Let me begin by saying, I do not understand.
The House on the Rock is one of my favourite places in the US. Since returning to Ireland/UK, I always bring it up as the highlight of my trip. I have just taken a look through some of the 388 pictures I took of it. I still think it’s a fantastic place, but I know that I do not understand it. But if you are ever in the area, or even near the area, or not actually anywhere near it at all, you should go see the House on the Rock for yourself.
But first a little preamble. The astute observer might notice that back when I passed through Chicago, IL, I jumped straight over to Minnesota, skipping poor, cheesy, Wisconsin. Was this because I could find nothing worth reporting in the entire state except for cheese?
No, it’s because The House on the Rock partially closes over the winter, with a special Christmas-themed area open instead. In hindsight, if I had known what a wonder this place was, I would’ve gone to that winter one as well.
I hope you’ll forgive just a little more preface because, on the way to Spring Green, WI, I came across the most proudly odd advert for a gun store:
Right, enough of that. Onto The House on the Rock. The first, most frequently asked question is: what is it? Simplest answer: it’s a house, on a rock. I’m selling this place already, I can tell. It started when Frank Lloyd Wright insulted the House designer’s skills, Alex Jordan, in a meeting that almost certainly never happened. As a result of this fictitious meeting, Alex Jordan picked a rock he liked the look of and started… blowing it up. Dammit, America, must you start every construction project by picking part of nature and blowing it up?
When he was does, Alex Jordan had built a house somewhat reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright, with a blend of cultural influences, notably Japan:
Okay, so far, so not that crazy. Let’s dig a little deeper. After he was finished building the House, he continued adding bits and pieces. Who hasn’t felt the need to chuck on a conservatory to soak up the sunshine? Or, the Infinity Room which juts out 218 feet, unsupported, from the bluff and looks like:
Okay, a little eccentric maybe, but I’ve seen the Winchester Mystery House, at least the Infinity Room gives you good views. Outside the Infinity Room, visitors are introduced to another recurring theme in the house and, okay, it’s a little odd perhaps, but not that strange. Please find it below, the subject of my first upload to YouTube (suck it “Me at the zoo”):
That’s actually sort of enjoyable, in its own way. It would be like having a space-saving version of Apollonia in your home. I’m beginning to find this place has made too much of itself. It seems like a bit of a strange, but pleasant enough place to hang out, maybe even live. This place is pretty darn normal—
Okay. Now we’re getting into it. Y’see, after The House and the Infinity Room were finished, people were coming by to have a look at what had become an attraction. So, thought Alex Jordan, if some people were coming to one attraction, then all people would come to more attractions. Probably. I mean the guy seemed kinda nutty. He began expanding the House into other buildings, dedicated to various themes and collections of oddities, always trying to tastefully blend them in to the existing décor.
The collections range from model trains:
To pretty blue glass:
(Don’t worry about me taking pictures in the ladies bathroom, a lady invited me in.)
(… Don’t worry about that either, she only invited me in to see the collection)
(That’s not a euphemism)
… Moving on. After you get through the House proper, you start winding your way towards some of the themed sections, like the Streets of Yesterday, celebrating less an accurate depiction of a by-gone America, and more Creepy Fucking Dolls of by-gone America.
And if you need to remove your eyes or your brain after seeing that, the House obliges:
Further on up is a giant steam… train… thing. (The designation “thing” is going to crop up a lot this post)
Right next to it, since we were talking about Apollonia (we were, scroll up), is Apollonia’s brother: the “Colossal, Giant Calliope” Gladiator:
I can see the family resemblance, though this one has figures, a xylophone and a glass-bottle xylophone. I’m slightly inclined to believe Gladiator might be adopted.
The entire attraction has lots of the automatic music players, like Gladiator and the one in the video above. These ones all take tokens though, you’re given a three with your ticket, the rest you can shill out if you are so inclined. One of the first examples that you yourself can control is in the next room, the Heritage of the Sea room. For this reason, I think, a lot of people activate it for the novelty. All this is fine. What it plays is not:
Every minute that bloody terrible song plucked out by that smarmy looking octopus. And there’s a lot to see in this room (more on that in a minute), I was there a long-damn time. I still hear this in my dreams at night. Goddamnit, Ringo.
Why am I in this room so long? What is this room? It’s basically a warehouse, one large chamber with a few ancillary ones with smaller displays. What’s the large display?
Before you ask: no, I don’t know why. Some of the ancillary displays do contain a bit more sea-related Heritage. For instance, a very old friend, scrimshawing, makes an appearance:
(Y’know I just checked: although I did encounter some lovely examples of scrimshaw way back in the Provincetown Pilgrim Monument museum, I didn’t right about it. I was … distracted).
