.

You should totally go.


  1. That's pretty sweet. Next time. . .

  2. Similar story , house on the rock somewhere in Wisconsin, super creepy and a guy just started building it out of stuff.