Wisconsin Day Three: The Crazy House

“If this was the afterlife, he thought, it was a lot like the House on the Rock: part diorama, part nightmare.” -Neil Gaiman, American Gods

On Friday, Nicki and I went to Spring Green to visit The House on the Rock, or as I like to call it, The House That Spite Built. You see, Alex Jordan, the madman behind Spite House, fancied himself quite the architect, even claiming to be on par with Frank Lloyd Wright. Frank Lloyd Wright, on the other hand, sneeringly dismissed Jordan with “I wouldn’t hire you to design a cheese crate or a chicken coop.” Thus, Jordan decided to build a monstrous parody of Wright’s Taliesin home, also located in Spring Green. The House on the Rock was so named due to its rather unusual placement on a 60-foot chimney of rock, which forced some individual rooms to have very odd, disconcerting proportions.

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The ceilings in the original house were almost universally low, which has prompted me to wonder whether Alex Jordan was an extremely short man, or if he simply did not have access to a ladder whilst he was building it–in some areas, my 5’2″ self could stand on tiptoes and smack my head on the ceiling.

There were some random, locked doors, high up on the walls, and rooms where people were intended to be seated were raised even further off of the ground so that heads would still be quite close to the ceiling, offering no respite for the claustrophobic.

During his lifetime, Alex Jordan’s friends believed he lived in abject poverty, and in a way, it was true: he never had any money because he was always spending it on more STUFF to fill his home. Every room was packed to the gills with STUFF. By no means am I a minimalist, but after a short while, even I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of STUFF in the tours; by the end, Nicki and I were almost running through the exhibits because we just couldn’t take any more.

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This musical display played the ‘Godfather’ theme on a constant loop, which may or may not make the nearby security guard feel like a macho, macho man for eight hours a day.

The standout of the tour through the original House is the Infinity Room, which projects out over the Wyoming Valley 218 feet and contains over 3,200 windows.

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This room? Terrifying. Just as you peek your head over the railing to look out the glass panel on the floor to see just how far out you are, high above the treetops, you are reminded that this is someone’s homemade construction project AND of your own mortality as it sways in the wind.

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I thought this statue was neat; the spiral staircase next to it was rickety and terrifying.

The original House comes to an abrupt end, and we’re pointed by a helpful wizard to tour two.

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Tour two begins in the Millhouse opened in 1968, and houses way more crap than you’d believe any one human being could collect. The first rooms contain a lot of antique guns, dolls, mechanical banks, suits of armor, and so on and so forth.

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I would imagine that your seriousness about a situation may increase exponentially with the number of barrels you choose to have on your gun. These guns, as you can see, are Serious Business.

Here are some suits of armor, dwarfed by a fireplace the size of my apartment:

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And here is a clown bank that will surely be featured in an upcoming nightmare.

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The tour continues into the ‘Streets of Yesterday’, which opened in 1971. It’s a recreation of a supposedly typical 19th century main street. The proprietors claim that this area is intentionally dim to simulate a nighttime environment, but really, the whole House is overly dark, to the point where it’s difficult to photograph anything, and additionally makes everything seem like an extended creepy dream.

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I want to travel back in time and feed people ‘medicinal’ tapeworms.

It was right around the ‘Streets of Yesterday’ when you could start plugging tokens into machines to make various mechanical things in the rooms start to play, and Nicki and I happened upon one titled ‘Death of a Drunkard’–this is one I’m glad we saw early in the tour as some of the mechanical things were on the disappointing side and I might not’ve been as inclined to put money into the machine later down the line.

Watch, and be amazed:

The ‘Heritage of the Sea’ opened in 1990, and features a 200ft whale battling with a giant octopus. The only thing that could make this room more awesome would be the inclusion of a tyrannosaurus standing atop the whale, screaming in triumph.

Here’s a small version of the battle, as there is nowhere in the room where you can photograph the enormous battle in its entirety. It’s simply too dark and too large.

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See what I’m talking about? This thing is HUGE.

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Along the sides of the room, on all three levels, they have many museum-sized model ships and other historical nautical pieces, including a large Titanic display, and Chester the Molester in a diving suit.

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After the Octopus Garden is the Tribute to Nostalgia building, with even more nightmare fuel.

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After Tribute to Nostalgia came the Music of Yesterday exhibit, which is one of the largest collections of animated and automated music machines.

‘Death of a Drunkard’ might’ve been the best quarter I ever spent–the best fifty cents has to go to the Mikado room. (This is not our video, but one I found on youtube, in case you were breathlessly awaiting more of our delightful commentary.)

