Walked around Dallas in 107°F degree heat and it felt like the insides of my eyes were boiling

Back in July, I walked around Dallas in 107°F degree heat and it was so hot it felt like the insides of my eyes were boiling. I didn’t mind. I was happy. I love HOT weather, specifically dry HOT weather. Put me outside on a 100°F+ day, and I’ll stand in the heat until my head cracks open like a kernel of popcorn. Drop me in Texas on a 100°F+ day, and you’ll find me outside with a Shiner Bock beer and a pack of heat-loving chihuahuas — just as dumb as me — roasting their fontanels like chestnuts on an open fire.

That said, here are 10 Things to See or Do in Dallas during a Heatwave:

NUMBER 1: go see the The Giant Eyeball. There is a giant eyeball at the location: 1601 Main St, Dallas, TX 75201.

Dallas Eye Sculpture

NUMBER 2: get yourself some dried shrimp with their heads still attached at the 7-11. They don’t have these in New Jersey, so to me, they’re a novelty, and I find them interesting.

Bought this for the novelty of it. Will not eat.

Address: 1295 Commerce St, Dallas, TX 75202.

NUMBER 3: Pioneer Park Cemetary at Dusk. Pioneer Park is a quiet old cemetery, shaded by big oaks, and the occasional crepe myrtle. It is loaded with Megatibicen resh cicadas. Each night after work, I would grab a snack and some water, and head to the park and wait for the cicadas to sing at sunset. If you haven’t heard them sing, it’s kind of amazing. Other than the cicadas, which sing for just a half hour a day, the park is quiet, relative to the rest of the city. No one is there to hassle you, which I like.

A crepe myrtle at sunset.
Crepe Myrtle about 45 minutes from sunset

The squirrels are cute as well, and once they figure out you have snacks, they’ll follow you everywhere.
Dallas TX Cemetery Squirrels

Pay your respects to Baby Bowser:
Poor Baby Bowser, rest in peace

Is that a kid leaning up against that tomb? No, just an optical illusion.
Dallas -- above ground grave split by tree

Address: 1201 Marilla St, Dallas, TX 75201.

NUMBER 4: the Cattle & Cowboys sculpture at Pioneer Plaza.

To the west of Pioneer Park Cemetary is Pioneer Plaza, which features about 40 realistically sized and rendered sculptures of cows and cowboys. If you’re in Dallas you must see it.

Metal cattle:
Dallas cattle sculpture

A cowboy looking towards the skyscrapers of Dallas that beef, oil and telecommunications helped to build.
Dallas

As I walked around Pioneer Park, the nearby Police Memorial, and City Hall, one person after another stopped to ask me where “the cattle” were, like I was a park ranger. Maybe it was how I comport myself that gives me an air of authority. I am the new mayor of Dallas.

Address: 1428 Young St, Dallas, TX 75202.

NUMBER 5: Dallas Police Memorial. To me, it looks like something out of science fiction.
Dallas police memorial

Address: S Akard St. Dallas, TX 75202.

NUMBER 6: Fountain Place (the diamond shaped building) is perhaps the most impressive building in Dallas because it is capable of vibrating through time and space and transporting reptilian travelers to our dimension. What?

Dallas 7-11 and "diamond" building

Address: Fountain Place, Dallas, TX 75202.

NUMBER 7: Dallas World Aquarium. BUT ONLY WHEN FAMILIES ARE NOT AROUND.

When you pack hundreds of people, on a 100°F day, into an attraction with a climate that resembles an actual jungle, where customers can only walk as fast as the person ahead of them, and one out of five have strollers or baby carriages, and the parents are ramming the strollers into your Achilles tendons… its a nightmare. “Oh look, a sloth”… good luck taking a photo as a herd of humanity gathers you up like a wave and pushes you down the path like a log down a flume.

Go on a day when it is not crowded and families are not around.

Blue frog will poison you. Don’t touch.
Blue frog at the Dallas World Aquarium... which is like a combination DMV and a pet shop. It was 110 degrees inside. You have to walk down winding narrow paths at 1 mile per century while kids scream and their parents ram your Achilles’ tendons with strollers.

Address: 1801 N Griffin St, Dallas, TX 75202.

NUMBER 8: Perot Museum of Nature and Science. Just look at the building, which looks like it should be a modern art museum by the shape of it. Stacks of collapsing twisted metal & glass. But don’t go in because it’s filled with thousands of families. Families love dinosaurs, and this place has them. Avoid, unless you are a family.

