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The House On The Rock: The Most Peculiar Attraction You’ll Ever Visit

House on the Rock: carousel room with angels

The most amazing thing: a carousel inside House on the Rock, with a ceiling full of angels.

Our visit to the House on the Rock is something we’ll never forget. In fact, we still keep talking about it months after the trip. This magical, awe-inspiring, peculiar, somewhat spooky and massively entertaining hidden gem in Wisconsin, USA is something that’s really hard to put into words or even represent correctly in photos, but we’ll do our best below…

House on the Rock: the big carousel

The world’s biggest carousel in the House on the Rock.

What is the House on the Rock?

The House on the Rock started as Alex Jordan Jr.‘s dream of a house: his own home, literally standing on a rock in Wisconsin. He started building his house sometime in the 1920’s and due to its unusual architecture and location, it started attracting visitors. The story says visitors started “knocking on his door” and asking if they could see the house and in the end, he decided to charge them a few pennies to fund the expanding of his house and eventually, the peculiar exhibitions.

In 1960 the house was officially opened to the public.

The House on the Rock on Google maps. Click on the image to view full map!

Alex Jordan Jr. is described by one of his biographers as a reclusive man who did not like or seek personal publicity. However, as the house and its exhibitions prove, he was a very creative person with an endless amount of ideas. The opening exhibition at the house provides a unique look on his life, with only a few little bits mentioned on his Wikipedia page and the page for the house itself.

Alex Jordan, Jr. in his workshop. Photo: House on the Rock archives

Alex Jordan, Jr. in his workshop. Photo: House on the Rock archives

A portal to the minds of the gods in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods

We both first learned about the House on the Rock in Neil Gaiman‘s brilliant classic American Gods. There’s a long passage in the book where the attraction and a lot of the exhibitions are described down to the oddest details, so we just had to check if the place really exists… and it totally does!

In the book, the House on the Rock acts as a portal into the mind of the Gods. The quotes in this article are all from Gaiman’s novel and if you haven’t already, you should definitely read it.

The various cover arts for Neil Gaiman's American Gods.

Fun fact: American Gods is currently (finally!) being made into a TV show by Starz. It’s being produced by our Hannibal dad Bryan Fuller and stars some really brilliant actors including Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane and Gillian Anderson. We actually bumped into the filming crew in Toronto and can not wait to see the show! Check out the first trailer on YouTube.

One day is barely enough for visiting the House on the Rock

“So what is this place?” asked Shadow, as they walked through the parking lot toward a low,
unimpressive wooden building.
“This is a roadside attraction,” said Wednesday. “One of the finest. Which means it is a place of
power.”

House on the Rock entrance

You can’t tell by the entrance what you’re about to experience.

The House on the Rock attraction is located between the cities of Dodgeville and Spring Green in Wisconsin. We were so very excited to visit and thought we had a pretty good idea about what we were about to experience.

But oh, we were so wrong. Anything we ever expected was not even half of it. Not in our wildest dreams could we have predicted the vastness of the “house” that hides behind the quite ordinary looking entrance.

There are several different sections at the House on the Rock, so you can choose to see only the first part or a couple of them. However, we urge you to consider staying for all four and having at least one full day for doing the rounds. We had five hours to cover it and had to rush through the last part to make it to the gift shop before closing time.

House on the Rock entrance tickets

The founder of House on the Rock kept every single entrance ticket back in the days.

The tour starts with an extensive exhibition with photos, drawings, sketches and blueprints, old photos and a really interesting look on Alex’s personal life. We were already amazed at this point but also very eager to see it all in real life, so we read a few of the stories, snapped photos of the rest and made our way to the actual house.

The actual House on the Rock, Alex’s home

Farther in, a player piano was playing something that was intended to be Ravel’s Bolero. The place seemed to be a geometrically reconfigured 1960s bachelor pad, with open stone work, pile carpeting, and magnificently ugly mushroom-shaped stained-glass lampshades. Up a winding staircase was another room filled with knickknacks.

