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5 Reasons Why The House on the Rock Surpassed My Expectations

3 Dec

Rural Wisconsin is beautiful in the Fall. Living in the city, I rarely get off the interstate to appreciate the rolling hills and the thick forests full of leaves of changing colors.

In order to change that and commemorate this beautiful season, my fiancé, Sam, and I decided to check out the infamous tourist attraction, The House on the Rock, in Spring Green, Wisconsin for a little Fall fun. Okay, okay, I’ll admit it, the main reason I wanted to go was to check out the library in the house after Sam sent me this list of the 10 most beautiful places to read books: (they have lists for everything now).  House on the Rock in Wisconsin made #3 on the list!? Right up there with Shakespeare’s Library in London and a little book shop on a channel in Venice. Obviously, we had to go.

The name “House on the Rock” sounds pretty self-explanatory. It’s a house on a rock/hill overlooking a valley and forest area in rural Wisconsin. It was built by Alex Jordan Jr. an architect and eccentric (and world’s most famous hoarder?) around the 1940s. Jordan continued additions and renovations until his death in 1989. Okay, sounds like a nice scenic view with maybe some interesting architecture. Little did we know…

The house surprised me in a lot of ways, and the library was admittedly a let down (I kept waiting to get there until I realized that the bookcase by a small set of stairs we passed 45 minutes ago was it…bogus list). But I have to say, despite the library let down, in most ways, the house surpassed my expectations. Here’s why:

  1. Real musical instrument ensembles.   The house is full of ensembles with real musical instruments that play real songs when you put in a couple of complementary tokens (when we bought our tickets, we were given around six tokens each and told we would be able to use them throughout the house). I wasn’t sure what that meant and just continued through the doors to section one. Sam and 2013-10-12 14.08.32I were amazed when we saw our first one…a small collection of musical instruments played by a machine in perfect unison and harmony. It wasn’t an illusion. These instruments were really programed to work together and play each note of the song. The first one looked like a picture frame with the instruments stuffed inside. We thought that was pretty cool. Little did we know that by the time we got to section three we would have seen dozens of these music ensembles, most of them filling up the space of whole rooms. One was even played by wax looking people, sitting in rows, looking and sounding like a real orchestra.
  2. The living area of the house. Section one was entirely made up of the living space Alex Jordan inhabited. It’s dark and twisty and easy to get lost in. The whole time I was in there, the question kept running through my mind…someone actually lived here?! I couldn’t stop imagining attending a cocktail party in one of the many lounges, or children playing hide and seek in the thousands of nooks and crannies. The place was full of spiral staircases and windows in places you wouldn’t expect like down by your feet or in the ceiling in a stair well. I suppose, despite my disappointment at the size of the library, this would be a pretty cool place to sit back and read a book.
  3. The Streets of Yesterday. What is it about the past that sucks us in and makes us wish we lived in an earlier time? Have you ever felt nostalgic for a time in which you never lived? I don’t know about you, but that’s exactly how I react when I’m in a historical reenactment or recreation. And the Streets of Yesterday exhibit was so well done I almost cried with longing to be living in the 1800s. After walking through section one, the main part of the house, we were led into another part of the “house.” I was under the impression it’d just be more living space, but what I walked into next was nothing short of a grand museum exhibit.  It was a little village complete with brick roads and quaint houses and shops. You couldn’t go into the buildings lining the street, but they were set up with so much detail that when you looked into the window you saw a detailed portrayal of a little girl’s room. Fake fires burning in the stove in the living room, and lining the streets were shops selling dolls or horseshoes. I wanted to slap on a bonnet and start knitting it was so darn adorable.
  4. The giant sea monster display. The first room we entered after leaving the Streets of Yesterday behind we came face to face with the largest indoor statue I’d ever seen. I read before that the sea monster I was locking eyes with was longer than the statue of liberty is tall. What is this thing doing in a man’s old house in Wisconsin?! And it’s not just a single statue. The whale/sea monster is in a whole scene complete with a huge tidal wave and an enormous pick octopus. Weird. But cool.
  5. Doll houses…lots of doll houses. I never had a doll house growing up, but one of my friends did and I can’t even begin to express how much I loved that thing. I could have explained it better when I was eight, but there’s just something about a doll house that really gets the imagination flowing. Well, I can’t decide if this is creepy or amazing, but this house is full of dolls and doll houses. There’s even one carousel that has dolls riding on each animal. One room is lined from top to bottom with dolls on the walls, which I have to admit was pretty creepy. But one of the final displays was room full of doll houses. And not just any doll house…these were ornate mini-houses, so detailed you swear some very little person actually lived inside. I couldn’t stop thinking of how much I would have adored one of these houses when I was a girl. Too bad they’re sitting in a dark room filled with so much other strange stuff and no one can play with them.

I’m new to Wisconsin. I moved here a little over two years ago for grad school and it’s been fun learning about the strange Wisconsinite traditions and sayings: the drinking fountain’s a “bubbler,” you tailgate before everything, there’s beer everywhere, northern accents are funny and awesome, and the list could go on. To be honest, I love learning about Wisconsin. And I have to admit, The House on the Rock has been the weirdest by far. Wisconsin, you win the award for harboring the biggest, strangest hoarder house and having the audacity to turn it into a profitable tourist attraction. Kudos!

2013-10-12 14.42.08For more information (and better quality pictures) check out  The House on the Rock blog!

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