Perot museum in Dallas

Address: 2201 N Field St, Dallas, TX 75201.

NUMBER 9: Dallas Museum of Art. The Dallas Museum of Art … because it is spacious, has fewer families than the Perot Museum or Dallas World Aquarium, and it is air-conditioned. Bonus points if you actually like art — I do — you may not.

Elliptical bottle depicting a sprouting bean with a human face. 300-100 BC, Mexico. Looks like the Etruscan Boar Vessel.
Elliptical bottle depicting a sprouting bean with a human face. 300-100 BC, Mexico

Address: 1717 N Harwood St, Dallas, TX 75201.

NUMBER 10: The fountain at City Hall with the rotating red Pacman sculptures.

Dallas panorama

“The fountain”, as I call it, is a large, round artificial pond featuring water fountains, and rotating red Pacman-like structures. On a blazing-hot day, it looks quite refreshing.

One evening, I was exploring the grounds looking for evidence of cicadas and taking photos of the semi-futuristic City Hall when a figure in black appeared in the courtyard surrounding the fountain. Black pants and a hoodie. Shoulder-length black hair. From a distance, I couldn’t tell if the person was a man or woman. I kept my distance. The person approached the fountain, slid in and began to swim around. I envied this person’s bravery, and how cool and refreshed they must have felt. No fear of authorities, disease, or harm from the mechanical or electrical systems powering the dual, rotating, red Pacmen. Freedom. I just sat and watched and admired that person and thought “if I had shorts on, I would have gone in too.”

I’m pretty sure the person was a she, and she sat next to me on the flight back to Newark.

Address: 1500 Marilla St. Dallas, TX 75201

BONUS! TRAVEL PRO-TIPS!

  1. If you go someplace, and it’s full of kids and families, and you’re there alone, just go. Leave. It’s their space. You’ve entered a time and space that belongs to families. Go to a bar… or some other place for adults… and maybe come back when there are no families around. But just leave. You don’t belong there.
  2. If you have 10 hours to kill before a flight, do this: take all your stuff (luggage, unnecessary jackets, laptop), and bring it to a UPS or FedEx and ship it to your home or office — and then go out and enjoy the town. That’s what I do. It’s good advice.
  3. Dallas has a lot of refreshing looking fountains. On a hot summer day, they look very inviting. Will you go for a swim? Probably not.

Lots of lovely fountains in Dallas

10 things to see or do in Cleveland other than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

NUMBER 1: DEVOtional. In late July, I attended the DEVOtional event in Cleveland, Ohio. The DEVOtional is a 3-day event celebrating the band DEVO, with performances by DEVO cover bands, DEVO karaoke, vendors of DEVO merch, guest speakers (2018’s event featured Jerry Casale of DEVO), and mini-events like a 5K run. If you love DEVO, you owe it to yourself to attend this yearly extravaganza at least once.

Devo fans in Cleveland at the Devotional

Check their website for future locations.

NUMBER 2: The GIANT silver hand. The giant silver hand is currently over by the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA), last time I checked. I might have crawled to a new location.

Giant metal hand outside MOCA in Cleveland

Approximate address: Address: 11400 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, OH 44106.

NUMBER 3: Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA). Look at the shape of that building. There are exhibits inside as well. Check their website for current exhibits and events. Rub your hands on it. It’s smooth.

MOCA

Address: 11400 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, OH 44106.

NUMBER 4: The Peter B Lewis Building. Look at this building. Just look at it. Twisting metal and curving brick. It’s something else.

Peter B Lewis Building in Cleveland

Address: 11119 Bellflower Rd, Cleveland, OH 44106.

NUMBER 5: the world-famous Etruscan Boar Vessel. I was literally shaking when I saw it. Epic.

World famous Etruscan Boar Vessel

The rest of the museum is genuinely amazing as well. Top 10 museums I’ve ever been to. During the summer fo 2018, they had a massive Yayoi Kusama exhibit.

Yayoi Kusama exhibit at the Cleveland museum

Address: inside the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd, Cleveland, OH 44106.

NUMBER 6: the Blue Morpho butterflies at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. The Cleveland Botanical Garden itself is pretty awesome, but its huge butterfly pavilion is super amazing.

Morpho butterfly at rest (don't be shy, show your colors)

Address: 11030 East Blvd, Cleveland, OH 44106.

