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Chapel Hill's Legend of Gimghoul Castle

by Charly Mann

There have been a long series of strange unsolved murders and mysteries in the history of Chapel Hill. Some are well known and part of the local folklore, and many have been forgotten and never adequately investigated. I will attempt to describe the facts of all of these cases over the next few years in Chapel Hill Memories.

I will begin this series with the best known of these mysteries, the total disappearance in 1833 of UNC student Peter Dromgoole and the Legend of Gimghoul Castle.  Dromgoole entered the University of North Carolina in 1831. and was known more for his interest in women and drinking than his academic achievements. The story begins with a letter Peter sent to his family in Virginia in the spring of that year telling them that he might do something that could cause them great sorrow, and that in the event that this occurred, they would probably never hear from him again. The family was alarmed at these words, and quickly dispatched Peter's uncle to Chapel Hill to talk to Peter and find out what he meant.

Legend of Gimghoul Castle, Chapel Hill, NC
Gimghoul Castle  Chapel Hill,  photo 1940

When his uncle arrived there was no trace of Peter. He had vanished, and no one had any clue where he was. All that was left were a few of his clothes. His uncle talked to every student who knew Peter, as well as his professors, and no one had an explanation of what might have happened to him. He also described Peter to the drivers of all the stagecoaches that passed through Chapel Hill, and none of them had any recollection of seeing his nephew. At this point, the uncle returned home to Virginia, and the Dromgoole dissapearance went unsolved.

The modern legend says that Peter was killed in a duel, and buried somewhere near the sight of Gimghoul castle. I have discovered that this is probably true. The earliest evidence of this is the first book ever written about Chapel Hill called the Sea-Gift by Edwin W. Fuller (1847-1875) . It is a semi-autobiographical romantic novel detailing student life and a romantic relationship in Chapel Hill from 1857-1860. A critical part of the novel is a duel and the disappearance of a student much like the Droomgoole story. In the 19th century, dueling was still the way many gentlemen defended their honor or settled disputes. The practice was not condoned by the trustees of the University, and taking any part in a duel meant expulsion. It is for that reason that no student told the truth to Peter's uncle or the local authorities. Nevertheless, Carolina students knew the details of the duel, and  passed the story down to incoming students. It was only  thirty years after the event  that  Fuller heard the facts of the story when he was attending UNC.

Gimghoul Castle, Chapel Hill North Carolina

In the early 19th century enrollment at the University never exceeded 160 students, and everyone knew everyone else. In 1831, when Droomgoole came to Chapel Hill, there were very few young eligible women in town for a male students to become romantically involved with. The few young women of that age were usually the daughters of college professors. When Domgoole came to UNC there were probably six dating-age women in town, and they were almost impossible to visit or see unchaperoned. Fuller details his own experience of trying to meet young women in 1857 in his novel. Young men had to request a meeting with the young woman through her parents. If they were deemed worthy, they would be given a time to arrive at their home and be ushered into a parlor, usually with one or more other young men waiting for their few minutes to impress the young girl. When a student finally got into see the girl, she was always accompanied by at least one of her parents.

In 1893, 60 years after Peter vanished, a fellow student, and friend of his, admitted on his deathbed what had really happened. Dromgoole had had a close friend who was interested in the same girl he was. It seems that the girl liked his friend better than Peter, and this made him jealous. One day the two exchanged heated words, and after a small shoving match, Peter challenged this man to a duel.

Order of the Gimghouls UNC Chapel Hill 1904
Order of Gimghouls 1904, 22 years before the castle was built

The site for the duel was Piney Point, a favorite student gathering spot, which is now the site of Gimghoul Castle. From Piney Pont one has a gorgeous view to the East, as far Durham and Raleigh. Each man brought a second with him to the duel. Peter's was probably his roommate John Williams. Needless to say Droomgoole was mortally wounded from his rival's shot. The three other students panicked, realizing the consequences of this act, and hastily dug a grave nearby for Peter's body.

In 1889, Edward Wray Martin, William W. Davies, Shepard Bryan, Andrew Henry Patterson, and Robert Worth Bingham started a secret society at UNC using the story of Droomgoole's death and the secret cover-up as the theme of their group. It was called the Order of Dromgoole, and later changed to the Order of Gimghoul.  They built a lodge for their society on the corner of Rosemary and Boundary Street. They also expanded the story into a chivalrous legend that became part of their initiation ceremony. In 1915 they bought several hundred acres of land near the University, including the sight where the duel occurred. That land is today Battle Park, where the Forest Theater is located, which they sold to the University, the Gimghoul residential neighborhood, and the site of their castle.

