Friday, June 08, 2007

For Your Fancy

In the course of researching my current work in progress, there are a few key areas that have captured my imagination.

My favorites, if I had to choose, would be the legends that revolve around a certain section of Chapel Hill. When I attended UNC, my dorm was on the very edge of North campus, across from a wonderful historical district (another side of the dorm had the marvelous Paul Green Theatre, site of my work-study job, and the other had the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery - a most fascinating stretch of history). Anyway, my dorm-mates and I would cross over to go walking/jogging/procrastinating in the historical district on this stretch of residential dream-fodder...stately old houses, friendly old trees, and amazing gardens...but all sort of naturally grown. There is none of the immaculate, matching, obviously methodically planned feel a lot of modern neighborhoods have.

One day we kept following the path at the end of Gimghoul Lane until it went uphill into the forest...which immediately makes you feel as if you've stepped far away from Chapel Hill, NC. Wikipedia says that Glandon Forest is a mystical place inhabited by knights and miscreants...there's an actual cliff - a plethora of trees and flowers - and a castle.

Obviously, this is something you don't stumble across every day of the week. My mind began spinning and I had to know - how does something like this castle fall in the midst of small-town North Carolina?

It so happens that this castle was built in 1924 (legend has the stone was put into place by French artisans) at the wish of the Order of the Gimghoul...a secret society founded in 1889 and made up of UNC's most prominent male students and faculty. The Order was founded on the principles of Arthurian chivalry and knighthood....and most importantly, on the tragic story of Peter Dromgoole.

There's a large, flat rock close to the castle - large enough to comfortable seat a few people - and it's covered with a red stain. I know it's there - I've seen it myself. Where did the stain come from?

It started with a young student from Virginia attending the university in 1833. His name was Peter Dromgoole and in the spring of his freshman year, he fell in love with a beautiful girl named Fanny. They'd meet on the wooded cliff near campus, sitting on 'their' rock and whispering all of those things people newly in love whisper...and everything was going just as planned until Peter noticed a friend of his looking a little too closely at his Fanny. Jealousy and indignation took Peter over as this friend began to make his feelings known...and a duel was planned.

They met at midnight on the cliff, their friends all there to bear witness - but things spun out of control and Peter was killed. They hastily moved his body from the rock where he lay bleeding and buried him in a shallow grave.

Fanny had no idea what had happened - daily she would return to 'their' rock, wondering where the red stain had come from - her heart breaking when Peter failed to meet her.

Legend says that the lovers haunt their rock and their forest...and I wonder if they ever run into the other famous ghost of UNC, an Irish writer named Jack who died in the 1930s of alcoholism and is said to roam down Gimghoul Lane and through the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery looking for company.

So a secret society was founded on the tragedy of young love...and the castle is a tangible memorial to that long ago's enough to keep my imagination spinning!

If you'd like to find out a little bit more for yourself (there are actual public records available on the Order of the Gimghoul, which reveals those first members), click!


Anonymous said...

wow. thats so weird. you know what would be scary- to spend the night there on that rock-we should try that it might be a cool experience, although i probably woulnt be able to shut my eyes at all

Luisa Perkins said...

Fantastic! Stuff like this is right in my wheelhouse. I can't wait to read what you do with it!

Anne Bradshaw said...

What a great thing to find in America. I was born near a castle in Caernarvon, Wales, before my family moved back to England, and castles have always intrigued me. I've visited many in the past and really miss them. I'll be looking for your book. Happy blogging!