NUMBER 7: the sculptures around Wade Lagoon. Wade Lagoon is a lake in Cleveland that is surrounded by many exceptional sculptures. My favorite are the mermaids.

Wade Lagoon Mermaids contemplate moving into the apartments across the street

Coordinates: 41.51°N 81.61°W. (Hint: it’s in front of the place the Etruscan Boar Vessel is in.)

NUMBER 8: Blue Arrow Records. This record store is located in the Waterloo section of Cleveland. They have a cat, t-shirts with the cat’s face on it (I bought one), and an awesome selection of used (and probably new) records. I’ve been to the Princeton Record Exchange, the Groovy Graveyard, Revilla Grooves & Gear and Curmudgeon Records, so I know what I’m talking about — it’s a great record store.

Blue Arrow Records in Cleveland

Address: 16001 Waterloo Rd, Cleveland, OH 44110.

NUMBER 9: the Axolotl in the basement of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. It’s there, just chilling out. Trust me. Don’t hassle it though. Give it the peace and quiet it craves.

Axolotl

The rest of the museum is top notch. There’s an eagle named Spaghetti, a friendly raven, and a massive wildlife of Ohio exhibit in the basement (close to the Axolotl).

Address: 1 Wade Oval Dr, Cleveland, OH 44106.

NUMBER 10: B.A. Sweetie’s candy warehouse. I already wrote an entire article about that place.

at b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

Address: 6770 Brookpark Road, Cleveland OH 44129.

B.A. Sweeties Candy Company in Cleveland, Ohio

I’m a sucker for candy and novelty as much as any American, and that’s why I stopped by B.A. Sweeties Candy Company (6770 Brookpark Road, Cleveland OH 44129) this past summer.

B.A. Sweeties is a massive warehouse of candy and soda. It’s about the size of a large supermarket or Best Buy, but not quite as big as a Target or Walmart. It is entirely filled to the ceiling with candy, gum, and soda. One of their slogans is “$3,000,000.00 worth of inventory available at any time!”, and I know I spend almost $200. If memory serves, I bought Charleston Chews, Cherry Mash, candy necklaces, Sour Patch Kids, DOTS, candy cigarettes, sour-candy-flavored breath spray, Chowards gum and candy, Goldberg’s peanut chews, Good n’ Plenty, and many more. Some of this I could get at the local 7-11, but a lot I cannot. I live in New Jersey, which is pretty much a “candy desert” in terms of good candy selection, so when I’m in Ohio, I stock up.

Receipt!

b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

With sympathy to those amongst us with Type-2 diabetes, or those like myself, who have struggled with obesity most of their life, here’s a selection of photos from B.A. Sweeties.

Here’s some “old timey” Chowards gum and candy. Their violet scented gum always fascinated me. Who came up with that idea? Mrs. Chowards?
Chowards are an acquired taste.  at b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

Look at all these chocolates! Have you tried a Cherry Mash before? If you like candied cherries and chocolate, you simply must eat an entire box full (in a single afternoon).
So much chocolate  at b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

Necco Wafers! The legendy candies that no one admits to liking, but everyone in New Jersey used to use as Jersey Turnpike toll tokens (according to legends).
Neco wafers at b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

I love Dots candies. Their fruity flavors are delicious, and never too weird. I love the sensation of biting into a Dots, and the sweet resistance they offer as my molars compress and slice into their candy gel.
Dots  at b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

Candy buttons! A classic! A little paper with your candy nevery hurt anyone!
Candy Buttons at b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

I lost 45 pounds this year simply by cutting out sweets, and for the first time in my life, I could see my abdominal muscles. Since visiting Sweeties, I’ve gained back 10 pounds (not the full 45). I’ve found that the key to a happy life is to limit your treats and sweets for approximately 360 days a year, and then for the remaining five days, just do crazy and go on a candy vacation.

Funk n Waffles

Funk n’ Waffles

Ask people where you should eat in Syracuse, and more times than not they’ll say Dinosaur Barbeque. And when you tell them you went to Syracuse, and you didn’t go to Dinosaur Barbeque, they’ll gasp and sigh like you passed on the opportunity of a lifetime. I am not kidding.

Dinosaur Barbeque must be really good. But I’ve had barbecue in North Carolina, and most southern states. And I’ve never had fried chicken served on a waffle before. So when I was in Syracuse, I opted to dine at Funk n’ Waffles.