There are also models of various ships throughout history, showing their development:
As well as models of some more famous ships like the Titanic, and that most notable member of the nautical world, the space shuttle (lighter):
No I don’t understand that either. I do feel it’s important to remind you again that this room is mainly taken up by a giant squid fighting some weird fantasy giant whale beast. It’s hard to get an appropriate sense of how big it is, but:
Onto the next room then, which might make more sense. Anything’s possible.
This is the Spirit of Aviation exhibit. I think. There’s some aviation going on, anyway. There is also – I don’t know or care if they’re genuine – there are also some Burma-Shave poems!
As well as some actually pretty impressive cars, including a classic Mercedes gull-wing:
After the Spirit of Aviation (which actually might have been the Tribute to Nostalgia), we pass back near the Streets of Yesterday, to instead visit upon:
One of my favourite sections of the place. This area is rammed with those token-hungry automatic music machines. Somehow I managed not to lose all my savings on buying tokens (actually I only had a $20 note on me and even I have my limits). Instead I would coincidentally travel close enough to rather more excitable tourists who would spend their tokens for me to enjoy.
By the way, you might be wondering: okay, so it can pluck a couple of strings, bang a drum, that’s cool and all, but does it get really impressive? Like, who would even design these things, never mind build them and make them work? No spoilers, but it gets more complex than this:
Oh yeah, there’s lots of themed ones. Rooms playing chamber music, smaller ones doing vaudeville, lone ones doing a bit of honky tonk piano. Ones doing whatever music accompanies such a visual:
We continue through, as the tour come across another set of bathrooms. Didn’t investigate these, but they might be the most plain thing in the entire place. Y’know, assuming learning about Charles Lindbergh’s phrenology is plain:
Through the next corridor, however, is one of the main attractions of the House. It’s what originally made me put The House on the Rock on the Must See list way, way back during the summer of 2009 when my house was hit by lightning. That is to say, while I had no power and no computer I read a book, not that I was hit by lightning and it made me come here. Though, if that were the case, I’d certainly blend in.
So what book? Well, to be honest, I had somewhat forgotten why this was on my list until I was going across the Dakotas. I’d been listening to the audiobook version of the one I had read back in ’09 and it reminded me of all the madness I was in for. This entire place might sound familiar to those who’ve read Neil Gaiman, because this featured in a memorable portion of his sublime American Gods. Aside from visiting the House generally, the protagonist goes to one place specifically:
Self-proclaimed as the biggest indoor carousel in the world, it consists of 800 beasts of myth and fantasy – apparently none of them being a horse – and is surrounded by mannequin-style women with angel ones. As you do.
I end up hanging around here for about twenty minutes taking pictures and get talking to one of the staff. He asks me how I heard of this place and, despite being in the most memorable part of it, I have somehow forgotten. My mind’s just reeling from the sights and sounds. It takes a moment to catch up and I tell him of Gaiman’s influence. He nods in a “oh, another of those” way, then advises me that after I go through the next room, I need to go down to the cafeteria (which is closed). Then I have to go into the bathrooms. Why is everyone on this trip sending me to bathrooms?
But first up, what does the next room consist of?
As ever, I can’t really explain much more. The massive chandelier that dominates this room actually contains an office, intended for Alex Jordan’s use before his death. The collection of organ keyboards I can’t really explain, the knight holding the lion I won’t even try to. There’s also this part that reminds me of ‘60s Star Trek:
Like the dutiful guy I am, I make my way down to the closed cafeteria and go into the men’s bathroom. Beyond the obvious facilities there are, er, these guys:
And across the hall is the ladies’:
I’m not sure if I’m bothered at the obvious gender-stereotyping, or bothered that ladies get nice little seats. Is that a thing? Can you just chill out in ladies rooms? I mean, I don’t quite get the appeal given their primary function, but still, razzle-dazzle.
By the way, earlier on I promised that the automatic music machines would get a bit more complex and grander in scale. A few rooms later, you come across this – is masterpiece the word I want? What’s the mot juste? Ah yes—this thing.
Speaking of things that have attached themselves to my soul: dead-eye stares from these ladies:
Not to mention, y’know, this guy:
Okay, that’s forty whole honking pictures from the House on the Rock and I’ve barely scratched the surface. I ended up taking 388 pictures and a couple of videos of this maelstrom of madness. I haven’t even mentioned the collection of dolls houses, the area of “antiques” including, but not limited to, various crowns of English monarchs, the ornate carriages, the—it’s just… I still don’t really have the words for it. In 48 states, I saw weird houses, I saw collections dedicated to offbeat things, I saw extravagant attractions built in remote places, but nothing quite like The House on the Rock.