So, I have to make a confession: I've lived in Arizona practically my entire life and for the last seven years I've lived only 7 1/2 miles from this place. I'd seen it on documentaries and programs like Mysteries at the Museum and always made a mental note to check it out. Sadly, it's closed during the summer - for good reason as there is no air conditioning on the property. (Even in eighty degree weather I was sweating a bit in some rooms.) Deciding to get this local attraction off my bucket list, I schedule a day to go and - boy howdy - I was not disappointed! Phoenix locals and travelers alike, just take 7th Street as far south as it goes - until you hit the round-about right before South Mountain. If you turn left, you'll see a paved road headed off into the foothills. For a few moments you'll wonder if you're headed in the right direction and at night you'll probably get the heebie-jeebies about horror movies you've seen starting out just like this. After a moment, you'll come to a chain link gate and a dirt road. Having the low ground clearance car I do, I had to drive slowly around the rocks jutting out of the road. There is a small parking lot and a port-a-john you'll come up to next. (Yep, this is the only bathroom, so plan your pre-arrival potty break accordingly!) From the parking lot you get a wonderful exterior view of the adventure that awaits you just up the hill. That far away view is deceiving though, as it looks just like a house. Granted an eccentric looking house, but just a house all the same. Oh boy, was I wrong thinking that!
I climbed up the trail to the house, passing the hand painted signs reading: Adults $10, Kids $5 and wondering if this place was going to live up to the hype I'd heard about it. Granted the admission price wasn't too bad, so should I complain?
First thing, if you aren’t comfortable with stairs, this probably won't be the destination for you. Some of the stairways are narrow with very high steps that reminded me of castles I climbed in Scotland. There are no railings either, so if you put your palm out on something to steady yourself, you'll find your hand resting on some kind of ornamentation. Because there is decoration everywhere you look!
I climbed the large stairs and up to the side of the house. Sadly, I didn't have time to oogle the outside as a tour was starting and the group of people around me were all filing inside to join it. I, on the other hand, was trying to find the ticket booth to pay my entry fee. Side note: there is no ticket booth. Eventually I found a kind man with a thick Hispanic accent carrying around a money envelope whom I paid.
Also a side note on the tours: there is no fixed starting point or time for them. There is one being given nonstop during their open hours. So you just find out where the tour is when you arrive and join in. Once the tour gets back to your personal starting position, you can hop off.
When I arrived there were two college aged men giving the tours. They were very welcoming, cheerful and accepting of any and all questions.
But onto the castle! For the backstory on the castle and who built it, I'll link you to this video here. (The story has been told a hundred times, so I'd just be quoting or copying others.)
The first thing I thought upon entering the castle was, "Wow, there are a ton of creepy dolls and pet rocks in this place." Apparently Mary Lou liked dolls because they are in every room you go into and range in size from small to almost life size. Rocks painted to look like animals are also hidden in corners and cubby holes, with most of them artfully arranged between two couches before a fire place. (There are thirteen fireplaces on the property too.)
The place is the very definition of the word eclectic. The décor ranges from macabre oddities such as the number of snake motifs on the floors, cattle skulls, and hidden plastic spiders. I also noted a prominent amount of Mayan art cemented into the walls. On the other hand, there is a stuffed doll of Dracula holding a Budweiser beer, a room devoted to jeans and denim, and a room with windows shot out by gun fire. Did I forget to mention the bordello looking sex doll in the bedroom? The whole place runs the gamut from mysterious to mundane and back again as your tour it.
Granted the sheer amount of it all I'm not sure anyone can convey without visiting it. Everywhere you look there is something etched into the walls, floors or hidden behind an item. I walked around one door and there, tucked in a corner, was a framed thank you note from Bill Clinton for a tour he'd taken of the property.
On the whole, the Mystery Castle isn't the grand, fairy tale location some documentaries have made it out to be through its origin story. It's far from being the Disney-fied version of a castle most people think of when hearing the word. It's not even a place I would prefer to live. (They didn't have running water there for the first forty-five years and the temperature in some bedrooms can reach triple digits in the summer.)
But that isn't why you should go and see this attraction. I wasn't blown away by the interior decorating, but I was held in sheer amazement by the imagination of the man who built it. For example there is a wishing well on the patio that leads down into the underground bar, so you can "wish" your drink order to be send to you by the dumbwaiter. Then there is the guest room with the skeleton of a saguaro cactus he refused to cut down, and therefor built the room around it. The entire site is a testament to what one human can do when he puts his mind to a task and never gives up. This humble author cannot recommend it enough.