Funk n Waffles in Syracuse

Funk n’ Waffles is a groovy little restaurant that serves fried chicken tenders on waffles, with an optional selection of sauces. I think I got the ‘spicey maple’. Soul-warming and unexpectedly decadent. Crisp and tender. Savory and sweet. Recommended. Their logo is a waffle on a record turntable — doesn’t get much cooler than that.

I spent some time wandering around Downtown Syracuse. I walked past Dinosaur Barbeque — it was packed, inside and out. Decorated with cartoon dinosaurs. I didn’t get a second dinner, but I thought about it.

The colorfully illuminated art-deco Niagara Mohawk Building:
Art Deco with colorful lighting. Syracuse

A road cone with koi painted on it:
Koi road cone

A metallic building:
Metallic building in Syracuse

The reason why I was in Syracuse, might be more interesting than this story: 17-year Cicadas.

A Rave about Hunter DineRant

The diner: that great American species of restaurant! When I think of a diner, I think of a variety of food, at a reasonable price. Eggs at 2 am. A place where cash-strapped young adults can gather and converse, recovering from or plotting their next adventure over black coffee and fries. A place were laughs, worries and dreams can be shared among friends.

Hunter Dinerant (I’m guessing Dinerant is a portmanteau of diner & restaurant) is located in Auburn, New York, about 3 miles north of the finger lake, Owasco Lake. On Google, it’s called “Hunter’s Dinerant”, but the actual signage lacks the apostrophe. The Dinerant seems to hang over the side of the Owasco River.

The Dinerant is what I would call a classic American diner. Not quite the romanticized Hollywood version with a cast of gum-snapping, pomade-greased teenagers bopping about — but close.

The Dinerant has many of the features that every classic diner should have:

  1. It is shaped like a railroad dining car. A single aisle down the center. Curved corners.
  2. It is wrapped in gleaming chrome, and detailed with crimson and white stripes.
  3. It has booths for groups, and a counter & stools for solitary folks.
  4. Cadillac-pink vinyl upholstery. Pink Formica everywhere.
  5. Meat-pink floors flecked with white and black confetti patterns.
  6. Vinyl-protected menus listings dozens, if not hundreds of reasonably priced comfort foods.
  7. A mini jukebox at every table, with alpha-numeric keypads. You want to play a song just to feel the mechanical pop of those keys.

This type of diner differs from the Jersey Greek diners I’m used to. Jersey Greek diners lack the railroad dining car shape and 1950’s aesthetic. Same basic food and jukeboxes though.

The waitress was polite and welcomed me to sit wherever I like. I ordered a coffee, fries and a grilled cheese on white — my personal favorite diner foods. It’s been 5 months since I was there, but I remember the coffee was strong, but not burnt, bitter or sour. It was perfect. Nice white porcelain mug. The fries — not too thin, not too thick — I covered with a reasonable shower of ketchup — that familiar micro-moment resistance of the fried outside, giving way to the soft potato fluff inside. The grilled cheese was photo perfect — cut on a diagonal. Each bite was a harmony of buttery, barely crisp bread, oozing with just hot enough to not burn your mouth American cheese. Delicious. Exactly the lunch I needed to supply the energy for a long day of driving.

Visit the Hunter Dinerant for its classic looks and a perfect diner meal. Marvel at how it partially hangs over the side of a small river.

Interior of the Dinerant — thankfully just one TV, with the volume turned low. So much pink and chrome.
Interior of Hunter Dinerant

The exterior of the Dinerant — see the river below?
Hunter Dinerant

Across the street and to the right you’ll see a large pale red sign for Genesee Beer. It looks like it was once neon, but the tubes have been removed.
Genesee Beer

Light Dispelling Darkness

Edison New Jersey is boring, don’t go there

I grew up in a small town called Metuchen, New Jersey. Metuchen is best known as the hometown of magician David Copperfield. In terms of interesting things to see, it has a haunted house and a Revolutionary War graveyard. Otherwise, it’s a safe, borning commuter town in the middle of New Jersey. Surrounding Metuchen is an even more boring place called Edison, New Jersey. Edison is a patchwork of strip malls, warehouses, and tract house neighborhoods, stitched together by a commuter rail line and several major highways. Boring. Folks call Edison the “donut”, and Metuchen is the “donut hole” — in other words, I grew up in the literal void inside, perhaps, the most boring place in the world.

