A French-style castle built at the end of Gimghoul Road on the eastern portion of UNC’s campus has been capturing imaginations and enduring curious trespassers for decades. The ominous structure is host to two legends: one of love and bloody death, and another of a secret society hidden from prying eyes.
In 1915, after acquiring 2.12 acres on which to build, the Order of the Gimghoul — listed as a non-profit organization on official records — hired a group of stonemasons descended from castle-builders of old in southern France and Italy to construct their castle from 1,300 tons of rough stone. The structure was completed in 1926 at a cost of roughly $50,000, which tallies to over $700,000 today when adjusted for inflation. In financing their construction, the Order sold 35 acres of property that would later be designated as the “Gimghoul Neighborhood Historic District.”
The Order of Gimghoul — first named “The Order of Dromgoole,” but later rechristened for dramatic effect — was founded in 1889 by Robert Worth Bingham, Shepard Bryan, William W. Davies, Edward Wray Martin and Andrew Henry Patterson. All were UNC students at the time of the founding and used the legend of Peter Dromgoole, a student who disappeared in 1833, as a way to increase the darkness and mystery surrounding the society — which only extends invitations to male UNC elite.
According to legend, Peter Dromgoole fell madly in love with a young woman, mostly referred to as “Miss Fanny” when the tale is being told. Unfortuantely, Domgoole wasn’t the only one with feelings for Miss Fanny. He quarreled with a fellow student over her affections, and the two chose to settle the rivalry in a pistol duel.
Dromgoole was shot and killed, dying in the arms of the woman he loved. His blood spilled onto a rock, purportedly staining it red to this day, and the victorious rival hid his corpse beneath the blood-soaked boulder. Or so the legend goes. The reality, discovered fairly recently by E.T. Malone Jr., is less dramatic.
In truth, Peter Dromgoole was a student who spent mere months in Chapel Hill, failing his entrance examinations and disappearing from the campus in a fit of academic shame. According to letters sent to his parents, Dromgoole “determined never more to see that parent’s face whom [he] treated with so little respect.”
Peter Dromgoole may have not faced off in a pistol duel, but his uncle — George Dromgoole, a UNC alumnus — did. George was a congressman from Virginia, and dueled with an innkeeper named Daniel Dugger on the banks of the Roanoke River after an insult and subsequent slap. George shot the man dead in 1837, just four years after the disappearance of Peter.
The two stories merged over the years, the two Dromgooles becoming one in local legend, with doomed love and rivalry added for flavor. The real Peter Dromgoogle fled to Wilmington, where he joined the Army. He was promoted to sergeant and stationed in Florida, where he took part in conflicts with the Seminole tribe until he was fatally shot and killed by a fellow solider — who later repented and confessed to the crime on the gallows, claiming drunkenness pushed him toward doing the deed but still accepting responsibility.
The life — and death — of Peter Dromgoole has been passed down through generations of students at UNC. The Order of the Gimghoul’s secretive nature has helped to further the tale, with their ominous castle clubhouse proving a continually tantalizing target for late-night dares and impromptu excursions. But if a UNC student walks up Ghimghoul Road hoping for a glimpse of a ghost or to catch hooded figures in the midst of a pagan ritual, all they’re likely to find is a stone fortress that refuses to yield any secrets to those without an invitation.