When Alex Jordan Jr. started building a  home for himself, he wanted it to be one with the nature around it. So, inside his house you can see some very cute little nooks and corners built around various and varying rock walls, as well as trees growing right in the middle of the rooms. There’s a kitchen and living room, but they aren’t anything you’ve ever seen in other houses.

House on the Rock

One of the rooms in the actual house.

We were already quite amazed at this point (and Tiia really wanted to live in this house), but little did we know we’d only seen a small portion of the whole attraction so far.

House on the Rock sitting lounge with a view

One of the lovely little lounges. This one comes with a view!

The Infinity Room stretching over the landscape

One of Alex’s proudest and most ambitious creations is the Infinity Room built in 1985, just a few years before Alex’s passing. It’s a platform that sticks out 66 meters (218 feet) from the house without any supports underneath. The views are spectacular over the valley and you can enjoy it all through over 3,000 individual window squares. At the end of it there’s a little window on the floor too, just in case you’re brave enough to look down on the trees while the wind gently rocks the whole structure.

Up and down more stairs, and now they were in a long, long room, made of glass, that protruded, needlelike, out over the leafless black-and-white countryside hundreds of feet below them. Shadow stood and watched the snow tumble and spin.
“This is the House on the Rock?” he asked, puzzled.
“More or less. This is the Infinity Room, part of the actual house, although a late addition. But no, my young friend, we have not scratched the tiniest surface of what the house has to offer.”

The famous infinity room at the House on the Rock.

The famous infinity room at the House on the Rock.

The Infinity Room is actually visible from a scenic overlook down Highway 23, almost a mile away. We went there to admire the sunset, and even if the overlook itself wasn’t the most impressive one we’ve visited, it was a nice walk and we loved seeing the Infinity Room from the quite famous point of view.

The Mill House in between

Between the actual house and the collection of stuff stands the Mill House. We stopped for a few photos and some air before diving back into the madness.

House on the Rock: mill wheel

The wheel on the mill goes round and round…

Ghosts on the Streets of Yesterday

Cobblestones under their feet, the darkness of a roof above their heads, jangling mechanical music in the background. They passed a glass box of broken puppets and an overgrown golden music box in a glass case. They passed the dentist’s and the drugstore (“RESTORE POTENCY! USE O’LEARY’S MAGNETICAL BELT!”). At the end of the street was a large glass box with a female mannequin inside it, dressed as a gypsy fortune-teller.

House on the Rock: Streets of Yesteryear: this way to the music machines.

Streets of Yesterday: this way to the music machines and oddities.

After the Mill House the visitors get to walk down the Streets of Yesterday. It reminded us a little of Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter Experience in London, albeit a slightly dusty, somewhat eerie version of it. We peeked through as many windows into the displays as we could, photographed some and then spent 10 minutes trying to capture some ghostly photos of each other by using a long exposure on the camera.

All good fun. But again, we needed to move as we assumed there’s still a lot to see up ahead. We were not wrong.

Everywhere was the sound of music: jangling, awkward music, ever so slightly off the beat and out of time. Wednesday took a five-dollar bill and put it into a change machine, receiving a handful of brass-colored metal coins in return.

In our pockets we had handfuls of little tokens that they sell in the beginning of the tour. We spent a few on the music machines, but also got some predictions from a fortune teller machine. It was amazing. We’re not silly enough to actually believe in horoscopes or predictions like this, but it was delightfully entertaining to watch the doll go and then spit out a card typed in oldey-timey font.

It reminded us of Derren Brown‘s fortune teller trick all the way, though, which made it extra spooky.

House on the Rock: the optician's room.

Need to get your eyes checked?

Admire thousands and thousands of antique and retro toys

The amount of toys, decorations, figurines, collectables and other little things scattered along the tour is simply staggering. If you spent a week inside the house, you probably wouldn’t have time to really look at each and every one of them. We have no idea how many items exactly the house holds, but even if we took a really wild guess, we’d probably get it very wrong.

Below you’ll see a few examples of all the magnificent items Tiia captured with her camera. It was lucky she brought along her Canon MKII + the 2.8L lens. Otherwise, many of the photos would’ve been dark and blurry due to the very low lighting in most parts of the tour.

House on the Rock: One of the toys in the massive retro collection.