 

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I find it delightful that she’s peering into the rear end in front of her with obvious glee.

Shortly after this, we came to the World’s Largest Carousel:

Calliope music played: a Strauss waltz, stirring and occasionally discordant. The wall as they entered was hung with antique carousel horses, hundreds of them, some in need of a lick of paint, others in need of a good dusting; above them hung dozens of winged angels constructed rather obviously from female store-window mannequins; some of them bared their sexless breasts; some had lost their wigs and stared baldly and blindly down from the darkness.

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And then there was the carousel.

A sign proclaimed it was the largest in the world, said how much it weighed, how many thousand lightbulbs were to be found in the chandeliers that hung from it in Gothic profusion, and forbade anyone from climbing on it or from riding on the animals.

And such animals! Shadow stared, impressed in spite of himself, at the hundreds of full-sized creatures who circled on the platform of the carousel. Real creatures, imaginary creatures, and transformations of the two: each creature was different. He saw mermaid and merman, centaur and unicorn, elephants (one huge, one tiny), bulldog, frog and phoenix, zebra, tiger, manticore and basilisk, swans pulling a carriage, a white ox, a fox, twin walruses, even a sea serpent, all of them brightly colored and more than real: each rode the platform as the waltz came to an end and a new waltz began. The carousel did not even slow down. “What’s it for?” asked Shadow. “I mean, okay, world’s biggest, hundreds of animals, thousands of lightbulbs, and it goes around all the time, and no one ever rides it.”

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“It’s not there to be ridden, not by people,” said Wednesday. “It’s there to be admired. It’s there to be.” – Neil Gaiman, American Gods

The carousel marked the end of tour two and the beginning of tour three. It was at this point that I started to feel fatigued and overwhelmed just from looking at things; tour three’s rooms are mainly displays of things more museum-style, with less of the grandness of vision that created things like the Mikado room.

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There were rooms full of dollhouses which I could appreciate for their intricate construction but I still find immeasurably creepy, particularly this one, with a figure peeping out of the attic.

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Next came a series of circus rooms, with a collection totalling over one million pieces. In addition to some giant elephants, there’s a 40-piece animated circus band that plays in concert with an 80-piece orchestra, for a cacaphony of sound. It took 14 people three years to create, and has 37 miles of wiring and over 2000 motors. The room also houses a large number of mechanical displays, all of which were pushing people to buy diamonds.

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‘Take Humpty Dumpty’s advice and buy that diamond now.’ ‘One of our beautiful diamonds will help.’ (With what, exactly?) ‘A beautiful diamond might persuade her.’ (But drugs in her cocktail are more of a sure bet.) ‘When the walrus speaks of diamonds, he means our beautiful gems.’ ‘One of our beautiful diamonds will help.’ (Help keep the couple inside the burning house from burning alive? WHAT?)

There were HUNDREDS of these things.

After that came another collection of guns, one of which was embedded in a prosthetic leg. If I ever lose a limb, I want my replacement to be slotted for weaponry!

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After the guns came the ‘Oriental collection’, the ‘armor collection’ and the ‘crown jewel collection’, which are replicas of the Tower of London’s Crown Jewels and other assorted items of royalty. It was around this time that we began blasting through rooms; I was so overwhelmed by stuff at this point that I lost all of my social niceties and began openly laughing at a family that was yelling at their son to come take a picture with them by the Forbidden City replica RIGHT NOW.

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After all of that came the Doll Carousel room, which houses not one, but TWO Doll Carousels, in case you hadn’t seen enough terrifying, dead-eyed things in one day.

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One of them is riding a pirate!

Also in the doll carousel room, in a surprising contrast, was the World’s Largest Cannon, which was (again) so large, I couldn’t take one decent photo of it. Unforunately, there was no token-taking contraption that would allow you to fire said cannon–I’d probably pay a week’s salary to do it, on the condition that I get to aim it at one of the doll carousels.

ALSO in the room is a sculpture of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Fitting, as at this point, you have seen so much crap, you’re pretty certain you’ll die at any moment.

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After the four horsemen, you’re brought back around to the world’s largest carousel and immediately afterward, you’re finally expelled back into the fresh air and wandering walkways to ensure you don’t leave without passing at least one gift shop.

All in all, I enjoyed the House on the Rock as I wholeheartedly love most all roadside attractions; they give me satisfaction on a deep, lizard-brain level, but visiting once was certainly enough for me–I don’t feel a pressing need to attempt to return to view their Christmas display, full of 6,000 Santas staring with dead eyes: the one in the bathroom, watching to see if I washed my hands thoroughly was enough.