Blood-stained rock at Gimghoul Castle Chapel Hill. NC
It is directly behind these boulders on the left that you find the "blood-stained" rock

The castle was built in 1926 for the then huge cost then of $50,000. It resembles an 11th century English Norman castle, and was assembled by the best stone masons in North Carolina. Also built at the same time was Battle Seat, a semicircular stone bench in front of the castle that is a long time favorite spot to take dates for romantic interludes, and where one has the best view in Chapel Hill. Below it is the trail I used almost daily come and go on from my neighborhood to the castle. From there I would continue to the University or downtown.

 

It is probably somewhere in these woods around Gimghoul Castle where the remains of Peter Dromgoole lie

 


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Comments:

kathleen      4:33 PM Sat 2/15/2014

Also St. Thomes Moore Church has moved, it was originally closer to Gemghoul Castle.
 

kathleen      4:31 PM Sat 2/15/2014

I figure out what movie was filmed there, it was 1968, "Three in the Attic" (must have been after I left Chapel Hill, but heard about it anyway) with Yvette Mimieux and others.
 

kathleen      3:30 PM Sat 2/15/2014

I lived in CH from 59' to 65', while my dad was in dental school there. We lived in Victory Village, student housing, on the other side of the where the hospital is there now. We attended St. Thomas Moore Catholic church, I had my first holy communion there. Gimghoul Castle was very close by Gemghoul Castle, and I visited it many times when I lived there. I never saw another person there. I remember my girlfriend and I went there one time and we tried to get in but could not. I don't know why we weren't afraid because there were many scary things said about the place then. I also remember that there was a movie made there, and I think there was a make out scene inside the castle. Something about a couple or maybe there were three of them a girl and two guys, its been so long I cannot really recall anything else. Does anyone remember a scene in a movie that was filmed there??
 

Benjamin      3:05 PM Tue 12/17/2013

I am trying to determine exactly which "stone" house on Gimghoul Andy Griffith lived in during his sophomore, Junior and Senior years. Do any of you know if he lived in or in the stone cottage in back of 704 Gimghoul. As far as I know this is the only stone cottage on Gimghoul that existed at that time.

Sincerely,

Benjamin
 

Sally      1:42 PM Sun 6/19/2011

What's up with the big demonic goat painting over the mantle in the dining room?
 

gilbert      12:01 AM Fri 3/11/2011

make a easiest and fastest of researching any novel from your site

 

Harold Black      7:25 AM Wed 8/4/2010

When I was a Freshman at UNC, we would take walks over to the castle and scare ourselves crapless. It took an entire semester for us to work up the nerve to actually walk close enough to even see the castle. Walking down that dark gravel driveway talking about the ghost legend of Peter was enough to make our skin crawl. Towards Christmas a couple of us actually made it to the castle and the Battle Seat bench. An amazing view. We could see the lights of Durham which I believe were coming from the South Square area.
I hope that area never gets developed. Truly amazing!
 

Casey Dromgoole      9:58 PM Mon 11/2/2009

I am trying to find out any info on this story and any more on Peter if you happen to have any?

Thank you,
Casey Dromgoole
 

Richard      2:19 PM Mon 9/28/2009

OK. I know nothing of the duel or the Order, but I did live on Gimghoul Rd. for several years in the '60s. I lived, with my roommate, in a converted garage behind one of the nice homes. Next to us was a stone "house" where Andy Griffith lived when he was a student at the University in the mid-late 1940's. I could tell you an interesting story or two about that stone place, but will not. I do remember we paid $90.00/month in rent--$45.00 each--for our little place.

Here are some fun facts: the house we lived behind was next to my favorite prof's house--he was a famous UNC professor of Southern American Literature. My roommate and I cut down our Christmas tree one year from the woods behind the grounds of the church next to Gimghoul Castle because we were sort of afraid to cut the better tree that was behind the Castle grounds. We got that one the next year, I believe.

My first serious college girlfriend gave me our first real hug and kiss sitting on the Battle Seat bench one Sunday morning--well, more like early afternoon--where we used to walk from our place on Gimghoul Rd. after we had spent Saturday drinking too much and passing out as a group of 6 (my roommate, his date, our friend, his date, and this lady and I) on the floors and couches in our little place. In those days, no drugs or "hanky panky" for us. I still see my friend as he remained in CH, and we saw my first girlfriend on my last visit. She still lives in Durham and we had a very funny time telling stories about the place on Gimghoul Rd. They reminded me that UNC basketball star Larry Miller once showed up at our little place for a party.

I later taught in CH City Schools for a while and one of my students lived down the street from us on Gimghoul. I still remember her name and knew her brother, who, in those days, was a drummer for the studio band in Muscle Shoals, AL.

I think you can see bits of all three counties from Battle Seat--Orange, Durham, and Wake--when the weather is right. The view from there is very different depending upon the season.

Finally, we took our band publicity shots standing on Battle Seat in the early '70s--my idea since it was close to home--and also some with us standing at various locations around the Castle. I think I have copies of them to this day.

