Mission San Juan, December 30, 2017

Mission San Juan, December 30, 2017
Mission San Juan, December 30, 2017

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Divide and Conquer - Weds., Sept. 24, 2014

Choices, life is full of them. Today, we had to make a tough one. Which attraction do we see? I've had The House on the Rock on my bucket list ever since I worked for AAA almost 20 years ago. When I was a travel counselor making TripTiks for people, I would have them ask me to route them to Spring Green, WI. When I asked what was there, they told me about a fantastical house designed by an eccentric man. So I looked it up and decided I had to see it. Years later, this was my chance.

The other choice for the day was to see Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin. I was interested in that too, but The House on the Rock was my first choice. That's how I rock 'n' roll.

Bob, however, was of the opposite opinion. He really wanted to see Taliesin and do the tour there. I knew he wasn't into the weird stuff he would see at The House on the Rock. 

As we entered the drive to The House on the Rock, I was enthralled with the unique planters along the way. Alex Jordan was inspired to make these pots from the strawberry pots his mother had on her patio. During the summer, the planters here are filled with flowers.

Planters along the entrance drive
Planters on the grounds of The House on the Rock
Love the dragon on top
When we arrived at The House on the Rock, I told Bob if he'd rather see Taliesin to go for it. That's how we decided to divide and conquer. He dropped me off at The House on the Rock, and he drove seven miles to Taliesin to see the Visitor Center and take a two-hour tour of the house, and a one-hour tour of the school. When we finished, he would pick me up.

Both of us went to see houses designed by ego-centric men who lived within a few miles of each other. Curiouser and curiouser. And I was about to go down the rabbit hole.

We started in the Visitor Center. I bought the combination ticket ($28.50) which covered all three sections of The House on the Rock. In the Visitor Center, I used the Women's restroom. Even the restrooms are decorated! The Women's restroom was decorated with dolls and a Christmas display.

Women's restroom
Women's restroom (Erte? Um...maybe)
I asked Bob to see what was in the Men's restroom. He checked and there were ships. At this point, Bob took off to Taliesin.

To say Alex Jordan had an over-active imagination would be an understatement. As a young boy, he was a handful, always on the go. Today we'd probably say he had ADHD. He finished high school and went on to college, but was too busy having fun to finish. In life, he drifted, not knowing what to do. For a while, he worked in construction for his father. That is where he learned how to build.

Starting in 1945, he would go picnicking on Deer Shelter Rock. He fell in love with the beauty and nature of the spot on the rock and returned many times. He paid the farmer who owned the property $10 to "lease" this picnic spot. This, he decided, was where he would build his dream house. His parents helped him buy 240 acres and his life's purpose took shape. He would build his private weekend get-away here and have this home conform to the shape of the chimney rock it was built upon.

At first, he built what he called the "shack." He hated the shack and tore it down, replacing it with a "Studio." He hauled rocks from a local quarry, strapped to his back, and climbed the rock with them. He built outward and downward from the Studio, eventually creating 13 rooms around Deer Shelter Rock. Trees growing on the rock were left undisturbed and he built his house around them, so that they pass through floors and roofs as required.

Alex Jordan was 6'4" tall, but his house has ceilings that are about 5' 10" tall. Remember the rabbit hole I mentioned earlier? It was time to enter Wonderland. If you are claustrophobic or don't like dark, confined spaces, this place is probably not for you. It is quite dim throughout.
Small sitting area with large fireplace.
Chimney Rock wall on left, house wall on right.
Another intimate sitting area with fireplace
Alex loved all things Oriental.
Yet another sitting area.
Neighbors and visitors to the area would go by as he was working and ask if they could come up and see the house. He told them, "Sure, if you pay 50 cents." They paid gladly and thanked him after they saw it. The admission he charged helped him finance hiring an assistant and workers.

His parents wanted him to open the house to tours, but Alex and his girlfriend were very private people. They balked at the suggestion. However, since his parents bought the property, they insisted and Alex reluctantly agreed.

With the added income, he was able to start collections, but then he needed somewhere to put everything. Thus, he added the Organ Room, the Carousel Room and the Old Mill.

Alex had a wide scope of interests. He collected books and music all his life. His curiosity was boundless and his voracious reading made him conversant in many fields. His 38 magazine subscriptions ranged from National Geographic to The Smithsonian, National Lampoon, and Mad Magazine. He loved The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and The Art of War. Reading fueled his imagination even more.

Everywhere he went, he carried a notebook where he made drawings and put in ideas. Those ideas would eventually translate into new spaces for his house. He would show the builders his plans and explain how he wanted a room to look. If, in the process of building, the room didn't look like he planned, he would revise his plan and re-do the room accordingly.

The vision for an Infinity Room was in his notebook for 40 years. He finally talked to a builder about making the Infinity Room a reality. The builder told him he could do it if he made it 164' long. Alex was adamant it had to be 200' long to make the room look like it reached to infinity. The builder was able to help him make it a reality.

The Infinity Room
Even though Alex and his girlfriend had The House on the Hill, they lived in an apartment in town. As stated, they were private people.

In the 1960s a guest who visited the House sent a note to Alex telling him how much he enjoyed his visit. In the note, he asked Alex if he had ever heard of a poem called "Vagabond's House" by Don Blanding. Alex was so taken with the poem, he copied it out in longhand. Here is an excerpt from the poem:
When I have a house ... as I sometime may
I'll suit my dream in every way
It won't be correct or in period style
But oh, I've thought for a long, long while
Of all the corners and all the nooks,
Of all the bookshelves and all the books
The sheepskin divan, the deep soft chairs
And the Chinese rug at the foot of the stairs
(it's an old, old rug from far Chow Wan
that a Chinese princess once walked on).

