The House on the Rock (and other strange Wisconsin places)

Alex Olson |

Compelled to relive a childhood trip, and after a butt-numbing four-hour ride, I found myself staring up at a giant ceramic pot in which baby dragons and plants sprouted in equal amounts. These fantastic pots, spread out evenly throughout the parking lot, were the first indicator of the strangeness that is the House on the Rock.

After paying the obligatory fee and marveling at the towering sculpture of a samurai lit by an overhead skylight, I opened the door labeled “Tour Start.”

A tiny fraction of the wierd.
A tiny fraction of the awesome weirdness.

I then walked down a long wooden walkway until I reached a modern air-conditioned building. The general purpose for this museum-esque room was immediately apparent. Numerous plaques and portraits nailed to the white-washed walls  built up my knowledge of the history of the House on the Rock and filled me in on the creator, that crazy man known as Alex Jordan who started it all in the early 1940’s. From what I could grasp, he would have been a great candidate for the television series Hoarders, except he had a lot of money and a complex about organizing similar items together. Also, he built a giant house that doubled as a museum to keep it all in instead of a cramped garage. 

Directly after the history lesson I was allowed to enter Mr. Jordan’s actual home. The decor varied in theme from Oriental to the 1960s to medieval all in the span of fifty rooms or so. I couldn’t count the number of areas designed solely with lounging in mind, and the amount of trees sprouting inside of walls and through floors was worrying.

After working my way through his complex home, Mr. Jordan surprised me with his aptly named Infinity Room, a marvel of hundreds of windows, and some floor, that stretches 218 feet over the tops of the trees below. It was at this point I was reminded the entire structure was perched on a 60-foot chimney of rock. 

This is why it's called the Infinity Room...
This is why it's called the Infinity Room.

For the remainder of the tour I drained two camera batteries in an attempt to remember all the remarkable structures, americana, and overall oddities the house contained. I ran into a giant whale wrapped in the tentacles of an enormous squid, their masses rising hundreds of feet above me. Imagine three floors of walkways filled with intricate model ships and naval history surrounding this spectacle. 

No idea.
No idea.

Instruments played themselves in return for a small token or two. I wasn’t even shocked to see a 20 million dollar carousel with not a single horse present in its ranks of strange creatures stabbed through with poles.

Regardless of the ranks of oddities, and the thousands of life-like doll houses and miniature circus tents, The House on the Rock presented me with a serene coy-pond to calm me down before leaving. Heck, there was even a gardener showing off a neat plant that shied away from your touch. 

I have to hand it to the House on the Rock. I managed to have as much fun, if not more, than I had when I was a young boy. There is something about the incredible range of attractions that holds your interest and makes you feel like an awe-struck child again. 

Besides the House on the Rock, make sure to check out these other odd places found in Linda S. Godfrey’s book “Strange Wisconsin”, available at The Local Store

The Sci-Fi Cafe and Earth Mystery Museum

Only in Burlington can you order a sandwich from a life-sized extraterrestrial, even if you’re not crazy. The Sci-Fi Cafe and Earth Mystery Museum is run by Brad and Mary Sutherland and is a diner, museum, and gift shop all in one. Everything is of course alien related and sure to please the average UFO aficionado. 

Rock Around the Elephant

Three miles north of Ithaca on Highway 58, Richland County, you can witness a rock outcropping that faithfully mimics the head of an elephant. Sure, maybe you’ve seen a bunny or two in a cloud, but have you seen an elephant made out of rock? Now's your chance. 

What John Dillinger Did on His Spring Break

Visit The Little Bohemia Restaurant in Manitowish Waters and you will wonder why there are bullet holes in the front window. Turns out the restaurant was the scene of a horrific shoot out between the bank robber John Dillinger (with his gang) and the police. Visitors can even view some pieces of clothing the gang left behind in a hurry.  

Watson’s Wild West Museum, Elkhorn: Cowboy Paradise

Just off of Highway 12/67, a little north of Elkhorn, visitors can enjoy one man’s obsession with the Wild West. Doug Watson’s Wild West Museum gives you the chance to pan for gold in a stream, and even drink a cool beverage from an old fashioned bar. Of course the entire place is filled with cowboy themed items like saddles and revolvers.