Thursday, October 1, 2009

The House on the Rock

The first time I heard about The House on the Rock (and paid attention) was when reading Neil Gaiman's American Gods.  When he writes about all the gods of all religions (burnt out, forgotten, etc) convening at this place, it perked my interest.  I researched it and found out it was a pretty quirky roadside attraction just outside Madison, WI.  And for how much I love Mr. Gaiman's writing, I couldn't get the pictures he painted out of my head, and I just had to go.

In the mid 1900s, an architect, Alex Jordan, wanted to build a spectacular house on the pinnacle of a rock in Spring Green, WI.  He did this and then opened it up as an attraction.  I'm guessing because of boredom or personal interest in collecting (the guy had to be a little off if you ask me) he built/assembled/collected tons of junk, which is now part of the attraction and museum of The House on the Rock.The main attraction is pictured above: the largest carousel in the world.  This, in American Gods, is the portal to Odin.  In person, it was hot, sweaty, and overwhelming.  There are no horses on the carousel, but hundreds of horses lining the walls/ceiling of the room the carousel is housed in.  The creatures on the moving carousel range from bulldogs to mermaids.  You can't actually ride it, which is a bummer, but it's pretty impressive.  The attraction has many rooms filled to the brim with some genuine articles, but mostly crazy worthless items that end up being impressive by sheer volume.  The rooms full of dolls was by far the creepiest.  There was a full scale model of a humpback whale (with teeth...hmmm not accurate) and a squid attacking it.  Also in the same gigantic room, was an "Octopus' Garden" area where you could insert a token and listen to a mechanical "band" playing the Beatles' song while the cartoon-y octopus "played" the instruments.  There were rooms upon rooms of lavish musical sets with the same token invoked canny music.
The attraction took the most time to walk through, as there was so much to look at.  As an artist, I couldn't help but be inspired by all the objects and design.  It was such chaos.  The mass of STUFF was inspiring and disturbing all at the same time.  A lot of these objects took a lot of craft to create and assemble, and although he must have been insane, the talent must be recognized!

The actual house was the most interesting/impressive part of the attraction.  The story is that Alex Jordan wanted to study under Frank Lloyd Wright, who was his hero.  Wright, looking at Jordan's sketches, laughed in his face and told him he was ridiculous.  Obviously, Jordan was not accepted into Wright's highly prestigious Taliesen school, which happens to be 5 miles down the road from where Jordan decided to build his masterpiece in Spring Green.  The story is just hilarious to me, knowing how pretentious Wright was, and that The House on the Rock attracts more visitors than Taliesen.  The house is small, the ceilings were so uncomfortably low.  The structure is built into and on the rocks.  The interior walls are partially natural rock, and the Japanese design is beautiful.  The impressive part is the cantilevered portion that juts out hundreds of feet from the main structure:

The cantilever ends in a point, leaving not enough room for adults to walk to the end.  It was rickety and creepy and beautiful.  Here's a view from below/side.  See how it's just leaning on that one rock for support?!  Yes.  Cool.

Although it costs an adult $28 for the full tour (and no student discount...), it is so worth it.  Just about 30 minutes West of Madison, The House on the Rock is a wonderfully unique way to spend a day.


  1. I LOVE it and want to go! That carosel picture is awesome.