Earlier this month, manfriend and I embarked on a weeklong roadtrip that took us from Minneapolis to Chicago, to Pigeon Forge, TN, to St. Louis, and back up to the Twin Cities. Friends were visited, attractions were photographed, and the soundtracks to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Once More With Feeling” and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog were played many many times.
First destination: House on the Rock (for any of you Neil Gaiman American Gods fans in the house). While driving toward this classic Wisconsin roadside attraction,we passed Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s estate. Unfortunately the tours of the house were out of our budget and schedule, so we ate lunch outside the visitor’s center and poked around the gift shop. I asked one of the staff whether this was the house in which Frank Lloyd Wright’s mistress, her children, and several servants were murdered. She seemed a little disturbed by the question (though, come on, that has to be on the tour), but confirmed that the tragic events did take place at Taliesin (I always thought the murders occurred at Falling Water, Wright’s famous house in Pennsylvania). After sufficiently gawking at the estate from the highway, Brian and I set off to visit The House on the Rock in Spring Green.
The House on the Rock is the brainchild of Alex Jordan, Jr. and was totally made for crazy people. Seriously. The design of the house was clearly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, echoing the mid-century modern feel for which the architect was famous. Many of the ceilings are very low (kind of a Being John Malkovich experience), and the hallways twist and turn throughout the house, creating a rather intimidating maze. Walking through is a disorienting experience, which is increased by the extremely low lighting.
The house is lit with multiple sunroofs made from wooden slats with Asian-inspired carvings, letting delicate patterns of sunlight spill into the house. Stained glass lamps hang in almost every room, and fountains and wishing wells are regular features, filling the house with the constant sound of running water. The floors are plushly carpeted, and around almost every corner is a sunken sitting room or an upholstered nook overflowing with pillows. Nappers, rejoice!
The highlight of the house is without a doubt the Infinity Room. Much like the Guthrie Theater’s Endless Bridge on crack, the room juts out from the house in a perilous fashion. As the room extends, the hall narrows. The walls eventually meet, creating the illusion that the room extends forever.
After walking through the house, the self-guided tour continues through a series of warehouses. From the outside, the buildings are nondescript, but inside the pathways zig and zag for miles. Multiple levels are accessed through a complex series of ramps and staircases. This section of the House on the Rock is where Jordan featured his eccentric collections from around the world. In addition to phenomenal collections of antique rifles, china dolls, and Fabergé eggs, the interior contains a series of streets and storefronts. The shop windows serve as displays of more of Jordan’s collectibles, from marble eggs to silver serving sets. A barbershop features a red velvet reclining chair and antique mirrors, and hundreds of china dolls gaze out from the storefronts. Scattered throughout are token-operated fortune tellers and old-fashioned love meters (turns out I’m bashful).
Vignettes of self-playing instruments are arranged throughout the house. Also activated by tokens, these rooms are overflowing with instruments that come alive as if being played by ghost musicians.
The piece de resistance is certainly the indoor carousel, which is the largest carousel in the world. Worth $5 million and featuring over 20,000 lights, it features hundreds of griffins, mermaids, unicorns and dragons.
The House on the Rock experience was beyond my wildest dreams. It's truly a madhouse, packed with treasures and secrets. We only spent a few hours there, but it could've eaten days of our time.