Gimghoul Rd. was the perfect location for a student. We were close to everything, but the street itself was as beautiful as any in CH in those days. I always said that if I made millions I would build or buy a house on Glandon Drive, which I think is arguably the most amazing street in all of CH!
 

jake mills      3:36 PM Wed 8/19/2009

Almost everybody refers to the castle as "Gimghoul Castle," as in this article, but the actual name given it by the Society was "Hippol Castle," which remains the proper term.
 

Sue W      6:39 PM Wed 7/22/2009

We used to go up there & try to peek in the windows of the castle & scare the wits out of ourselves.
 

Darcy Flint      9:47 AM Sat 3/28/2009

Thanks for this history lesson. I grew up in Chapel Hill in the 1970s, and always thought that when that duel happened the castle was already there. It really looks like it is several hundred years old.
 

Chad Watts      7:23 PM Fri 3/27/2009

I've always wanted to go inside the castle. Is it ever open to the public?
 

Marge UNC87      2:40 PM Fri 3/27/2009

I wonder what the Order of Gimghoul would say about your conclusion?
 

Dave Odum      11:01 AM Fri 3/27/2009

I came across this piece while searching for American castles. It certainly has a fascinating history.
 

Peter Roth      9:28 AM Fri 3/27/2009

Thanks for the detailed explanation about the history of the castle. I now live in Greensboro, and will take my family to visit Gimghoul next September when we go to UNC's first home football game.
 

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InformZoo
A Year of Charly Mann’s Thoughts
(August 2009 to August 2010):

http://www.informzoo.com

 



Chapel Hill is located on a hill whose only distinguishing feature in the 18th century was a small chapel on top called New Hope Chapel. This church was built in 1752 and is currently the location of The Carolina Inn. The town was founded in 1819, and chartered in 1851.

 

 

What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. or the crisp October nights. No, our love for this place is based upon the fact that it is as it was meant to be, The University of the People.

-- Charles Kuralt

 

 

Dark Side of the Hill -- Pink Floyd, the creators of the most popular album in history, Dark Side of the Moon, took the second half of their name from Floyd Council, a Chapel Hill native, and great blues singer and guitarist. He once belonged to a group called "The Chapel Hillbillies".

 

 

Check out Charly Mann's other website:
Oklahoma Birds and Butterflies

http://oklahomabirdsandbutterflies.com

 



We need your help. Send your submissions, ideas, photos, and questions to CHMemories@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

There would probably be no Chapel Hill if the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees in 1793 had not chosen land across from New Hope Chapel for the location of the university. By 1800 there were about 100 people living in thirty houses surrounding the campus.

 

 

The University North Carolina's first student was Hinton James, who enrolled in February, 1795. There is now a dormitory on the campus named in his honor.

 

 

 

 

The University of North Carolina was closed from 1870 to 1875 because of lack of state funding.

 

 

 

 

William Ackland left his art collection and $1.25 million to Duke University in 1940 on the condition that he would be buried in the art museum that the University was to build with his bequest. Duke rejected this condition even though members of the Duke Family are buried in Duke Chapel. What followed was a long and acrimonious legal battle between Ackland relatives who now wanted the inheritance, Rollins College, and the University of North Carolina, each attempting to receive the funds. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and in 1949 UNC was awarded the money for the museum. Ackland is buried near the museum's entrance. When the museum first opened, in the early sixties, there were rumors that his remains were leaking out of the mausoleum.

 

 

The official name of the Arboretum on the University of North Carolina campus is the Coker Arboretum. It is named after Dr. William Cocker, the University's first botany professor. It occupies a little more than five acres. It was founded in 1903.

 

 

Chapel Hill's main street has always been called Franklin Street. It was named after Benjamin Franklin in the early 1790s.

 

 



We need your help. Send your submissions, ideas, photos, and questions to CHMemories@gmail.com.

 

 

Chapel Hill High School and Chapel Hill Junior High were on Franklin Street in the same location as University Square until the mid 1960s.

 

 

The Colonial Drug Store at 450 West Franklin Street was owned and operated by John Carswell. It was famous for a fresh-squeezed carbonated orange beverage called a "Big O". In the early 1970s, I managed the Record and Tape Center next door, and must have had over 100 of those drinks. The Colonial Drug Store closed in 1996.

 

 

Sutton's Drugstore, which opened in 1923, has one of the last soda fountains in the South. It is one of the few businesses remaining on Franklin Street that was in operation when I was growing up in the 1950s.

 

 

Future President Gerald Ford lived in Chapel Hill twice. First when he was 24, in 1938, he took a law couse in summer school at UNC. He lived in the Carr Building, which was a law school dormitory. At the same time, Richard Nixon, the man he served under as Vice President, was attending law school at Duke. In 1942, Ford returned to Chapel Hill to attend the U.S. Navy's Pre-Flight School training program. He lived in a rental house on Hidden Hills Drive.

 

 

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