It might sound like I’m trashing Edison, but I’m not (well, maybe a little). Boredom can be inspirational — it can inspire people to live more interesting lives, move to more exciting places, travel, or make the world a better place. But you’ll have to take the first step — boring never changes to exciting or interesting on its own. Boring will fight you to stay boring. Newton’s first law of motion states that “an object at rest stays at rest” — the same is true of boring. Something that is boring will stay boring. Either you need to exert some influence on it to make it less boring (often futile), or move to a better place (GET OUT).

Now you’re thinking “Dan you’re just playing with words”, I love Edison, it’s not bad at all, we’re close to New York City, surely Edison is less boring and soul-destroying than North Brunswick, New Jersey (touche) or the Mid-West. Well, news flash, every location in the Mid-West is less boring than New Jersey because the most of the Mid-West has legal explosive fireworks — right there, that’s more exciting. The Mid-West has better fast food as well.

So, what if you’re stuck in Edison (there on business, your family moved there), and you’re looking for something interesting to check out. There are two places.

Edison Light Tower at the Thomas Edison Center

Edison Tower

Go here to see a large tower with the world’s largest lightbulb at the top. Link to the website. The location features a small museum, a park, and a pond, where as legend has it, inventor Thomas A. Edison procured a fishing hook which he used as a filament for one of his blubs. The light tower and blub is impressively large, and from a historical perspective, the location is significant. Worth seeing if you’re in town.

Light Dispelling Darkness

Rooselvelt Park Fountain

Light Dispelling Darkness is an amazing fountain located in Roosevelt Park. According to Roadside America it was a Depression-era WPA Art project, unvieled to the public in 1938. The fountain portrays evil — in the form of greed, disease and other bad stuff — fleeing from good — in the form of industry, science, and other wholesome activities.

If you’re into weird or horrific things, this fountain is for you. The sculptures portraying “darkness” are truly grotesque. Intertwined, wresting octopuses; a skeleton riding a screaming horse; a horse with measles; naked dudes; dudes with 5 heads. Not what you would expect in a boring town.

Light Dispelling Darkness becomes a good metaphor for Edison, the town, except the town is Boring and the Bored are Fleeing it. Light Dispelling Darkness, Bored Fleeing Boring. In both cases, Edison is an inspiration for progress and change.

This is the GOOD: science, sports, zeppelins, etc:

Rooselvelt Park Fountain

I think this is WAR:
Light Dispelling Darkness

This might be GREED or PESTILENCE:

Light Dispelling Darkness

This might be DEATH:

Light Dispelling Darkness

I need to take some better pictures.

Bonus: Dismal Swamp

When I grew up, the most exciting thing to do in Metuchen or Edison — if you had no money — was to go hiking (drinking) down by the train tracks or in the woods. The woods with the best name in Edison is the Dismal Swamp aka the Everglades of New Jersey (no gators). Dismal can mean “dreary, drab, dull, bleak, cheerless, depressing, uninviting, unwelcoming”. Almost “boring”. If you like nature and hiking, this is probably the best place in town.

Also, once every 17 years (next 2030) they get a good crop of cicadas. Otherwise, don’t go to Edison.

Lucy the Elephant

Margate New Jersey’s Lucy the Elephant

New Jersey prides itself on its weirdness, whether that be cultural, architectural, historical, or cryptological weirdness. There’s a magazine devoted to it: Weird NJ. We have a hockey team called the Jersey Devils, named after a mythological demonic chimera that torments the Pine Barrens.

But why?

New Jersey might be “weird” because is not an easy place in which to live — it’s ridiculously expensive, it’s polluted, it’s unforgiving, and I’m guessing the first human to be called an “asshole” was born here — the Garden State grows more of them than tomatoes, blueberries, and corn combined. Perhaps weirdness is both a product of and a refuge from the harshness of Jersey. I also think that a lot of what we Jersians label as “weird”, might actually be perfectly normal — we just call it weird as a defense mechanism to keep the assholes at bay.

I scoured Roadside America’s New Jersey page (Doug Kirby used to live in Jersey, btw) and my own memory, for the roadside attraction in Jersey that is both weird and magnificent. Something you might travel from another state to see. My answer is Margate City, New Jersey’s Lucy the Elephant (9200 Atlantic Ave, Margate City, NJ).

A square photo of Lucy:

Lucy. #icon #bucketlist

Lucy is a stunningly beautiful, 65 feet tall statue of an elephant that spends her days admiring the Atlantic ocean. She has lovely painted nails. You can visit her at her home in Margate City. You can take a tour, climb through her insides, ride her back, and get the best view of the beach and sea in town. She’s so wonderful that it pains me to call her “weird”, but since “normal” on the Jersey Shore is beige condo complex or a gaudy McMansion (with too many “voids”), weird is a compliment.

