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

Circus Tent

Circus World in Baraboo Wisconsin

On June 12th, 2017, I found myself in Baraboo, Wisconsin looking for periodical cicadas, attempting to verify their existence in that city. I found no cicadas, but I did discover the Circus World Museum/historic site. Driving past Circus World, it didn’t seem that compelling: the buildings were bland and seemed unexceptional.

Circus World in Baraboo WI

I parked across from the museum so I could inspect the trees in a park for cicadas — from that vantage point I could see into the grounds of the museum — I could see an elephant, a circus tent, and trains of circus wagons. That was enough to make me think “okay, that looks interesting, I’m here, I’m not finding any cicadas, I might as well go inside”.

Perceiving the value of something often requires a new perspective.

One hundred years ago circuses had a lot less competition — no Internet, no video anything, no radio, no plenitudes of delicious foods, no giant amusement parks, no touring rock, country or rap groups, no NASCAR, no air conditioning, or easy to obtain birth control. If you lived in a rural community 100 years ago, and the circus came to town, you went to the circus. You put down your hammer, gathered up your kin, and went to see “the greatest show on earth”.

Enter the circus tent, and you enter an alternate dimension. The circus represents a mirror world. Each ring, or circle (circus), is a mirror laid flat, in which a distorted & amplified view of the ordinary world appears. At the circus, ordinary animals, like dogs, horses & bears perform tricks; extra-ordinary animals from foreign lands, like monkeys, elephants, tigers & lions, appear in the flesh; mysterious humans of extreme dimensions, attributes, and skills amaze unexperienced minds; clowns — representing everything an adult is not allowed to be: silly, playful, foolish, loud, colorful, outlandish — pour from tiny cars to delight child and adult alike.

I have to imagine this experience was quite healthy for the spirit, mind and even body. The circus comes to town and takes you away from the day to day grind of a difficult life; it makes you laugh; it shows you sights you might never otherwise see; it blows your mind. The circus picks you up in its primary-colored arms and shows you the truth of what the world is, and what it can be. It offers the gifts of joy and perspective. And maybe you can have an affair with the strongman or tattooed lady.

Clown - Circus World, Baraboo, WI

The modern world has few mysteries. The Internet offers millions of hours of footage of ordinary & rare animals performing tricks. Want to see an extremely tall man fly through the air? Just turn on ESPN. The “Tattooed Lady”? She’s your best friend. Adults behaving like clowns? They’re everywhere today (perhaps they always were). We have entered the mirror world.

Today we have no need for the Circus because we have 24/7 access to the amazing & mysterious, silly & insane. As Madge would say “you’re soaking in it”. And because we’re inside it, we’ve lost some perspective.

So what about Circus World?

Considering Circus World as a whole, the bland exterior works perfectly. At that point, the visitor is outside the circus. Even the entrance to Circus World is unexceptional — a simple gift shop and ticket booth and bathrooms. But one step beyond these operational necessities, you enter the Circus World. Bright lighting and white walls, switch — in an instant — to shadow and spotlights illuminating circus scenes and artifacts: a maze of brightly-colored circus posters and banners; elaborate displays of mannequins (human & animal) donned in glittering circus attire. Visions of the circus, frozen in time. But it only gets better once you step outside.

Monkey Circus

Circus costumes for performers and elephants

Once outside, you have two options: 1) make a right and explore, what I’ve called the “bland” and “unexceptional” buildings, or 2) cross the river and enter the circus world. I chose to ease into it and headed for the buildings.

Have you ever met someone who looked totally ordinary — plain clothes, common haircut, average physique — and have them tell just the most amazing story about their life? I have. Some people and some things look ordinary, only to contain and protect what they hold inside. It turned out that the buildings visible from outside Circus World once held circus equipment and animals from every continent — while they appear ordinary and utilitarian, they were built to hold the heart of the circus itself. Today these buildings continue to house treasures — each is a museum to an aspect of the circus. One holds massive and detailed dioramas depicting circus performances and circus train yards. Another holds a museum of famous clowns and clown equipment. Another features the costumes of circus performers from around the world. Another has tributes to famous circus animals, like Silver King, the most famous circus horse of all time.

Giant Hammers used by Clowns

A model of the circus at Madison Square Garden

Back outside, and across the river, and you’ve entered the living circus. There you’ll see the circus tents, elephant, and horses, and performances by acrobats, clowns, and Ryan Holder and his magnificent family of captive bread Bengal-Siberian tigers (I pulled that last sentence from their website). The performances are so good, you’ll probably forget to take a photo like it did. Plenty of delicious carnival foods are available as well.

The circus wagons were my favorite exhibit at Circus World. The grounds of the museum feature dozens of these ornately shaped, colored and decorated wooden wagons that once held glamorous circus performers, exotic animals, and yes, even clowns and equipment. Some wagons featured bars to allow folks to see the animals inside. Some contained complete, automated musical machines — steam-powered calliopes that played the loud, festive and other-worldly music of the circus. There are even buildings where the wagons are restored and repaired — it must take great skill to preserve and replicate the amazing carved woodwork of these wagons. Pure whites, blood reds, rich golds and silvers, fiery oranges, uncommon blues, and the occasional John Deer tractor green, gilded with gold, of course — the colors of these wagons stand out from the beiges and grays of the ordinary world.

Golden ornate circus wagon

Arthur Bros Circus Wagon

Link: circusworldbaraboo.org.

Location: 550 Water St, Baraboo, Wisconsin.

More Photos:

Circus World, Baraboo, WI