One of the toys in the massive retro collection.

We actually hoped they’d sold some replicas of the oddest of toys in the gift shop, because it would’ve been lovely to take home something so recognizable only to the House on the Rock.

Perhaps the most famous part of the House on the Rock: the music machines

They had walked for what felt like several miles when they came to a room called the Mikado, one wall of which was a nineteenth-century pseudo-Oriental nightmare, in which beetle-browed mechanical drummers banged cymbals and drums while staring out from their dragon-encrusted lair. Currently, they were majestically torturing Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre. The Danse Macabre came to a tempestuous and discordant end.

House on the Rock: Chinese music machine

Mikado: a huge, complicated music machine with an incredible amount of detail.

The music machine section is incredible. None of it makes any sense, really, which adds to the experience. Seriously: who would really have some actual use for a room-sized music machine? You’ll have a hard time believing what you see and after that, making any sense of it.

That all the artificial instruments were ever so slightly out of tune added to the otherworldliness of the place.

In the beginning of the section we stopped at each and every one of the machines and wanted to hear it play, but by the end of it, we were full of the out of tune cacophony that followed us all the way through. The music machines are in separate rooms (although some of the smaller ones share spaces), but you can still hear the noise through the walls as visitors feed their endless tokens into their favorite looking ones.

The endless corridors

More corridors, more musical machines. Shadow became aware that they were not following the path through the rooms intended for tourists, but seemed to be following a different route of Wednesday’s own devising. They were going down a slope, and Shadow, confused, wondered if they had already been that way.

It’s not actually just the amount of stuff that’s impressive about the house. Almost all of the tour takes place underground (or at least through windowless spaces), which makes it a really immersive experience. You’ll soon forget what day and time it is and will have no idea how far you’ve walked.

House on the Rock: last room

We last section is a complicated web of paths, bridges, stairs and little corridors. Plus of course… stuff.

Airplanes, dollhouses, circus animals… and a whale-size sea monster

A mechanical machine played “Octopus’s Garden” in a room that went up for many stories, the center of which was filled entirely with a replica of a great black whalelike beast, with a life-sized replica of a boat in its vast fiberglass mouth.

At this point, we’d already adventured in the house and along the corridors for 2-3 hours. We were walking in a queue with a few other visitors and one of them asked if we’d ever been here before. “No”, we said, and she laughed. “Well, you’re in for a surprise around the next corner.”

And indeed we were. A room the height of several floors, the walls covered in glass cases and a narrow walkway going up and around it all. In the middle, a sculpture the size of a whale, with smaller creatures at the bottom of the “sea” and birds, birds hanging everywhere. The size of it took our breath away and for a moment, we couldn’t decide what exactly to take photos of as there was no way of fitting it all in a single shot.

So we just started climbing and eventually, after about a thousand models of boats from different eras, walrus tusks, boating items, sailor outfits and memorabilia from all over the world, reached the top.

House on the Rock: the whale and boat

The whale from another angle. Notice the boat inside its mouth? That’s lifesize.

It’s all in the (tiny) details…

Aside from the huge things, there’s also a kazillion tiny things to look at. For example, the massive doll house collection: each house is unique in its design and colors, each room in each house a perfectly decorated and often specifically themed room. The dollhouse section alone would take a full day to look at, and by this point, we were so overwhelmed that we just walked through it and took an occasional peek to one or two house at a time.

House on the Rock: A look inside one of the dollhouses.

A look inside one of the dollhouses.

Get hypnotized by the giant carousel

Calliope music played: a Strauss waltz, stirring and occasionally discordant. The wall as they entered was hung with antique carousel horses, hundreds of them, some in need of a lick of paint, others in need of a good dusting; above them hung dozens of winged angels constructed rather obviously from female store-window mannequins; some of them bared their sexless breasts; some had lost their wigs and stared baldly and blindly down from the darkness.

 

And then there was the carousel.

After everything we’d seen so far, there was still the carousel. We knew to expect it as it’s mentioned in both American Gods and in brochures and the like, but seeing it for the first time was really magical. The carousel rotates around carrying 269 unique, most imaginative carousel animals, 182 chandeliers and over 20,000 lights. On the ceiling around and above it you can see hundreds of mannequin angels staring down back at you, with their wings spread and expressions vacant.