34 Comments Wisconsin Day Three: The Crazy House

  1. kindofstrange October 28, 2008 at 7:02 am

    You have no idea how envious I am.

    Good god the envy, she ruptures my squeedlyspooch!

    Reply
  2. aquariumspast October 28, 2008 at 11:37 am

    The Streets of Yesterday are right up my alley…

    I’ve always wanted to tour a bizarrely designed house…

    Reply
    1. admin October 28, 2008 at 2:34 pm

      I’ve got some more pictures of the Streets of Yesterday here if you’re interested. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  3. dslartoo October 28, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    The commentary makes this.

    cheers,
    Phil

    Reply
    1. admin October 28, 2008 at 2:37 pm

      Thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  4. hotshotrobot October 28, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    Ah, yes, Death of a Drunkard. I remember it well, and how it scarred 7-year-old Catholic school me.

    Reply
    1. admin October 28, 2008 at 2:49 pm

      You went to Catholic school? How did 7-year-old Catholic school DJ deal with the Four Horsemen display? ๐Ÿ˜€

      Reply
      1. hotshotrobot October 28, 2008 at 3:02 pm

        NOT WELL. Dealing with naked mannequins with animal heads on them was even worse. I kept wondering why the hell my parents took me there and why they had no problem with ANY OF IT. All my grandma complained about was all the walking. WTF.

        Reply
        1. admin October 28, 2008 at 3:14 pm

          Some of the stuff there bothers me now, as a mostly-adult. I can’t even imagine how much a room full of terrifying clowns would affect a kid.

          Reply
  5. leighhyphenanne October 28, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    Wow. Just…. wow. I’m so jealous. I had no idea such a place existed. I must go. I must bring the spouse! Post haste! (Oh…after I get a new engine put in my car, because it might have seized. Shiiiit)

    Reply
    1. admin October 28, 2008 at 2:52 pm

      It might be easier to get there by plane anyway. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I hope your luck gets better soon, it seems like you’ve been having a rotten go of things lately.

      Reply
      1. leighhyphenanne October 28, 2008 at 2:58 pm

        It absolutely feels that way. Its not all that difficult to handle whats been going on. But the fact that its a lot of things so close together. My mom says things like, “well, g-d isn’t going to challenge you if you’re not strong enough” and I’m wondering why that’s up to his discression! I’m lazy and tired. I don’t want to handle any of this. My Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia dvds have helped. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Reply
          1. leighhyphenanne October 28, 2008 at 3:21 pm

            Holy crap. That’s pretty much bang on. I’m just tired. Ya know? Its incredibly draining to keep stumbling and having to right myself and work doubletime to catch up. its draining, but not the end of the world, by any means. Its a car…just a thing. (But its MY thing!! That I still owe $11,000 on!) maybe my insurance will total it and I’ll be done once and for all.
            I does mean, however, another trip to spokane. Which nobody is thrilled about. Jeeesus

          2. admin October 28, 2008 at 3:26 pm

            Oh man, it’s been having that many problems and you still owe that much money on it? SUCK.

          3. admin October 28, 2008 at 3:46 pm

            WTF, I thought VW had a reputation for reliable cars?

          4. leighhyphenanne October 28, 2008 at 3:59 pm

            Me too. I’m finding out that they’re either amazing or dreadful. Guess which kind I got.

  6. ex_hallways October 28, 2008 at 8:02 am

    the death of a drunkard was DEFINTELY one of my favourite things there….. monica and i took lots of photos but she’s got them all somewhere. she has actually almost a frame by frame shots of it. we played that one like three times. ๐Ÿ˜€

    i like the Red Room and the Blue Room… the blue danube is great and i love love love the Mikado. ๐Ÿ˜€

    Reply
    1. admin October 28, 2008 at 2:29 pm

      I’ve watched that little video clip probably something like twenty times now. ๐Ÿ˜€

      Reply
  7. bellachiara6 October 28, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Seriously, just looking at your pictures fills me with a sense of claustrophobia just remembering how much of a sensory overload that place was.

    I am hoping that the M.L.U at der Glauner Stube makes an appearance in the next post. Ha ha!

    Reply
    1. admin October 28, 2008 at 2:50 pm

      The MLU will make an appearance in the next post, I was just SO. DONE. after writing about HOTR–just writing about it wiped me out.

