25 November 2009

A little travelogue

This weekend brings Thanksgiving Day here in the Land Of The Free-that day which is supposedly dedicated to, well, giving thanks for what we have and have received over the past year. In many ways, it's similar to harvest festivals celebrated by many ancient and/or primitive cultures throughout history.

I do have to say that I'm thankful for being employed-right now employed too much-; for living in one of the greatest nations on the planet, where a person can make it simply by inventing the Snuggie; for Mom's at least partially-restored eyesight; and for all of you lugs that visit here on a regular basis. Without you all, this is just whistling in the wind. Someday I'd hope to meet some of you in person. You'll be sorry.

The rest of the day (for most people) consists, of course, of turkey and all the fixings, football on the TV, and if all goes well, an alcohol-fueled family squabble over some silly thing or another. If it were up to me, I'd have the buffet at the local Indian restaurant. Nothing screams 'Thanksgiving Dinner' like a plateful of korma-but it has to be freshly made. I believe it was John Lennon that sang 'Instant korma's gonna get you', and the British should know all about subpar curries.

Since I may be in and out over the weekend, I'm going to do one of my slightly-famous travelogues about a (relatively) local attraction. It's a place that I was taken to as a very young child, and have been to at intervals since.

We'll start with the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin, in the southwest part of the Badger State. I have no doubt that many of his ideas, designs, and choice of materials used in his projects were influenced by his wanderings through the hills and valleys of the area. He built a studio/summer home near the town of Spring Green, Wisconsin-Taliesin.

It does look like it was designed and built in the last 10 years or so. The place was built in 1911, possibly about 80 years ahead of its time.

Enter Alexander Jordan, Jr., by all accounts a bit reclusive and eccentric. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of Wright and become a famous architect and designer. Wright, for his part, had this comment for Jordan:

"I wouldn't hire you to design a cheese crate or a chicken coop."

An enraged Jordan decided to show up the master by creating his own architectural masterpiece. So he found a promontory overlooking the Wyoming Valley in Wisconsin and started carrying materials up the side. His creation was a quasi-Oriental styled dwelling perched on the rock spire, hence, the House On The Rock.

I'm not sure if the design is a deliberate parody of Wright's work or if Jordan thought he really was better than Wright. At any rate, the House overlooks the area that Taliesin is located in. One pictures Jordan flipping Wright the bird as if to say 'Top this, a-hole!'. One also pictures Wright going to his studio, looking up at the upstart's creation, and just shaking his head.

Over the years, people stopped to look at the house. Jordan originally shooed them away, but that great American spirit of capitalism kicked in-and he realized he could charge people to see the house and finance more of his odd creations. The House On The Rock 'complex' grew to include a section called 'The Streets of Yesteryear', a representation of sorts of an American town, circa 1880-1910.

The place grew and spread into about the three-mile long walk it is today.

As I stated, I've been to The House On The Rock several times, and it's baffling to exactly describe and classify it. It's in many ways like walking through a person's LSD trip. It's a paradox in that there are items of beauty sitting next to the extremely tacky. Finely crafted mechanical music machines are placed next to music rooms that are nothing but pneumatically-controlled simulacra and a CD player in the background playing the actual tune. The real is intermixed with the imagined. It's either a great architectural work or the world's biggest roadside attraction-like the places out West that had two-headed snakes and sold rubber tomahawks that you just had to stop at when you were on the family vacation as a kid.

This section from http://atlasobscura.org/ may be helpful:

"Opened in 1959, over the years the house has continued expanding and turned into a sprawling complex of bizarre collections. Within its dark chambers it holds the worlds largest carousel, a room devoted to enormous pipe organs, a 200-foot anatomically preposterous sperm whale fighting an equally large squid (to the tune 'Octopus's Garden', no less-YD), a complete "streets of yesteryear" exhibit, and rooms filled with coin-operated musical automata. There are huge collections of dolls, armor, miniatures, weapons, jewels, and more, both antiques and reproductions. Though some of the exhibits are rather dubious, of particular interest is the incredible collection of music machines and automated orchestras."

The first few times I went, there was only the House and The Streets of Yesteryear. I have to say that it seemed like the exhibits were of better quality back when it wasn't such a huge business. In my opinion, yeah, the quality of many of the exhibits has declined since the place has expanded. But I'll let you decide with these pictures.

The Infinity Room-a cantilevered walkway jutting out about 200 feet. You can walk out to the end and feel the room quiver in the wind. Unnerving-and vertigo inducing if you're prone to such things.

Two views of the Carousel. It's three stories tall and has I forget how many creatures on it-and not one horse! Welcome to Carousel.

And here is a wall of carousel horses and unicorns. That's where they all went!

Here's a (supposed? notional?) electronic organ, with multiple keyboards, more buttons than the bridge of the Enterprise, and two TV monitors. I can see a madman playing Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on this apparatus, right before James Bond, or possibly Austin Powers, dispatches him.

One of the models from the Nautical room (the one with the whale fighting the octopus mentioned above). There are a couple hundred of these ship models-some real, some fantasy, some alternate history, some just plain weird.

One of their collection of ships' figureheads. Again, no way of knowing if it's an actual figurehead or something a local artisan carved/cast/poured.

An odd place, The House On The Rock-but something everyone should see once. Maybe you'll feel it was worth it. Maybe you'll think it's a giant tourist trap. Possibly you'll be right either way. At any rate, here's the website if you want to see more.

Whaddaya say? Modern wonder? Tourist trap? Both? At any rate, I hope you enjoyed the pics and accounts of the place.

Cheers all!

yankeedog out.


  1. Bizarre and yet amazing. The kitsch value in that place is phenomenal.

  2. Ha, I was going to say bizarre and facinating in equal measures.

    Interestingly the good Doc above and I were arguing about architecture yesterday. Specifically the relative merits of Art Deco. I am a fan and the Doc while appreciative finds it leaves a bad taste in his mouth.

  3. I'd definitely live in Wright's house, but I'd have to visit Jordan's more than once. Thanks YDog.

  4. Doc-Kitschy! Yes, that's a good word for The House On The Rock. As usual, you've hit on the right word.

    Naut-Also a good analysis. When I see Art Deco, I think '1920s and 1930s'. I suggest the Good Doctor never go to Miami Beach, then-2/3 of the buildings are old art deco style places. But then again, it's a topless beach so perhaps he wouldn't notice the architecture.

    Bangar-You could go to The House On The Rock at intervals and see all kinds of odd things. About every seven or eight years is a decent stretch between visits.