I was working on my “bucket list” on the 31st of March and realized that I’d never seen Lucy in the flesh. I thought “I can check this one off my list today”, entered my vehicle, and steered toward Margate City.

You have to pay a toll (“the Downbeach Express”) to get into and out of Lucy’s hometown. E-ZPass won’t work, so bring 4 singles. Seeing Lucy for the first time was an experience. Not cathartic, but definitely worth the trip — worth bringing others with you. There are a plethora of souvenirs to purchase — stuffed elephants, t-shirts, mugs, keychains, pens, candies — I got a fridge magnet.

I recommend stopping by the Margate Dairy Bar & Burger for a snack while you’re in town.

Lucy’s Toes (on fleek):

Lucy the Elephant’s Painted Toenails #roadsideamerica #jerseyshore #margate

A water tower featuring Lucy:

Lucy Watertower

It wouldn’t be New Jersey, without an asshole:

Lucy the Elephant in Margate City

The House on the Rock, Area 3

Area 3 of the House on the Rock includes new views of the Carousel, Organ Room, Inspiration Point, Doll House Room, Circus Room, Galleries, Doll Carousel Building and the Japanese Garden.

After touring Area 1 and Area 2, you have experienced a lot. Your mind cannot possibly process it all — and probably can’t store much more information. You’re likely exhausted and perhaps dehydrated like I was. But, like me, you bought the ticket for the Ultimate Experience, so you keep on moving…

The Doll Carousel is much like the main Carousel, but it features Dolls — just as magnificent, but in smaller, G-Rated ways:
Small Carousel. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

A small cafeteria area with free water — needed after miles of walking — leads back outside to Inspiration Rock. A rock formation Alex Jordan would visit to contemplate his dreams.

Inspiration Rock

Back inside there are more mind-numbingly immense and intricate robotic bands…

Robotic band. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

Massive and ornate sculptures made of red lanterns, trees, and copper drums…

Red lamps and drums. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

And a giant electrical machine dedicated to Nikolai Tesla…

Red chandelier. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

You also get a close-up, elevated view of the large Carousel at the end of Area 2, in all its incredible, anatomically correct, magnificence.

Exit the door near the naked woman wearing the goat mask (I’m not kidding), and Area 3 ends with the Japanese Garden and the Gift Shop. The House on the Rock tour begins with a garden and ends with a garden. A perfect circle of sorts…

Garden. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

What else can I say?

Go see it for yourself. I’ve heard it’s featured in the Neil Gaiman book American Gods. The fudge sold by the gift shop is delicious. The staff is kind and helpful.

Link: The House on the Rock website.
Location: 5754 Wisconsin 23, Spring Green, WI

The House on the Rock, Area 2

I covered the basics of the The House on the Rock, its creator Alex Jordan, and its “Area 1”, in a previous post (entrance, the Original House, the Infinity Room). I’ll discuss Area 2 in this post, and area 3 in a subsequent post.

Area 2 begins with another outdoor transitional area — a small pond and mill wheel — which leads to the Mill House. Stop for a moment and think about how Alex Jordan put a pond on top of a giant chimney of rock…
Millhouse

The Mill House is reminiscent of the Original House — dimly lit, stone, warmth, the things Alex loved.

Next comes the Streets of Yesterday, a replica of the downtown of an 18th or 19th-century town, with shop after shop reconstructed down to the most minute detail. If you’ve seen the Harry Potter movies, it’s very much like the town where Harry obtains his wand — winding streets, dimly lit, windows framed with a dark wood framework, each shop stocked and decorated with precise detail. The Street leads to several automated, robotic machines. Deposit a token and get your fortune told, or hear a song played by a gigantic, steam-powered locomotive calliope. The Streets of Yesterday appear to be the first area of the House on the Rock specifically built as a tourist attraction. The Original House was built by Alex Jordan for himself, but the rest of the House on the Rock is Alex sharing what he loved with the rest of the world.

Fortune teller automata at House on the Rock

Robotic musical locomotive at the House on the Rock

The photos I’m adding to my posts about the House on the Rock really cannot convey its magnificence. They don’t accurately portray the scale of the House, the lighting, and of course not the sounds (a huge part of the House), the temperature of the air, the smells, and the energy and excitement of the other tourists around you. Every photo you see — try to imagine it 4 times larger than you think it would be. Try to imagine yourself within it.

