Just a short walk from the main campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a medieval castle sits atop a hill. While Gimghoul Castle is itself shrouded in mystery, the real mystery of the hill, named Piney Prospect, begins long before the castle was ever built. In the shadow of the castle sits a large, bloodstained rock. The ground underneath this rock may be the final resting place of Peter Dromgoole. His story is one of love and jealousy, and one of North Carolina’s greatest ghost stories.
Peter Dromgoole was a young Virginia man from a wealthy family. He entered the University of North Carolina in 1831 and quickly put aside his studies in favor of drinking and chasing women (college students never change). In 1833 he met and fell in love with a young woman named Fanny. He and Fanny would pass many an afternoon sitting atop Piney Prospect. But Fanny had another suitor, one who was envious of her affections.
This rival of Dromgoole’s challenged him to a duel. They chose their seconds and met early one summer evening on Piney Prospect. Dromgoole was a great lover, but a poor marksman, and so he died, bleeding to death on the same rock where he and Fanny had shared so many intimate moments. In a panic, his killer and the two witnesses dug a shallow grave and buried Peter Dromgoole, placing the bloodstained rock over him as a tombstone.
The three conspirators concocted a story of Dromgoole running away to join the Army, but Fanny was inconsolable. She would return to Piney Prospect every afternoon and wait for word from Peter, sitting atop the rock, never knowing she was sitting atop her lover’s grave. Legend has it that she would see Peter walking towards her through the trees, only to disappear before he reached the rock. Apparently this eventually drove her to madness. She took ill and died shortly after. Peter’s killer finally confessed to the whole ordeal…sixty years later, while on his deathbed.
For over a century, students at the University have told and retold the story of Peter Dromgoole and Fanny. Many have claimed to see their spirits roaming around the woods of Piney Prospect, and the rock still sits there, stained red. The construction of Gimghoul Castle in 1926 (then named Hippol Castle) only added to the mystique of the area, and the legend has bled over to (mistakenly) encompass the castle.
The legend of Peter Dromgoole is a perfect example of the blurry line between fact and fiction that paranormal researchers have to deal with day in and day out. Sometimes we have to sort through quite a bit of folklore to get to the truth of a haunting. The geology department of the University has investigated the hill of Piney Prospect and never found any body hidden under the rock. Their official findings were that the red stains on the rock were due to copper deposits. The rock and the hill are on private property and the owners DO NOT want visitors, so please respect their privacy and enjoy the story for what it is, a ripping good yarn.