Sunday morning began the ritual we'd follow for the remainder of the week. This consisted of getting up early, fixing breakfast in our kitchen, and then getting in the car for a full day of sightseeing. Most of the attractions we visited were at least an hour drive from where we were staying. With the exception of Thursday, we were normally on the road by 8 AM. We joked that we were either opening up the places we saw or helping them close for the day.
The House on the Rock was the highlight of the Wisconsin trip for me. It is one of the most unique tourist attractions I've ever seen. Its themes seem to wander from exquisite collections to funhouse-like contraptions to surreal Twilight Zone-ish creations. It totally overwhelmed our senses and left us exhausted at the end of the day.
We purchased the Southwest Wisconsin Pass which gave us discounted admission to the House on the Rock as well as 3 other attractions we'd visit later that week: Little Norway, Cave of the Mounds, and the Wollersheim Winery. Our self-guided tour began with a short film on the life of Alex Jordan, the visionary/eccentric who created the House on the Rock. He purchased 240 acres of land in Spring Green, Wisconsin back in the 1940's and began building his vacation home on rocks in the hills. In addition to being a skilled architect, Alex Jordan was also a collector of just about everything from weapons to dollhouses. During his lifetime, he had to add two warehouse buildings to store his collections and his imaginative creations.
After the film, we toured the original vacation home. Even though Alex Jordan stood over 6 feet tall, he built his home with low ceilings. I always felt like I was going scrape my head but I actually had more room than I perceived. The interior was dimly lit and smelled old. We saw and heard the first of many mechanical music contraptions we'd experience throughout the day. As the strange fusion of instruments played Ravel's Bolero, it reminded me of the robotic instruments in Herbie Hancock's 80's music video, Rockit.
Mr. Jordan was a Christian and thus, there were stained-glass windows and religious statues throughout the home. He also had a fascination with the Orient. We saw a lot of the Oriental artwork and furniture he collected.
The highlight of the original vacation home is the Infinity Room. This is a room that juts 218 feet out of the side of the house and over the forest below without any underlying support beams. It has 3,624 windows. Additionally, the room was built to play on a person's depth perception. It appears to extend infinitely from the interior - hence the name, Infinity Room. We walked as far as we were allowed into the room and had a look through the glass floor at the forest below. This was a little unnerving because the floor would sometimes bounce.
Traci inside the Infinity Room
Infinity Room from the outside
one of many mechanical music contraptions
chillin' in one of the original rooms
We continued on through the other two buildings where we saw things such as the Streets of Yesterday, a life-sized replica of an early 1900's street. Throughout the premises, we saw everything from miniature collections to grandiose displays such as a sea creature sculpture the size of the Statue of Liberty turned on its side. In addition to the quality of the collections I saw, I was often astonished by the quantity. There are over 200 dollhouses in the multi-leveled Doll House Room. The Circus Room has collections of miniature circuses containing thousands of figurines.
Alex Jordan also collected many coin-operated machines such as fortune-telling machines or moving dolls. Along the way, we purchased tokens to insert into the machines and watch the short shows. As we moved along, the coin-operated gadgets got bigger and more elaborate. There is the Music of Yesterday collection that consists of rooms of mechanical instruments that play tunes. However, the coin-operated animatronics were what really blew my mind. There is a life-sized 80-piece mechanical orchestra that fills a multi-level stage. The animatronics characters even tap their feet in rhythm while they play.
Another highlight is the world's largest carousel containing 20,000 lights and 269 hand-crafted animals - not one of which is a horse. Mechanical music plays as the illuminated spectacle rotates. No one is allowed to ride it. The carousel, the sounds, the angels gliding along the ceiling - the whole room seems like a dream world.
I've barely scratched the surface on how much there is to see in the House on the Rock. Even the restrooms contain collections of fascinating items. We were pretty much burned out when we left the second building. We took a break to have lunch at one of the cafes before soldiering on through the third building and finishing up outside in the beautiful Japanese Garden. By then, it was approaching closing time. We had spent over 5 hours touring the House on the Rock and were exhausted.
world's largest carousel - 20,000 lights!
Streets of Yesterday
comes to life when a token is inserted
80-piece, life-sized animatronics orchestra
We did not go out to eat that evening because we did not want to miss the season opener of one of our favorite reality TV shows, The Amazing Race. Therefore, we bought groceries at a Super Wal-Mart on the way back to the condo and we all enjoyed the meal that Traci cooked.