After Streets of Yesterday comes Heritage of the Sea. This was my first “Wow! out loud” moment. Imagine a wing of a three-story shopping mall, with every store-front replaced with display after display of intricate ship models and maritime artifacts — boat parts, anchors, diving suits, military items. In the middle of this, is a massive, life-size sculpture of a squid attacking a whale. The whale & squid are larger than the Statue of Liberty — that is how huge they are. HUGE. An inclined path winds around the perimeter of the sculpture, with the maritime artifact display on your left, and the whale on your right.

Whale vs Squid at the House on the Rock

Whale vs Squid at the House on the Rock

Next comes the Tribute to Nostalgia, Music of Yesterday, and Spirit of Aviation. Hallways filled with showcases featuring pop-culture items (like Spittoons) lead to a large room featuring large displays of large items: a massive steam engine, multiple cars, including one covered in tile instead of paint, massive neon signs, and even a house filled with a collection of photo cameras. This area reminds me of the show American Pickers — it’s like everything they picked ended up in this area of the House on the Rock.

Ceramic car. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

There’s a restaurant at this point, so fill up on food and beer if you need to. At this point, you’re about halfway through…

The Music of Yesterday features multiple room-sized automated, robotic bands — all of which you can play with one of your tokens. Each room is exquisitely decorated with ornate furnishings, many are draped in red velvet, lit with red and golden chandeliers (except the Blue Room), and some are inhabited by a cast of robotic musicians. These displays are amazing to look at, but their true magnificence lies in the automation that powers the music played by the robotic bands inside each room. I’m not sure if it’s steam, pneumatics, electronics or a combination of all three, but I’m pretty sure each runs off of the same type of paper-roll musical program that self-playing pianos utilize. Not only are these displays robots, but they’re also the forerunners of computers.

Tigers. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

The Spirit of Flight is similar to the Heritage of the Sea, but instead of maritime artifacts, there are aviation artifacts and models of planes.

Model planes. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

The next WOW! moment comes with the Carousel room. A carousel, for those that don’t know, is a rotating carnival ride, featuring a variety of animal sculptures — typically horses — that you ride, illuminated by incandescent bulbs of light, accompanied by festive calliope-style music. It’s a fantastical device, and typically the most magical and enchanting ride at a fair or carnival. The carousel a the House is the world’s largest, and likely the most magnificent. Common themes experienced so far in the tour of the House coalesce in the form of the Carousel: the vibrant reds, the festive, automated music, the use of lighting to create dramatic moods, and life-like sculpture.

Sadly, you cannot ride it. 🙁 It’s for your ears and eyes only.

Carousel. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

The difference between the Carousel and the rest of the House, so far, is it introduces fantasy into the displays. Look closely at the animals of the carousel and you’ll see that many are not the typical horse or zoo creature: chimeras, sea-demons, and centaurs spin round and round. Look up, and you’ll see Valkyries and Harpies. Many nude or partially nude. Some will blush. The Carousel represents a transition from the real (Streets of Yesterday, Heritage of the Sea, Spirit of Aviation, Tribute to Nostalgia) to the unreal — from the concrete to fantasy.

On the left side of the Carousel room is a dragon’s mouth — and what is more fantastical than a dragon — which leads to Area 3.

Dragon's Mouth. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

This tribute to the House on the Rock with continues in part 3.

Link: The House on the Rock website.
Location: 5754 Wisconsin 23, Spring Green, W

HOTR

The House on the Rock, Intro and Area 1

The House on the Rock, in Spring Green, Wisconsin, is a mecca for anyone who appreciates fantastical roadside and tourist attractions. I remember first learning about it from Roadside America, and then hearing about it from friends. Once you’ve seen the muffler men, you’ve shopped at South of the Border, you’ve toured Graceland, and you’ve seen the outsider art displays that make the American dream real, you have to make the pilgrimage to the House on the Rock. If you start with it, everything else — no matter how remarkable — will pale in comparison.

True to its name, the House on the Rock, is a house perched high atop a chimney of rock in a forest in south-western Wisconsin. It’s much more than a house, though — it’s also gardens, museums, massive sculptures, music halls, an amusement park (look but don’t ride), a restaurant (feel free to eat), all on or next to a massive rock. The house began in 1945 by Alex Jordan as a personal retreat (perhaps amplified by a desire to challenge to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin estate), which grew to become a tourist attraction in 1961, and then grew more, and evolved, and morphed into the magnificence that exits today.

