Every Chapel Hill child grows up with the story of Peter Drumgoole and the “blood on the rock” ringing in their ears. In the spring of 1833, Peter Drumgoole, a Virginia native attending school at UNC-CH, met and fell in love with a young woman named Fanny. They often met at the rock overlooking the steepness of Chapel Hill. Fanny, being an attractive young woman, was also being pursued by another gentleman, and rivalry flared when the two men bumped shoulders on campus one day. A duel was declared, and at midnight, they two met at the rock. After pacing off the required ten steps, shots rang, and Peter Drumgoole lay on the ground.
This is where the story begins to take a turn. In some versions, Peter’s friends quickly dug a shallow grave and buried Peter close to where he fell. Another variation is that he is actually buried under the rock with the blood stains.
In other versions of Peter’s disappearance, Peter fled university life and enlisted in the Army. However, muster rolls containing Peter’s name have never been located.
In both versions, though, apparently Fanny was not present when the duel commenced. Some say she returned to the rock over and over, waiting patiently day in and day out, for Peter to return to her. Others say she heard about the duel, and arrived in time for Peter to dye in her arms, and the blood splatter from the duel is what caused the “blood on the rock”, stained for all time. The picture above is not of the actual rock, as the rock is now blocked by shrubbery, but does give you an idea of the size of the boulders outlining the property.
Despite all the stories and myths surrounding Gimghoul, the truth is that work on the castle began in the early 1920s, and contrary to what us schoolchildren were told, it was built on site from 1,300 tons of stones (not transported stone by stone across the ocean), and is actually home to the “Order of Gimghoul”, a secret society for the University, and was founded in 1889 by Robert Bingham, Shepard Bryan, and several other notable students at that time. Membership is by invitation only, and the society is modeled on “Arthurian knights and chivalry”. The grounds themselves are the property of a non-profit called “Order of the Gimghoul”, and is located very near campus and the Forest Theatre.
As a child, climbing the steep hill thru the woods to Lover’s Leap, one of our “do you dare” escapades included touching the blood on the rock. We did notice on our recent visit that shrubbery surrounding the rock has grown to where you cannot actually get a good picture, as the grounds themselves are not open to the public. You can view the castle from the loop dirt road, or you can park and walk down a very short side path to the Lover’s Leap for a view of the back of the castle. Whatever you do, please respect the Order’s wishes and do not venture inside the stone enclosure around the castle, and all of this is publicly marked.