Recently while I was in Wisconsin, I had a few days off and decided to find a roadside attraction that I could visit for an hour or so just because…well because I like weird things. I first heard about The House On The Rock from the Neil Gaiman novel, “American Gods.” Its about an hour west of Madison in the rolling countryside. In the book, Gaiman, along with his description, drops a bit of a disclaimer. and I paraphrase:The true description of this place is just too damn complicated and I won’t dedicate an entire book to it, I’ll just let you in on the part that makes my story work. - Holy crap. I totally missed the depth of his passing remark. There is no actual way to know what he is talking about until you visit House On The Rock.
Mysterious - Massive as it is, Its invisible to those who lack an imagination. Even the local gas attendant 2 towns over had no idea what I was talking about. She thought I was looking for the Frank Lloyd Wright house about 10 minutes from House On The Rock. This “house” on the rock is so completely different, that its easy to understand why it would evade the consciousness of normal folk, who are just getting about the business of their daily lives. Its a whopper, an anomaly, an aberration, a true mystery. The House On The Rock is less a testament to architectural genius and more a testament to the power of Dream.
Upon arrival, House On The Rock seems innocuous enough. Strange planters and odd sculpture line the long driveway through the forest. The front entrance looks like the entrance to a fancy hotel with a covered carport and drop-off. When one walks into the lobby, its like walking into the lobby of a museum or theater. Japanese style gardens are visible through the windows toward the back of the lobby,.
I really had no idea what to expect and was shocked when the woman selling tickets said the price would be $30. When she said it would take me at least 4 hours to walk through and see the 3 sections, I was intrigued enough to lay my money down. I kept trying to rectify in my mind how this could possibly ever take 4 hours. Some gardens, a little museum, a few old carnival machines… oh dear.
The feature most associated with the House On The Rock, is the Infinity Room. A long bridge of paned glass that is cantilevered out over the valley. It seems that it is made of old bedroom windows and plywood but the plaque on the wall assures us that is inspected yearly and can support many visitors.
My favorite part about the tour was the mechanical music making devices: unexpected room after room, populated with metal musicians in velvet chairs beneath crystal chandeliers and room-sized self-performing pipe organs which could have been danced to by Baron Von Munchausen himself.
Four hours after my entrance into the gardens, I emerged. Changed somehow. Scrambled eggs leaked from my ears from having my mind blown. The only word that accurately describes the experience is “Psychedelic.”
The cafe’ attendant near the exit in the lobby, with a knowing grin, asked me, “Is everything okay?” I could not make real words so I let out a garbled grunt.
She said simply, “I know, right?”
I nodded and we laughed.
I was so surprised by the number of people who live close by but have never visited this monument to the imagination. My best guess is that one must be drawn to an experience like House On The Rock, nay, summoned. In fact, Its easier to say that magic like this simply does not exist. The world would be far simpler, and much less mysterious to be sure. But in fact. There is magic. Often right beneath our noses, just next door, or on the side of a hill in the middle of Wisconsin.