The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday May 31st

From fake deaths to choosing the school colors: Spooky clubs that founded UNC

Gimghoul Castle is the headquarters of the Order of Gimghoul, a secret collegiate society in Chapel Hill.  Signs posted outside of the castle warn people to stay off of the property on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018.
Buy Photos Gimghoul Castle is the headquarters of the Order of Gimghoul, a secret collegiate society in Chapel Hill. Signs posted outside of the castle warn people to stay off of the property on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018.

Symbolic fire, blindfolds, swords, hoods and mystery combine to create one thing: community.

Since students first stepped foot on campus in 1795, there have been organizations that bring them together through shared passions and affiliations.

UNC, like many other universities, has a long history of organizations that are shrouded in mystery. These organizations are built upon their secrecy and only give away their rituals to a select few. Some of these traditions are still upheld today but are difficult to conform because of the groups that protect them.

But these rituals have a purpose. Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies Joint Senate President Luke De Mott said that any type of group tradition — secret or not — can bring members closer together.

“There is some value in going through the motions because it draws people together.” De Mott said. “And I think there are some traditions that have value, and I think there are a lot in this organization that do.”

DiPhi is the oldest student organization at UNC and has gone through some major changes over the years. They helped to establish the University Library, the school colors of Carolina blue and white, and the Schools of Law, Medicine and Media and Journalism.

But there are other organizations that may still exist that never operate in the public eye. Some of these organizations include the Order of Gimghoul, the Order of the Golden Fleece, the Order of the Old Well and the Order of the Grail-Valkyries.

A select few of these organizations have ancient traditions surrounding their initiation practices and they partake in what is called a “tapping.”

The Order of the Golden Fleece in particular used to have public tapping ceremonies.

“Ceremonies would happen during a campus event where everyone was gathered together,” said Jennifer Coggins, collections management and engagement archivist in the Wilson Special Collections Library. “The lights would turn off, and these robbed figures would come in and grab people on the shoulders to indicate that they had been tapped into the honors society.”

According to the University Archives, other organizations such as the Order of the Old Well have been known to have ritualistic tappings where inductees are blindfolded and led to different parts of campus on their induction nights.

In one account, it’s recommended the inductees bring their own comfortable blindfold so they can be prepared for their tapping.

One of the most renowned secret societies on campus is the Order of Gimghoul. Edward Wray Martin, Robert Worth Bingham, William W. Davies, Shepard Bryan and Andrew Henry Patterson founded the Order of Gimghoul in 1889.

Hippol Castle, otherwise known as Gimghoul Castle, was built in 1926. It has been rumored that the group participates in rituals around the castle and on Dromgoole Rock. Peter Dromgoole was a student at the University in the 1830s, and according to legend, he was shot through the heart in a duel over his lover and fell onto Drumgoole rock, said to now be permanently stained with his blood.

Within the University Archives, one can find detailed descriptions of an Order of Gimghoul induction ceremony. The whole idea around the initiation is to go from “the world of mortals to the realm of Gimghoul,” which involves hooded ghouls, swords and readings from the founder Wray Martin.

From one account in the archives, the initiation went like this: The new member arrives at the edge of Glandon Forest where whistling can be heard from inside. A hooded figure greets him and asks him a series of questions, the answers to which he must have memorized.

He is left in the woods for ten minutes until a hooded ghoul greets him and brings him to the Dromgoole rock where another process takes place. The novice must complete a spiritual death with fire surrounded by the ghouls in order to be inducted.

Some accounts of the practice also include the use of hooded members holding swords to the novice’s neck and the fake death of one of the ghouls by a fake gun.

It is rumored that on select nights if you stand outside the castle, you can hear the group inside.

Other historical groups remain a mystery to current archivists. Some of these more mysterious groups can be found in old University yearbooks.

These groups include the Order of Invisible Stygians and the Society for the Preservation of Buck Taylor’s Mutton and Shoats. There isn’t a lot of information to be found on many of the student clubs from the 1800s and 1900s due to a general lack of evidence, according to Coggins and the archive library. 

If you’re a part of an organization now, make sure to get in contact with Wilson Library so in 100 years, your story can be told.

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