Thursday, October 6, 2011

The House That Spite Allegedly Built

I first heard Jenn refer to the House on the Rock when we were at the Tinkertown Museum. The best way to describe Tinkertown would be, "a collection of different kinds of stuff." I'm unsure of how a place like that came about, but I'm pretty sure that if I were independently wealthy, I too would probably start up random collections.

Throughout our visit to Tinkertown, Jenn kept repeating, "next time we go to Madison, we have to go to House on the Rock." She had been there a few years ago. It sounded like a place I would want to check out.

Sure enough, while we were in Madison, we made the hourlong drive west to Spring Green, Wisc., which is home to House on the Rock and Frank Lloyd Wright's summer home, Taliesin. The best way I could describe House on the Rock would be, "Like Tinkertown, only much, much bigger." This isn't very helpful to our readers outside of the Albuquerque area who have never been to Tinkertown, but I'm sorry. The place was so indescribably fascinating. The best I could do to do the place any justice is to share some pictures.
This is the Infinity Room. It's a long, narrow hallway with windows covering its walls. A railing stops you from proceeding, but it's constructed to appear as if the hallway continues forever. In reality, it continues for just a few more yards. This is what it looks like from the outside.
While you're in the room, you may not realize how high you are until you look down and notice that you're tens of feet above the trees. That's when you feel the room gently give way to the wind. Or maybe that was just me. I'm not crazy about heights, but other than that, I was impressed with this room.

House on the Rock also had many token-operated automatic music machines like this one.
This photo doesn't do "The Red Room" justice. The room is ornate with instruments everywhere, set to play a piece from The Mikado. The instruments seemed to be well-maintained, as well. Jenn says last time she went, some of the instruments from some of the machines were out of tune, adding a creepy factor to the experience.

Another music machine was made to look like a bunch of sea creatures playing their own version of The Beatles' Octopus's Garden.
Unfortunately, that room was dark, and a wider shot wouldn't have come out.

House on the Rock claims to have the world's largest indoor carousel.
The carousel features over 20,000 lights, 182 chandeliers and 269 animals — none of which are horses.

Above the surrounding area, the ceiling is decorated with hundreds of angels.

There were tons of collections that we didn't bother taking pictures of for one reason or another. For instance, some of the Rube Goldberg machines were too large to be adequately captured on camera. Also, I found the dolls unsettling. I didn't like the way they stared back. Just creepy. This included the doll carousel, which had hundreds of dolls, possibly designed for the sole purpose of giving me the willies.

There was also a large collection of dollhouses. While I appreciate the amount of craft that goes into dollhouses, I can't get myself to enthusiastic over them. One woman in a nearby group was notably more impressed than me. I overheard her saying, "These are classic homes. Not like that Frank Lloyd Wright crap. What kid wants a crappy Frank Lloyd Wright home like that?" I guess she wasn't too impressed with what his nearby summer home had to offer.

One question that wasn't answered during our tour of the house was "why?" Why does this house exist and why are these crazy collections kept here?

To be fair, there was a section devoted to architect Alex Jordan Jr., but we skipped it because we worried we wouldn't get to see everything before the place closed. When time is short, you want to see the stuff and not the part explaining why the stuff is there.

Information is scarce as Jordan was reclusive. One story starts around 1920, when Jordan's father and a friend drove to Taliesin to show Wright plans for a project in Madison. Jordan admired Wright, but according to the story, that was a one-way street. Wright looked at Jordan's plans and said, "I wouldn't hire you to design a cheese crate or a chicken coop. You're not capable."

While on the trip back, Jordan saw a spire of rock and told his friend that he was going to build a Japanese house on that spot and advertise it. Twenty-five years later, his Alex Jordan Jr. began construction.
I'm unclear as to why a Japanese house was supposed to get Wright's goat. Maybe it was the fact that that would bring tourists, thereby disturbing Wright's peace.

The story doesn't exactly add up. First, there's the fact that when this exchange supposedly took place, Wright was in Tokyo working on the Imperial Hotel. Maybe that's where the Japanese connection comes in, but this only further proves that the story isn't true.

Secondly, regardless of how much Wright-hate was passed down from father to son, why would a hermit design a house specifically to attract tourists to the area just to pester someone who got a good verbal dig on his dad 25 years earlier?

While this part of the story isn't clear, I might be able to answer why he started collection all of this stuff. Because, like I said, if I were that rich, I'd probably start up a bunch of crazy collections myself.

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