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Friday, December 2, 2011

The House on the Rock: I didn't know what to expect

House on the Rock dollhouseImage by John Kroll via Flickr
Dollhouse at House on the Rock

            When I first visited the House on the Rock in 1981 I didn't realize what I was going to see.  I had seen it as a little red square on the map designating it as a place of interest so I thought I might check it out.

             This was back when I was touring with the World of Fantasy Players stage production of The Wizard of Oz.  Whenever we had the opportunity we would check out any places of interest in the areas we would be travelling and if there was time we'd play tourist.

              House on the Rock sounded intriguing.  I didn't find much information about it other than it was a house that had been built on a pinnacle of rock.  Since Taliesin--the summer home of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright--was situated nearby I figured House on the Rock must be something similar to that.  Boy, was I wrong.

               Everyone who was working on the show catered to my whim and went to see this attraction.  It's located in a beautiful area of southern Wisconsin west of Madison and not too far from the popular Wisconsin Dells tourist area.  We had already spent some time in the Dells so we were in a touristy frame of mind.

              A road through a forested area brought us to a graveled parking lot.  All we could see were trees so there was no hint of what was to come.  We were a bit taken aback by the cost, which at the time I think was about twelve dollars.  It seemed a bit much to pay to tour a house even if the house was built on a rock.  Since we were there we agreed to go ahead and pay the admission to see the sight.

             It started out interestingly enough.   The stone house was attractive and unique in design.  Passageways meandered through several rooms with an assortment of fanciful furniture, Tiffany lamps, and other unusual furnishings from all parts of the world.  I was fascinated and pleased with the experience as we neared the end of the house tour.

             Then came the truly strange and unexpected part--a passageway filled with all sorts of peculiar displays led from the house to what I assumed was the exit.  I was somewhat puzzled to emerge into what appeared to be an early twentieth century street.  There were storefronts and various vehicles parked on the street.  We had been transported to another place and era.  We spent some time here and then realized there was a theater entrance with a brightly lit marquee above it.

              After entering the theater we found ourselves in a museum-like exhibit of music boxes, nickelodeon machines, and mechanized musical instrument assemblages.  As we progressed, each display got bigger, grander, and more complex, until eventually we were passing through entire rooms filled with automated musical instruments and mechanical figures. The rooms were glitzy, gaudy, and full of amazing music.  Trying to describe it adequately is futile.  It was one of those must see to believe experiences.

         And it went on from there with too many displays to describe here. Even the bathrooms were amazing with displays that were like visiting a museum.  It was all such an adjective inducing attraction that it would become superfluous to go on describing it.

          We left in awe of what we had seen.  For a few years after that visit, my wife and I returned to that incredible house whenever we were in the area.  Each year new things were added with more promised for the future.  There was much still planned to be added when we visited last in the mid-eighties.

           I hope that one day I can go back to see what new surprises have been added to this super excursion into surrealism.  If you are ever visiting the Dells or somewhere near the House on the Rock I would highly recommend a side trip.  According to their website, the House on the Rock now has a resort hotel that sounds like a fine addition to make your visit an top notch vacation experience.

           Have you been to House on the Rock?  If you've been there in recent years, how is it now?  Where have you gone that was much different than your expectations?

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  1. I've never been before man but it sounds like quite the sight, it sounds like something I seriously need to check out, really. Great post as always.

  2. Never been there although I've heard about it.

  3. Hi Lee .. what a fascinating place - I'd love to go and see it (sometime!) .. sounds quite extraordinary .. an eccentric home for a few eccentrics over the years ... great to read about here -

    No wonder you and your wife kept visiting - I think I would too .. looks so interesting .. cheers Hilary

  4. That house sounds like one of your layered dreams.

  5. Sounds like a place I'd like to visit.

  6. Wow, what a magical experience. I couldn't help but think of Harry Potter. :) I'd love to go there some day.

  7. I've never even been to Wisconsin but have heard how fantastic the Dells area is. Now I really want to go for a visit and see this house. Maybe in the summer, though. For now, I'll check it out on your link.

  8. Matthew -- It's one of those hidden attractions in the U.S. that I would recommend to anyone who likes the unusual and wacky.

    Alex - Where have you heard about it? I've never seen it advertised or read anything about it. Go check it out if you're ever in Wisconsin.

    Hilary -- I'm pretty sure you'd love the eclectic wonder of this place. And actually I don't think anyone ever lived there.

    Delores -- You know, you're right. It is one of the most dreamlike places I've ever been while awake. Even remembering seems like a dream.

    Bish -- I can't imagine anyone not liking it, or least the way I saw it so many years ago.

    Ciara -- For anyone who enjoys fantasy and wonderment it's a magical place to visit.

    Walk -- The Wisconsin Dells are a huge tourist attraction. And in the area there are so many places to see. It would make a great summer vacation, and don't forget a side trip to House on the Rock.


  9. I've never been there and never heard of it. I do my best to build my house on The Rock.

  10. Oh my God! I've been there!!! Loved The House on the Rock. Fantastic place. I keep telling my husband we need to go there, even though it's in the middle of nowhere in a state we don't need to visit.

    I was there sometime in the late 80's. Went by myself and it was the most magical few hours I've ever experienced. Loved the Carousel room and the Organ room. My camera wasn't working, so I bought a book. Glad I did.