It’s the most magnificent thing.

House on the Rock big red carousel

The big carousel in all its glory.

“What’s it for?” asked Shadow. “I mean, okay, world’s biggest, hundreds of animals, thousands of lightbulbs, and it goes around all the time, and no one ever rides it.”
“It’s not there to be ridden, not by people,” said Wednesday. “It’s there to be admired. It’s there to be.”

By the time we reached the carousel and the additional section next to it (a room full of the most peculiar machinery, walkways, bridges and stairs), we were already running out of time. We realized we’d been inside the house for almost 5 hours at this point and Satu’s phone told us we’d walked about 4 miles that day.

Emerging back to the real world from the House on the Rock, through the peaceful gardens and sunlight, is the most surreal experience. Not as surreal as the house itself, but still a very strange feeling.

House on the Rock garden

A lovely garden out front.

The House on the Rock, a national treasure

Thinking back now, a few months after our visit, we’re still amazed by it all and really want to go back some day. It doesn’t matter how some of the collections are “fake” or not really worth any money, or real antique, or whatever it is that puts any value to any man-made items. What matters is the sheer quantity of artifacts and the uniqueness of the collection.

The House on the Rock should be protected at all costs, as it’s an unparalleled testament to the creativity and uniqueness of the human mind.

You simply can not walk through it all without giving thought to our evolution and history, our faults and our strengths, the meaning of art and the dark side of materialism. You’ll enter the house amazed and amused, but you’ll probably step out feeling inspired and a little bit out of breath… and most definitely feeling a special sort of exhausted.

Relax at the House on the Rock Inn

After our visit we really needed a night off, some good food and to possibly not look at things all night. We stayed at the House on the Rock Inn, which is located a few kilometers from the attraction itself. What we had were comfortable rooms and a few pools, including this kiddie pool with the most amazing submarine in the middle of it.

We even tried some of the slides, but soon realized we were possibly a little too old for them and spent the rest of the night just floating in the outside pool looking at the stars and enjoying the quiet.

House on the Rock Inn Wisconsin pool

The quirkiest little pool ever at the Inn.

If you ever manage to get to Wisconsin, you should not miss this experience. Just book a room at the Inn, head to the attraction the minute the doors open and prepare to be amazed!

Getting to the House on the Rock: flights, transportation, driving

Our visit was a part of our massive Movie Roadtrip 2016, but you don’t have to do a massive roadtrip to get there: you can simply fly to a nearby big city. From there, you’ll have multiple travel options. Rome2Rio lists some of the options, but of course, it depends where you’re coming from and how much time and money you’re willing to spend.

Renting a car is the fastest and possibly even the cheapest option, so we’d recommend looking into that if possible.

AWESOME TRAVEL IDEA: If you’re visiting from Finland (like us!), the United Kingdom or the rest of Europe, you should definitely look into Icelandair’s StopOver deals and flights to Chicago and Minneapolis. This way, you’ll not only get to experience this mad and beautiful house, you’ll get to spend a night or few in magical Iceland too.

A collaboration post: we’ve received complimentary tickets in review purposes but did not get paid to write the story. All opinions, ideas, experiences and images in this story are 100% our own. 


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The House On The Rock: The Most Peculiar Attraction You’ll Ever Visit

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Tiia / Fangirl Quest
Tiia / Fangirl Quest
Photographer, illustrator, graphic designer, copywriter, marketing assistant. I once traveled across North America in flipflops. I love dogs, ketchup and many inspiring people. Visit my photo portfolio here.

25 Comments

  1. Heidi says:

    What even is this place?! I can’t believe all that stuff! It’s like a hoarding museum…D:

    • Martha says:

      I was thinking the same! But I have to admit…. i have a weird urge to go. It must we super weird to stand in the middle all of this.

    • I guess that’s what it is…? But somehow, it’s more. It’s stuff you actually want to look at or that has a history (although not all of the antiques are “genuine”) instead of dirty boxes and utterly useless crap :) loved it so much!!

