On Monday (5/22), James and I went with a couple of friends to one of the stranger tourist destinations in the fine state of Wisconsin. James was the only one of the four of us to ever visit the site before, and he hadn’t been there in a good many years. The only memorable reference to the place that I had in my head was from the Neil Gaiman novel, American Gods. After walking through the whole place, it is no wonder that it makes a perfect setting for such fantastical imaginings.
A little history from the official web page:
During the 1940’s, a man named Alex Jordan discovered a 60-foot chimney of rock in the beautiful Wyoming Valley. It was then he decided to build a house on the sandstone formation called Deer Shelter Rock. Jordan built the house as a weekend retreat and never intended it to be a tourist attraction. However, people kept coming to see the architectural wonder they had heard about. Jordan eventually started asking for 50 cent donations. That was only the beginning. The 14-room house is the original structure of what is now a complex of many buildings, exhibits and garden displays.
Alex was a collector all his life and enjoyed visiting museums; however, he did not want The House on the Rock to be a museum. He intended it to be much more than that. Though parts of the collections could have easily found their way into museums, The House on the Rock is more of a trip through the wild and fantastic imagination of Alex Jordan than a visit to a dusty, lifeless museum.
In December of 1988, Alex sold The House on the Rock to longtime associate Art Donaldson, a collector and a businessman who shared his broad interests. Alex remained at The House on the Rock as Artistic Director until his death on November 6, 1989. Art Donaldson continues to own The House on the Rock and builds on Alex’s dream of expanding and entertaining visitors from all over the world. Alex continues to be in his own words, “Present but not voting”.
What this description doesn’t quite begin to convey is the enormity of the place. And the overwhelming weirdness. See my flickr set for just a glimpse.
I think that my favorite part was the section of rooms featuring the automatic orchestras. When they were first configured, the instruments and various mechanisms that played them were probably more incredible and eerie than the slightly offbeat drum hydraulics and recorded music that plays there now. However, the sound of the machinery and the more often than not atonality of the songs is truly entrancing. I understand that the machinery and instruments would be quite difficult to maintain had they continued to do the playing for real, but I was kind of disappointed when I noticed that they weren’t.
I also liked the carousel. The room it was in was lit in red, like many of the others, and I’m always a sucker for the color red. There were no horses on the carousel, but in another room, lining the walls were hundreds of carousel horses. The whole thing was more than just some crazy man’s collections. It was really a work of art that I could probably think about and reflect on forever and never quite find the right words to truly describe. There’s a poem in there somewhere, but it might never fully emerge. I’m still just a little too confused.