      Reply
      1. bellachiara6 October 28, 2008 at 2:52 pm

        It’s exhausting writing about it! DAMN YOU HOUSE ON THE ROCK! DAMN YOU FOR TAKING UP SO MUCH OF EVERYONE’S TIME!

        Reply
        1. admin October 28, 2008 at 2:56 pm

          Alex Jordan, I shake my fist in the general direction of your graaaave!

          Reply
  8. loosechanj October 29, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    I wish I could hire that guy to build my house when I win the lottery, he’s like this world’s version of Bloody Stupid Johnson.

    Reply
    1. admin October 30, 2008 at 3:14 pm

      I like how it’s not an ‘if’ you win, but ‘when’. Positive thinking!

      Reply
      1. loosechanj October 30, 2008 at 3:40 pm

        Well a couple weeks ago I got one number, and last week I had two…so I’m gettin’ there!

        Reply
        1. admin October 30, 2008 at 4:34 pm

          Well, when your crazy house is open to tourists, count on an entrance fee from me. ๐Ÿ˜€

          Reply
          1. loosechanj October 30, 2008 at 4:50 pm

            My crazy house is gonna be a bunker/lair on a deserted tropical island.

  9. shadowstitch October 30, 2008 at 3:28 am

    I wonder exactly what point in my life I have to survive to, in order to have a massive enough nervous breakdown to FULLY create something like this.

    There are mentally ill people, and then there’s THIS.

    Magnificent.

    Reply
    1. admin October 30, 2008 at 3:15 pm

      A confrontation with a hero of yours might be a good start. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  10. Anonymous September 5, 2009 at 4:08 am

    You wrote:

    “The standout of the tour through the original House is the Infinity Room, which projects out over the Wyoming Valley 218 feet and contains over 3,200 windows.

    This room? Terrifying. Just as you peek your head over the railing to look out the glass panel on the floor to see just how far out you are, high above the treetops, you are reminded that this is someone’s homemade construction project AND of your own mortality as it sways in the wind.”

    Pardon me, but if you had bothered to read more of the signs near the Infinity room (or perhaps go through the mini museum showing the history of the House), you would have learned that Alex Jr. did not build the house entirely by himself – far from it. He had help from people who knew more than he did. Otherwise, I suspect the Infinity Room (not to mention the rest of the house) would have fallen down decades ago, what with the heavy weight of seasonal Wisconsin snows on the roof, and overweight tourists on the inside.

    on pages 120-121 of the book “Alex Jordan – Architect of His Own Dream” by Doug Moe, the whole story of the Infinity Room is laid out.

    Here are a few choice quotes:

    “In the summer of 1984, work began on a project Alex Jordan had been dreaming about for four decades. In the ’40s he had written, in a poem about the house he hoped to someday have, a line that said “one long thin room will hang in space.”

    […]

    “By 1984, building technology had improved to the extent that when work began on the Infinity Room, Jordan could use metal, steel and glass in a wind and weight forgiving braced-box construction, counterbalanced by 105 yards of concrete.

    Architect Rolf Killingstad drew up the plans for this unique undertaking and got the project approved by the state. Dave Nelson Steel Erectors, however, really brought the project to life. Dave Nelson and his daring men virtually hung out over the Wyoming Valley and completed the framework, under the watchful eye of the creator, Alex, of course.”

    […]

    “An airplane wing with windows,” enthused the Milwaukee Journal in 1989. “Although there is some rock under the floor, most of the room, like an airplane wing, relies on its internal structure for support. There are no hidden pillars below, no suspension cables above. As a result, on a windy day – well, you know how you can watch the tip of an airplane wing bob in the wind? Take along a strong stomach.”

    [end quotes]

    In my humble opinion, I find the Infinity Room the most amazing thing about House On the Rock, because it is the most genuine thing about it. Whether you like walking in it or not, there is no fakery, it is the real deal, it is a remarkable thing, and also, it is beautiful to look at (at least from the inside).

    I do believe it attracted favorable mention from several reputable architectural periodicals at the time, but I don’t have my sources in front of me to check.

    Reply
    1. admin September 5, 2009 at 6:09 am

      Thanks for the info, but I’m afraid you may have missed my point. It doesn’t matter to me whether Alex built it himself out of matchsticks, whether he hired a team of midget sherpa vampire engineers, or whether he slept while more competent people did the job–while we were inside, the infinity room was swaying from side to side in the wind, which WAS terrifying. That’s all. It may be an architectural marvel, but I also found it frightening.

      Reply

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