  2. Such an authentic place! Why haven’t I heard about this place before? I especially love The Infinity Room and The Mill room – I think I could stare at them forever. And all of those doll houses and tiny little things – amazing! And the pool – don’t even get me started! I think I know the destination of my next trip :) Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

  3. Susan B says:

    This is the best write up/ pictorial about the House on the Rock that I’ve ever come across! My parents took our family to this attraction year and years ago in the late 70s and again in the 80s. It is SO wonderful and I am so eager to take my own family to this beloved treasure as well! Since I am a long-time amateur photographer, and want to take TONS of photos and video while there and know it is a dark place, my question for you is how did you get such fantastic photos. The color and clarity look perfect. I would love some tips as I am planning a trip for this summer with my family and cannot wait! I have a Canon 80D and an iPhone 6s Plus to photograph with. Thank you for this fantastic write up and so many GREAT photos!! Susan

    • Hello! Oh, this is one of the best comments we’ve ever received! Thanks so much for taking the time – people rarely comment on stuff they read even though we have plenty of readers and curious eyes :)

      I recommend checking out some basic tips on low light photography and taking advantage of any surfaces where you’re allowed to place your camera for a shot – that way you can use longer exposure times and get brighter photos!

  4. Chris Brown says:

    I’ve just referenced this site in a tweet, as the best write up on THOTR that I’ve encountered.
    https://twitter.com/chrisbrownofca1/status/997423379958456320

    One of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen, and high on my list to visit again, if I can.

  5. John Hays says:

    Awesome post! Was watching American Pickers last night and they were picking from the House’s owner’s warehouse where he had all the stuff he was still putting together when he died! I’d never heard of the house, now we must go there! Thanks for such a great post about it!

  6. Jeanne says:

    Loved reading all of the comments My husband and I took our three young girls there in the early 1970’s and then again a few years later. We were campers and loved Governor Dodge State Park, thus our many trips to Wisconsin. After our first visit, our youngest daughter wanted to go through again to really look at all of the dolls. Years later, one our best friends moved to Dodgeville and both husband and wife got part time jobs there. He working on the carousel and she mending some of the clothing of the dolls. They told us great background stories. Just recommended a trip to the House to a friend of mine from Florida who will be spending Christmas with her family who live in the Madison area. This is a must visit for anyone going to Wisconsin.

  7. […] might be the funnest tourist attraction in Finland. While it’s nowhere near as massive as House on the Rock in Wisconsin, USA, the eccentric music machines and the cacophony they can create reminded us […]

  8. Tamara Taylor says:

    Never had an urge to go to Wisconsin before now. Now it’s on my bucket list.

  9. Eric Saylor says:

    I live in America and had no idea this place existed. It’s on the list now for sure! What a beautiful colossal carousel for the mind.

  10. Isaiah says:

    This brought back so many memories. Ive been going here every few years since the mid 90s and fell in love with the place. I still have the cheesy family photo from our first trip, sadly they stopped doing the photos . I also had the Harry potter feel when I went after reading the books.

  11. John says:

    Can someone tell me whether the inn or the resort have better rooms?

  12. […] This was the vision of Alex Jordan, who wanted to create a center for everything exciting and thrilling as his home. He just let his house which is built on a rock in Spring Green Wisconsin speak for itself. The artifacts in the ghostly chamber include red and white wide-eyed mannequins and a giant sea monster half whale half shark fighting a giant squid. The old music boxes also increase the thrill with tense music as you move through the four sections of the huge house.[9][10] […]

  13. David Taub says:

    I too was sucked into the votex of The House On The Rock by American Gods. It’s amazing and crazy. The amount of energy put into this whole place is beyond belief. I’ve gone to high and low culture all over the world and I can say I felt drained by the end ( in a good way). My totally brillant life partner said it reminded her of Dennis Severs House in London. She’s right of course; but this is so much bigger and crazier. Being lucky enough to live three hours away I could sense some refenences: the streets of yesterday did remind me of the Harry Potter tour in London; but also Yesterdays Main Street at The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. I’m going back soon…

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