Thursday, October 1, 2009

Things to do in Spring Green, Wisconsin: Visit House on the Rock

As I mentioned in my post the other day, last weekend I went to Wisconsin with my dad, aunt, great uncle, and cousins for the funeral for my great aunt. (Thanks to everyone for the nice comments about that.)

My dad and aunt grew up in Wisconsin, and I had never been back there to see the places I've heard so much about. We first went to Spring Green, where we drove by the house where my dad lived as a child. The woman who lives there now was at home and was just delighted to meet my dad and aunt and hear that it really is true that Frank Lloyd Wright had a part in designing the addition to the back of the house.

It is a completely adorable little house on a corner lot.

Dad's old house

We also drove through the small downtown (all two blocks of it) and saw the corner office that used to be home to my grandpa's dentist office.

Grandpa's office

My aunt remembered being a small child and visiting my grandpa at work. Right next door was the telephone operator, and she remembers her as a lady not unlike Lily Tomlin.

While in Spring Green we also visited the famous House on the Rock. If you ever find yourself in Spring Green, it's definitely worth a visit because there is no way to really describe or show in photos just how bizarre this place is.

Here's how the website describes it: "The House on the Rock is the grand vision of Alex Jordan, who believed that sights and sounds were the most effective means of stimulating the senses. He wanted guests to question his creation, to come to their own conclusions and to turn his world of dreams into their own. The Attraction has room after room of some of the world's most unique and eclectic collections which has amazed thousands of visitors each year." My conclusion is that the guy was crazy (in a good way) or at least very, very eccentric.

As the name implies, the house was built on and around a rock that towers about 60 feet above the valley floor. Large sections of the rock are visible inside the house. The rooms are quite dark with very low ceilings and a distinctly Asian vibe. While in the original part of the house, you start to get a sense of the types of things that Alex Jordan collected. There's a 3-story high bookcase of rare books, for example.

House on the Rock Main House

The really spectacular part of the place is the Infinity Room, which extends 218 feet out over the valley and 156 feet above the forest floor. The walls of the room consist of 3,264 windows.

Infinity room

Outside the main house is a beautiful garden with waterfalls and a large pond.


But as you leave the main house and enter the next two sections, things start to get a little weird. Mr. Jordan was not limited at all in the kinds of things he decided to collect. It seems that he grouped his collections by theme and then created rooms to showcase his collection. For example, there is the Streets of Yesterday, which is his recreation of a 19th century street, with a red-bricked road and "shops" on both sides, such as a carriage house and a dentist office. There are hundreds of antiques and several calliopes and music machines that can be enjoyed for the price of $0.50.

Small music machine

The section known as Music of Yesteryear features several enormous music machines with mechanically operated instruments. The Blue Room included an orchestra.

Blue room orchestra

The details of the Blue Room are representative of the lavish displays around every corner.

Blue Room Orchestra2

As the tour continues, you walk by one display case after another of collections. Some collections are interesting, like the models of old ships; some collections are a little odd, like the 100 (maybe more!) doll houses; and some collections are just plain weird, like 100 or so cigarette lighters.

Most of the rooms are quite dark and very quiet (unless someone has slipped two tokens into one of the nearby music machines). But as you make your way down a dark hallway and turn the corner, your senses are bombarded with the sights and sound of the carousel.

And this ain't no ordinary carousel! In fact, it's so spectacular that it's going to get its own blog entry.

Past the full size carousel is the doll carousel. It is a slightly smaller scale, but still spectacular with a couple of layers of smaller carousel animals and dolls (some that are pretty, and others that leave you with a creepy, uncomfortable feeling).

Doll carousel

Eventually you find your way to a large room, about three stories high with a bit of a circus theme to it. There is a large elephant that stands about two stories high, a wagon with a band and ornately-dressed manequins, and an entire orchestra. For just a few more tokens, you can listen to some music and watch the "people" in the band and orchestra play their instruments.

Band and orchestra

One whole wall of this room is covered with many (75?) ornately decorated wheels from circus wagons.

Circus wagon wheels

Mr. Jordan also had a stunning collection of Asian artifacts inlcuding numerous (I'm talking 30-40!) sculptures made of ivory and cork.

Ivory sculpture1

My grandparents visited China when I was younger and brought back some small cork sculptures not unlike this one, and I've always remembered being a very small child and staring at them sitting on their fireplace mantle.

Cork sculpture

As you leave one of the final rooms, you see the life size representation of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Conquest, War, Famine, and Death. And at that point you really are pretty much speechless.

Four horsemen

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