The legend of Peter Dromgoole and Gimghoul Castle is an irresistible story of a lover’s spat, a moonlight duel and a secret burial beneath a bloodstained boulder. It’s the perfect story to share on All Hallow’s Eve–a story that has been passed down from generation-to-generation and to each new Tar Heel who steps onto Chapel Hill’s brick pathways.
Peter Dromgoole came from a wealthy Virginian family, and he left home in 1833 to attend school at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While there, he fell madly in love with a young woman known to history as “Miss Fanny,” and the pair would plan clandestine meetings at Piney Prospect on “Lover’s Loop,” a high area behind Gimghoul Castle that overlooks the town toward the east.
As the story goes, Miss Fanny had another admirer who professed his love, and he challenged Peter to a duel for the young woman’s heart. The two students intended to settle their rivalry as “gentleman scholars,” and they agreed to meet at Piney Prospect for a duel to the death. Both fired, and Peter fell, dying in Miss Fanny’s arms. Peter’s opponent panicked and, in a moment of terror, pushed Miss Fanny aside and buried the body beneath a rock on Lover’s Loop. The blood that spilled onto the rock is still there today, “forming an everlasting stain that [has] lured generations of UNC freshmen into the dark.”
And what was Miss Fanny’s fate? According to legend, she returned to Piney Prospect each night to mourn the loss of her one true love at the bloodstained rock. The next summer, she died of a broken heart, and the pair still haunt Gimghoul Castle to this day. It is said that, on a moonlit summer’s night, you can see Peter and Fanny’s ghostly forms illuminated in the castle windows–but I have yet to see them myself.
Today, Gimghoul Castle is the headquarters of the Order of Gimghoul, a secret society open to “notable” male students and faculty members by invitation. Five university students–Robert Worth Bingham, Shepard Bryan, William W. Davies, Edward Wray Martin and Andrew Henry Patterson–founded the society in 1889 as the Order of Dromgoole, but the name was later changed to the Order of Gimghoul “in accord with midnight and graves and weirdness.” The number of members and the society’s agenda is not known–cloaked in mystery, just like its namesake.