The eerie past of Gimghoul Castle’s secret society

A ghoulish tale of UNC’s most well known patrons

With Halloween on the horizon, we’re all in the mood for some ghoulish subject matter. For some, the fun is in the demystifying.

“Gimghoul.” You’ve likely heard the word by now, and you probably think of the castle to the east of campus.

Some of you might have even heard the castle houses a secret society called the Order of Gimghoul, and that they only extend invitations to influential, male, junior and senior students and faculty. From there, most people are in the dark.

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Do a bit of research and you’ll find a few more interesting facts and legends regarding the Order. Here’s what you probably didn’t know.

It was formed in 1889 by Edward Wray Martin, William W. Davies, Shepard Bryan, Andrew Henry Patterson, and Robert Worth Bingham. Originally called Dromgoole, the name was changed to Gimgoole, and at last edited to Gimghoul. This change was “in accord with midnight and graves and weirdness,” Davies said.

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The name was already creepy, but they decided to up it – what does this tell us? They like creep. But that’s an understatement.

The founders needed inspiration for their society after founding it, and landed on the legend of Peter Dromgoole, a student who had gone missing under suspicious circumstances in 1833.

The legend goes that Peter and another student were in love with the same girl, Fanny. One day the opponents crossed paths. When Peter’s opponent offended him with a shove, Peter challenged him to a duel. They met at the rock where Peter and Fanny would meet. The duel began – Peter lost. Panicking, the young men present buried Peter’s body beneath the rock. Rumors spread of Dromgoole’s disappearance, and it’s said that Fanny eventually died of grief.

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So, the society is inspired by death. Honorable death, but still, death.

The real foundation of the Order, however, is taken from Arthurian legend and the Knights of the Round Table. Founder Wray Martin’s obsession with medieval legend was the seed of this foundation, and it was he who organized the structure of the Order. The code he set down was based in chivalry. The full name is the Knights of the Order of Gimghouls.

That’s right, there’s more than just one Gimghoul. They’re all ghouls. Meeting in candlelight, cloaked in midnight.

But they’re certainly people. And prominent males at that. Records of recent membership are strictly closed off, but if you were to find the right records, you could spot names of the deceased – names we see all over campus. Wilson, Kenan, Carmichael, Ehringhaus, Mangum, Ruffin, Craige.

So the members certainly have a record of helping the university. The construction of their castle is the reason we have Battle Park as it is today. The society sold the land in 1926 to pay for their new fortress. But, these benefactors carry one unsettling symbol in their photos and icons – a single recurring motif that seems out of place in the quest for honor.

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It’s the devil. He’s in their original emblem.

And in these composites from 1921 and 1924, respectively.

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In a photo of 1950s Gimghoul in the castle’s great hall, you can see leopard and bear skin rugs. It’s a society of luxury. The armor on the left is wearing the face of the devil in the first composite.

But if you’ll look at the painting behind them, you may be able to see who’s in it – the devil. But this time he prepares to be slain by the knight, as his devil mistress clings to him.

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What is the meaning of the symbol’s recurrence to an Order dedicated to the principles of knighthood – chivalry, courage, loyalty and truth? Why choose the ultimate symbol of sin and earthly wickedness?

Perhaps despite the secrecy, rituals, legends and codes these specters live by, they understand they are still, in fact, human.

Images and research courtesy of North Carolina Collection of Wilson Library Special Collections

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