Sunday, July 24, 2011

The House On the Rock

(Wisconsin Dells, WI) Hi 82  Low 66 - We're glad we took the duck tour yesterday instead of today, because today it was cloudy with scattered showers. So today we planned some mostly indoor fun. Dee is on the RV-Dreams chat every night, and many of her friends there have insisted we go see The House On the Rock. It's a place that is very hard to describe to someone who hasn't seen it. It's a large (VERY large) house built on top of a sandstone rock formation in a beautiful Wisconsin valley about 50 miles from us. It's the grand vision of one man, Alex Jordan. He started the house in the 1940's and spent the better part of 40 years completing it. He built it to house his collections. And believe me, he collected a LOT, as you'll see. Alex also thought sights and sounds are the most effective way of stimulating the senses, and his house offers an abundance of sights and sounds, almost to the point of sensory overload.

We arrived around 11:30. There are three separate self-guided tours, and we bought two tickets for the "Ultimate Experience," which is all three tours for one price ($28.50 each). The first thing that surprised us was how little of the house you can see from the outside. The surrounding rocks and trees hide the main structure so all you can see are boardwalk paths and doors leading into the sides of walls. Photography was a challenge inside the house as it was very dark, so forgive me for the quality of some of the photos.

We started out by walking through some of the gardens, which are very beautiful with many types of flowers, rocks, and some waterfalls.

I think I mentioned that this is a big house. Well, you can't really understand how big it is until you're well into the tour. As an example, there's a section on things related to the sea. One room is 50 or 60 feet high and has a giant blue whale being entangled by an octopus. You can see the scale of this thing by the man leaning against the rail on the left.

This is only the head. There was a whole whale there! Also in that same section was the model boat collection. There were hundreds of model ships and boats of all types and sizes, from 18th century warships to WWII battleships.

One room that was really cool was the Infinity Room. It's a long room that narrows as you walk along it, and it has no visible means of support under it... it just sticks out of the main house into thin air.

This is the view out the windows of the Infinity Room.

Alex Jordan was a collector of Asian art. This is an example of the many sculptures throughout the house.

Among his collections was this display of small toys and knick-knacks...

And this selection of Faberge eggs.

These eggs are very likely reproductions. The caretakers freely admit that many of the collections in the house are reproductions.

One of the featured attractions is the world's largest indoor carousel. It's HUGE, has 20,000 lights, and not one horse on it. What normally would be horses are all the other animals of the animal kingdom. (There were also some topless nymphs and mermaids, which surprised us in this family-oriented place.)

Here's the carousel from a higher perspective.

And my attempt at an "artsy" interpretation. :)

Above us on the ceiling of the carousel room are these angels.

And on the walls are all the horses that should be on the carousel.

This view takes in as much of the overhead view I could manage with my camera. Yes that's drums you see in the lower right corner. There are random things throughout the house that have nothing to do with the section or room they're in. Part of the "vision" I guess.

Another feature of the house, and the one I enjoyed the most, is the incredible collection of music machines. All throughout the house are these incredibly complex mechanical music contraptions. Violins and guitars with mechanical bows and pluckers, horns that play themselves, drums that beat on their own... just a feast for the eyes and ears. Here are a few examples, but trust me, photos cannot begin to adequately portray how beautiful they are.

Click on this to enlarge it and see the individual instruments.

This is a room with an ensemble of stringed instruments, percussion, and piano, all playing by themselves.

Accordians and drums.

Some violins and cellos, with mechanical contraptions to operate the bows and frets.

This is an entire orchestra, fake people and all.

These are just a few of the many music machines on display. And they were not only great to look at, but they played great music, everything from classical, to circus music, to jazz.

There was a big section called "Streets of Yesteryear" or something like that. It was a reproduction of a small town street in the 1800's, including shops with all the period furnishings you could see through the windows. Shops like the Sheriffs office, dentist office, woodworking shop, barber shop, and general store.

One entire room was devoted to pipe organs. The Organ Room was about 50 feet high, and when we first walked into it we wondered, "What the heck is all this?" Because all we saw at first were big huge tanks and a lot of  what looked like water pipes. It turns out Jordan scrounged tanks and pipes from local breweries to use for his collection of pipe organs. I'm not sure exactly what their purpose was; something do to with moving vast amounts of air I suppose. But once we got into the room we then marveled at the number of organ pipes all around the walls... 

... and even on the ceiling! (That's a walkway you see, to get an idea of the size of things.)

I've always liked pipe organs. To see not one console, but several, was just very cool!

Two consoles in one shot. Notice the huge organ pipes in the background.

Can you imagine "pulling out all the stops" on this baby?

This one looks like it belongs to the Phantom of the Opera.

And then, in the middle of all these organs is this very large clock. Why? Who knows, part of that "vision" thing again.

Also in the organ room was a full-size engine, crankshaft, and propeller from a large ship. Very strange!

Some more of the collections... Dee really liked this collection of doll houses. Sorry they're so hard to see.

There were doll houses of all shapes and sizes, in hallway after hallway. One example:

One whole section contained circus dioramas.

A collection of suits of armor.

Guns and swords of every type, from muskets to civil war era.

We also saw collections of typewriters, aircraft and cruise ship memorabilia, butterflies, china, toys, trains, dolls (including a doll carousel), halloween masks, hummel figures, glass vases, marionette puppets, wood bird houses, ivory carvings, and many more that we can't remember. Alex Jordan was quite a collector!

So there you have it... see what I mean by "sensory overload"? It took us about four hours to see everything. Thanks to all our friends who urged us to go. You were right... it was well worth it. (More pictures are located on the right side of the blog under House on the Rock).

Tomorrow will be much less active. We're leaving Tuesday, so tomorrow will be our normal pre-travel "piddling" day. And we could use the rest after today.


Jim and Sandie said...

I'm in overload just thinking about all of these collections. I'd like to have the money from even one of them. But this would definitely be a place I want to visit.

Leno said...

Very cool!

Sandra said...

Wow, what an amazing place! Thanks for the tour!

Kimberly and Jerry Peterson said...

Those are the two things on our list of things to do while we were here...but, we laid low and just hung out at our campground instead.

We have put them on our list of things to do the next time we are here in the Wisconsin Dells.

Thanks for sharing, you sold us!

Jeff & Barbie said...

What a great post with all the pictures!

Carol and Johnny said...

Glad you got to visit and thanks for refreshing my memory! Question: Is the tour accessible by scooter? I don't think Johnny could walk the whole way...

Tumbleweed said...

Carol, this is what their website says: "Due to architectural design, a small portion of your visit may not be accessible by wheelchair, and some of the ramps in other parts may be a bit difficult. We recommend that you bring your own wheelchair." In my personal opinion, I think a scooter would be a challenge. Some of the passageways are very narrow. Jim

Sam&Donna Weibel said...

How cool, that is definitely not the frank lloyd wright house my mom and I toured. How fascinating and great narrative detail.
as said before thanks for the tour

Margie and Roger said...

Loved it and sorry we missed it when we drove through the Dells, but adding it to the bucket list.

Sure beats the one the four of us toured in Florida last winter.

KarenInTheWoods and Steveio said...

That is truly an amazing place! I guess we better go there, huh?

Karen and Steve
(Our Blog) RVing: Small House... BIG Backyard

Kevin and Evelyn said...

I love The House on the Rock. It's funny, I've been there a few times, and I always thought it was built by Frank Lloyd Wright. I'm not sure what made me think that. In my opinion, the museum is the best part. It's well worth the admission price! Glad you enjoyed it.

Phyllis said...

Told you so. lol