The House on the Rock: A place where madmen find peace

If Willy Wonka and Howard Roark had a lovechild, they would have produced the guy who built The House on the Rock. In Spring Green, Wis., there is a whole lotta nothing; you’ve got the Dells, the Cave of the Mounds, Jellystone Family Park. Aside from that, it’s just beer and cheese.

Then you’ve got The House on the Rock, an architectural marvel that sticks out like a post-modern sore thumb balancing 218 feet over the Wisconsin valley up on a hill in the middle of 200 acres of farmland. This is where Alex Jordan found serenity during his first picnic with his long-time girlfriend, Jennie Olson, and after renting it for $20, he decided to purchase the land that day. His parents lent him the money to buy the plot, and he steadily built his dream home on the spot, though he didn’t actually live there. He and Jennie practically lived in squalor in two separate tiny apartments in Madison, Wis.

The tour guide will tell you all of this, while explaining the particulars about the current state of affairs. In February 2016, during my visit, the guide told the group that they were looking to save up $10,000 to fix the lighting and heating. It’s freezing in winter, I might add, which adds to the overall appeal of the place.

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Eccentrics will find peace among the clutter curated by a guy without taste–his sole purpose for creating this mansion of madness was to provide a space to entertain his friends. The House on the Rock is a time capsule of culture.

The walls are carved from limestone hauled up from the quarry by Alex Jordan himself, there are trees growing wherever they please throughout the house, and there are plenty of random bits of memorabilia crushed into corners unseen by the more lackadaisical sets of wandering eyes. Remember to look up, and you won’t be disappointed to see full length, horse-drawn carriages precariously placed atop lofts that you can’t get to. There are stairs that lead to nowhere and the decor is all akimbo.

You’ve got Tiffany-inspired stained glass lamps next to porcelain dolls whose clothes are slowly rotting off. Rusty old Japanese dragon sculptures aren’t out protecting some millionaire’s garden; they’re here in Wisconsin, hanging out with self-playing accordions and cellos who are just aching to play for you. The only thing these things have in common is the fact that they are frozen in time in this house of eccentricities, an attraction for those who’d like to see what it would be like if snippets of by-gone eras were extricated from their time periods and placed side-by-side in a maze-like tomb for eternity.

When you embark on the abridged version of the tour, you’ll see rooms plucked straight out of a carnival fun house. The ceilings are low enough for a a person of 5-foot-four to feel like they’re walking through a cozy kitchen carpeted from floor to ceiling, with ’50s sparkling appliances. Juxtaposed with the enormous fireplace, built for a family of cavemen, complete with 3-feet deep cauldrons meant for curdling entire vats of the state’s infamous Swiss cheese.

Move on to the next “room” and you have the “Passion Pit”, dimly lit for the avid reader who likes to lounge around all day with her face stuffed in a book. This house is a haven for those who make use of their imagination. The curiosities contained within are sure to satiate the most demanding minds. If you are one of those people who tries to believe in six impossible things–all before breakfast–then you’ll love The House on the Rock.

And 50 years later, couples still rent out the space for weddings and U of W alumni host their reunions here.

So, come on down and see the show that never ends. If you’ve read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, you might get a taste of the maddening effect this place has on the mental state of your more obsessive compulsive friends. If you have a hankering for the obscene and you’ve been tinkering with the theme for your upcoming bachelor party, The House on the Rock is the perfect place to host your party.

Visit The House of the Rock online for more information.

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