    Wow, I so want to go there again.

  11. Stephen - I don't recall seeing anything about it, but I wonder if the guy who initially built this attraction had that parable in mind. It was what came to my mind.

    L. Diane-- Glad you came here to back me up on this. I bought a book as well when I visited. If you haven't been there since the late 80s then I'm sure they've added more to it. You must convince your husband to go. With all other attractions in the area it can make for a wonderful vacation. I hope I can return one day.


  12. I've never been but it sounds interesting. I'll have to keep it in mind if my travels take me there. Thanks so much for the info!

    Happy weekend!

  13. I've lived in Wisconsin all my life but have never been there. My parents went when I was a child and came home saying it was "weird" and "a tourist trap" and never went again, even though we passed by every time we went to my grandma's house.

    I'll have to go check it out myself someday, although I've heard most recently that it's pretty dated. I don't think much new has been added in the past few decades, though what do I know? I've never been.

    The Dells is great but also very touristy. There's a lot of great places to visit if you come to Wisconsin — Madison and Milwaukee included!

    If you're in the area of the House on the Rock and Taliesin (which I hear is fantastic ... my husband begs me to go every fall), check out the American Players Theatre in Spring Green, and the Cave of the Mounds; also the Mid Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom. And go to a farmer's market stand along hwy 14 and get some apples, they're great!

  14. Never been there, but it sounds amazing. The Infinity Room would blow my mind. BTW we sent you a blog award! Head over to our blog to pick it up.

  15. Total envy. I'm from Milwaukee, though we moved from there when I was a child and I've never been to the House on the Rock. And I would like to. Enjoyed the photo and you account very much.

  16. ah, Lee, they catered to your every whim? :) I've never experienced that, not even in my own house :) It must be nice

  17. Karen -- Thanks for stopping here and maybe someday you can stop there.

    Kelly -- No doubt that there is a lot of "touristy" to the House, the Dells, and the other things there, but House on the Rock was so different to anything else I'd seen that it was pretty much up my alley. I really like weirdness and the House was really weird and surrealistic. Hope I can go back one day and maybe also visit some of those things you mentioned.

    Maurice-- Thanks for the award and I'll be by to check it out.

    Beverly -- I haven't been to Wisconsin all that many times and never spent much time in Milwaukee, but I'd like to one day.

    Dezmond -- I felt like I was in one of my dreams. It is a place to behold.


  18. Sounds like a cool place to visit!
    Blessings, Joanne

  19. Oh wow, this sounds amazing! It sounds like slipping inside a book, discovering another world! I'd love to go one day -- it's a new addition to the list!

  20. Oh, what a neat-sounding place! I've heard a lot of good things about The Dells, especially for family fun. Don't know anything about the area, though. I would love to see that house, though.

  21. I had to visit my friend Mr. Google on this one. I'd never heard of it, but it is fascinating. I love architecture and would love to see it.


  22. Wisconsin is one of the few states I haven't visited. I'll add House on the Rock to the list. Sounds fun.

  23. Hi Arlee,
    I've awarded you an award on my blog.

  24. You make it sound fabulous. I'm intrigued.

  25. House on the Rock sounded familiar, but I never knew it was so unique!

    I Checked out the website link you provided and want to put this on my list of places to see!

  26. Joanne -- I've heard some people say otherwise, but I thought it was excellent.

    Amie -- It's definitely a place to lose oneself.

    Shannon -- If you're going to blow money on a kitschy family vacation the Dells and surrounding area fit the bill well.

    JW- Don't know how it ranks with real architects, but it's architectural fun for some of us.

    Carol --Go to Wisconsin. Eat some cheese. Visit the House on the Rock.

    Richard -- Thanks. I'll be by to check it out.

    Jen -- It was fabulous to me, but then again it really struck my sense of the weird and surreal.

    Paula -- With you eclectic tastes you might get a kick out of it.


  27. I've always wanted to go. My fiance is from Madison, and when I would visit him (we dated long-distance for a year), we were more concerned with spending time together than seeing the sights.

    Now that he's moved here, I may never get there. Maybe we'll go back and visit his old stomping ground someday.

  28. LEE ~
    Hmmm... Never even heard of it, that I can recall. Wish you had posted this sometime earlier as I would have made a special trip to see it when I was in Wisconsin last year.

    What with my protesting/boycotting of the TSA's Totalitarian Sexual Abuse of passengers at U.S. airports now it's unlikely I will ever see The House On The Rock. (I think a road trip that far East is probably not in my future anymore... in THIS lifetime anyway.)

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  29. I've never heard of it, but it sure sounds darn interesting!!!

  30. Haven't had the pleasure. Sounds like an amazing place. You have a gift of capturing the experience. Do you also do travel writing? I think you'll be excellent at it. Thanks for sharing!

  31. Kelly -- I think it's weird enough that you might like it, unless it's turned into a tacky tourist trap since I last visited.

    STMc -- I'd like to have heard you're reaction to it. I'm not sure that you would have cared for it much, but then again...

    Brian -- Well, I thought it was interesting. And it was surrealistic--key word for me.

    Buck -- Thanks for that encouragement, Haven't done any travel writing but it would be fun. Especially if all the travel were paid for.



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