My house will stand on a rock on a hill
Overlooking a valley deep and still
With big tall pines on guard nearby
Where the birds can sing and the storm wind cry
A bridge and a stair with lazy curves
Will lead to a door where a great gong serves
As a knocker there like a vibrant drum
to let me know that a friend  has come
and the door will squeak as I swing it wide
to welcome you to the cheer inside.
I can see why Alex Jordan loved this poem...it epitomized his feelings about his house.

What I found very interesting was Alex's purpose in building such a unique structure and putting huge collections into it. Alex loved to visit museums, but found them "tedious." He didn't want any of his collection to be stuffy. He often said of his guests, "Don't educate them--entertain them." His only purpose was to bring pleasure, inspire awe, and spark curiosity. Those who look for an explanation have it all wrong--it's about a mood.

Here, then, are my pictorial impressions from The House on the Rock...

Outdoor Chinese garden
Carousel cat high on a wall
Hotei (Rub his belly for good luck...I did)
Japanese garden
Door to enter The Old Mill (love the blue light!)

The Old Mill Women's restroom
The Streets of Yesterday
Fire Station No. 1 (Streets of Yesterday)
Doll Shop (Streets of Yesterday)
Lamp (Streets of Yesterday)
Gladiator Calliope (Music of Yesterday)
Many ivory pieces (from before ban on importing ivory)
Three-story exhibit of a sea creature vs. a squid.

I was able to capture part of the sea creature's mouth
A decorated room with unique piano

Collection of masks
Burma Shave signs
'35 Packard
I totally enjoyed The Music of Yesterday rooms with calliopes, player pianos, etc. When you bought your tickets for the tour, you were given four tokens to use in the music machines. My favorite part of the whole place were the music machines. I was especially taken by The Mikado room.

The Mikado Room complete with music
Airplane room.
The 269-animal carousel has over 20,000 lights, 182 chandeliers, is 80' wide, 35' tall and weighs 36 tons. There are no horses on the main portion of the carousel. Instead, there are cats, zebras, mythic creatures, and some from the imagination of those who created them.

All the horses Alex Jordan collected for the Grand Carousel now hang on walls throughout the house.

Here are my physical impressions of The House on the Rock:
  1. I loved the Alex Jordan, Jr., Center (museum about the man who created this eclectic mish-mash). There was so much information to absorb.
  2. The magnitude of everything combined is mind-boggling. We're talking collections ranging from dolls, to weapons, to armor, to dollhouses, to music machines, to Asian artifacts, to ivory, to organs, to model ships--something for everyone.
  3. It imparts a sense of wonder because of the sheer scope of the project
  4. It is dimly lit which makes it hard to see things
  5. Most of the collection is not labeled. 
  6. Not all pieces are authentic. There are many things that were created on site or are reproductions.
  7. The floor is not level, so you need to be careful when walking around, especially because it is not well lit.
  8. You also have to watch your head in the house portion as the rooms have low ceilings.
  9. The place needs to be cleaned regularly. Cobwebs hang from some of the light fixtures. The dollhouses have dead bugs, mouse droppings and dirt in them.
  10. Overall, though, I found it fascinating.
When I finished my explorations of the house, I texted Bob. He was almost finished at Taliesin. It wasn't long until he picked me up. He enjoyed the two tours he took. He may be writing a guest blog here in the next couple of days about his experiences and thoughts on vacation, so stay tuned.

From Spring Green, we drove north to Wisconsin Dells. Our goal was to either (1) take a boat ride to see The Dells, or (2) find a park or trails to walk to see The Dells. Well, the boat rides all seemed to be closed for the season. We drove through town twice looking for a boat ride to take  us out. There was no Visitor Center to be found or we would have asked where we could go to see The Dells, a nature trail or something. We found a state park just outside of town but it, too, was closed. Guess it was time to high-tail it back to Derge County Park and the 5th wheel.

To end, here are some quotes that were found on walls and tables in Inspiration Point, one of the snack bars at The House on the Rock.
"Life is full of obstacle illusions."  ~ George Frazier

"Live out your imagination, not your history." ~ Steven Covey

"Time you enjoyed wasting is not wasted time." ~ T.S. Eliot

"Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties." ~George Frazier
Travel Bug out. [As you can tell, I'm a few days behind. We have been busy and I just haven't had time to write. I hope to catch up more tomorrow.]


  1. now this was a funny, yet exceedingly genious way to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak!

    How great that you split up, and each had a great time. . .love it!

    1. It only works well when both attractions are near each other. In our case, just a few miles down the road.

  2. Very unique. Glad you both got to see what you wanted and look forward to Bob's post too.

    1. It may be a few days before Bob posts. We are getting into waterfall country so we plan to hike a lot in the next two days.

  3. What a great post about a place I've never heard of. Alex Jordan must have spent a lot of money to build that place and fill if full of all those interesting pieces. What did he do for a living or was a trust fund person. Thanks for showing me this unique home. I've for sure heard of Frank Lloyd Wright but never of Alex Jordan.

  4. We've been to both and found House On the Rocks so interesting that we toured again a few years later, so much to see there we'd probably go back again. So glad you enjoyed it too.

  5. I always find it interesting that this is on people's list of "must-see" for Wisconsin. To me it's the least interesting thing in the state! I didn't enjoy my visit there at all, probably because I'll take a stuffy museum (or just about anything else) any day.


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