The Order of Gimghoul, in the heart of Chapel Hill, remains a mystery

The Order of Gimghoul is a secret society located in the heart of Chapel Hill. Little is known about what its purpose is, or who is a part of it. Secret meetings are held in a large stone castle on the crest of a hill. The society has been a source of Chapel Hill lore for almost two hundred years, yet its origins are shrouded in secrecy. Mystery always lurks, and that is no exception for the Order of Gimghoul. The secret society is rich in obscurity from its origins, to its members, and to the castle itself.

The society was not originally called The Order of Gimghoul. Originally named after the legend of Peter Dromgoole, the group changed their name from The Order of Dromgoole to The Order of Gimgoole, in consideration with the Dromgoole family. Finally, they changed their name to what they are known as today, The Order of Gimghoul.

William W. Davies, a member of the society, stated that the name was changed multiple times “in accord with midnight and graves and weirdness.”

The origins of the Order circles around legends passed down through generations of members. The myths and legends surrounding the castle contain a unique mixture of fact and fiction, making it unknown which aspects of the legends hold truth, and which aspects are false. However, there is one principal legend concerning the founding of the society, which is at the center of all of the lore. There a few discrepancies on certain details, but the main points of the legend are consistent.

As the story goes, Peter Dromgoole, a student at UNC, fell in love with a Chapel Hill resident known as Miss Fanny. Unfortunately, another man was in in love with her. They decided to settle the matter with a pistol duel, held at the grounds where Gimghoul castle was built years later. Dromgoole lost the duel and his life, falling onto a large rock. One version of the legends states that the winner of the duel panicked after he killed Dromgoole, and hastily buried him under that rock. Another version of the legend claims that Miss Fanny heard of the duel and arrived just as Dromgoole was dying, right in time to hold him in her arms as he breathed his last breath. The Order claims that his blood still stains that rock today.

Dromgoole was an actual person, who attended UNC for a short period before mysteriously disappearing. The Order of Gimghoul drew inspiration from the legend, and used Dromgoole as its namesake.

The Order has an intricate initiation ritual, in which the entrant, or Neophyte, must vow to never reveal the secrets of the order, and make a number of other claims, including their wish to go “from the world of the mortals to the Realm of Gimghoul.” The Neophyte is then stripped naked from the waist up, blindfolded, and taken to a series of locations around the castle and castle grounds. In front of the fireplace in the Great Hall of the castle, the Neophyte is branded with dry ice.

Over the course of the initiation, the applicant is threatened by a sword, and is required to shoot another Ghoul with a pistol (however, that death is staged). The Neophyte then vows to be a member of the Order for life, and is told the “DARK SECRET” of Gimghoul. Finally, the Neophyte is knighted on the Rock of Sacrifice, and is officially a member.

Over the centuries, the basis of the society has changed. The foundation of the Order of Gimghoul was based on principles of chivalry. The original members were inspired by the Knights of the Round Table, a mythical group of knights found in the legends of King Arthur, from medieval England.

But as the world has evolved, the intentions of the members has changed. Today, the society focuses more on social events and elite gatherings, resembling something like a fraternity rather than a chivalrous group of knights. However, the Order goes to great lengths to maintain their aura of mystery, and no one truly knows what goes on beyond their tightly shut castle doors.

The members of the society are male juniors and seniors at the University of North Carolina, as well as faculty members at UNC. Members of the Order are organized into rulers and subjects, and can join by invitation only. Some lists of former members have been released, including notable names such as Kenan, Carmichael, Morehead, and more. Current lists of members are not available to the public. A fragile copy of the extensive Gimghoul Constitution and Bylaws can be found in the Gimghoul Archives at the UNC Wilson Library.

When the society was founded in 1889, there were many comparable groups at UNC, however the Order of Gimghoul is the only known surviving secret  society today. With its location being hidden in the woods and “No Trespassing” signs lining the gravel driveway, it is no surprise that the members are not only hard to contact but hard to find.

Attempts by the ECHO staff to contact the organization were unsuccessful. In an effort to stay mysterious, the Order attempts to stay unreachable to the general public. When Gimghoul Corporation—the name listed on the property deed—was called, in hopes of getting an interview, the phone rang for a few minutes, and then the line was quickly picked up and hung up without a single word. Then, at the castle itself, the door was not answered despite the apparent presence of people inside of the castle.

The castle itself, originally known as Hippol Castle, was built in 1924. The Order of the Gimghoul, however was founded in 1889. The first members decided that the castle should be located where the fatal duel was supposedly held. The castle was built for $50,000 by French artisans, translating to around $600,000 today. Thirteen hundred tons of stone were used to construct it, creating the imposing edifice that still stands today.

The castle is tucked in the woods at the end of Gimghoul Road, a quiet tree-lined residential street in the heart of Chapel Hill. The average passerby would have no idea what secrets lie in the woods beyond.

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