The House a fantastic dream, told over the course of one man’s life, manifested into reality. It’s a cabin that became a Lewis Carroll novel. It’s Disneyland if Walt built it with his own hands.

Dragon Vases

Arrival

The feeling that you’re somewhere different begins with the drive to the House. Starting in Madison, Wisconsin, I traveled from urban to suburban, to rural farmland, and finally woodland areas. The journey is no simple trip — it’s like traveling through different eras of human civilization. Turning off route 23, and up House on the Rock Road, farmland abruptly transitions to wilderness — even the types of trees change. Deciduous trees are joined by evergreens, and form a tunnel-like canopy, amplifying the sensation that you are entering another world. Along the way massive vase-shaped planters appear, each inhabited by flowering plants and guarded by dragons.

The parking lot itself its a transitional space: macadam tilted ever so slightly because it was poured and flattened atop a hill, flanked on the right by a grove of evergreen trees with visible black trunks, thrusting from a blanket of fallen, rust-orange pine needles. Massive dragon flower pots punctuate the lot. It doesn’t feel normal, but it also doesn’t feel wrong.

The gateway to the House on the Rock is a relatively-normal building where you can buy tickets, and freshen up. There you’ll purchase your pass, and receive tokens to operate various exhibits inside the House. There are hints that you’re about to experience something fantastical — like a stream that runs through the lobby, and the maritime artifact collection in the men’s room. Nothing amazing — only hints.

There are two types of passes: 1) for parts 1 & 2 of the House, and 2) “The Ultimate Experience” for parts 1, 2 & 3. Depending on how late in the day you purchase your pass, you’ll receive a warning that you should consider not getting the Ultimate Experience because the House is just that huge. And it turns out that it is that huge, so you will have to hustle to get through all three areas of the House. Even though I was short on time, I chose the Ultimate Experience, because I didn’t want to miss a thing. YOLO.

Tokens you’ll receive to operate many of the automated musical machines inside the House:
souvenirs #houseontherock

The Original House and Infinity Room

Walkways through gardens lead to the Original House — now is your time to cleanse your mental palate for what you’re about to see and hear.

Have you ever seen a movie or cartoon where the protagonists are shrunken down and injected into a human body? Walking through the original House is like a walk through the mind of creator Alex Jordan. It’s dimly lit; it’s warm; there are many organic twists, bends, folds & pockets; many blood reds and visceral browns; it has a unique smell; and art, sculpture & music form moments of a dream.

Alex’s thought-process is preserved in the alcoves, walkways, and stairways. The architecture, in most places, embraces the shape of its rock foundation. The house surrenders, in some places, to rocks which literally just from the floor, and in other places, the House spirals away from the rock to escape it. We see what Alex adored and valued in life: knowledge in the form a library of books; ornate art and sculpture from Asia; complicated, mechanical, robotic musical instruments; the warmth of light from Tiffany lamps, and red & brown velvet furnishings; the comfort of a cosy alcove. It might be the ultimate “man cave”.

The House has a distinct smell, in some areas. Kind of like an attic, or the inside of a wall. A sort of sweet n’ sour odor of aging cellulose fibers. Nothing repellant, but it’s definitely a presence. I collect old things: books, mid-century LP records & lamps — they all come with their unique bouquet of odors — so I can relate.

I got lost three times… a testament to the hypnotic experience of walking inside someone’s dream. Maybe I didn’t want to leave?

Books, Tiffany lamps, art from Asia, brown woods:
Bookcase

One of the dozens of robotic musical bands, a wooden dragon, red velvet, and a rock jutting from the floor:
Dragon + Automated Band + Rock Outcrops in the Living Room

The Original House leads to the Infinity Room, a glass and steel structure that juts out 218 feet away from the Original House and rock foundation, and over the valley below. It was completed in 1985, 40 years after the Original House began construction. Near the end, you can look down at the valley through a window in the floor. This attraction will be avoided by those with a fear of heights.

Alex was not a prude, so it’s fair to speculate that the Infinity Room might represent a phallus. Or simply another extension of his dreams made real. Or it might just be an amazing way to give tourists a spectacular view of the forest and rock he loved.

Infinity Room - House on the Rock

This tribute to the House on the Rock continues in part 2 and part 3.

Link: The House on the Rock website.
Location: 5754 Wisconsin 23, Spring Green, WI