House on the Rock or Congratulations! Your Nightmares are Real!

Before I whisk you away to one of the most terrifying places in the Midwest, I’d like to thank everyone for their great comments last week on the War of Art post from a few weeks ago. I am still blown away. You are all super smart and gave me some awesome new book recommendations. I’m incredibly grateful.

And now, on with the show!

House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin isn’t  widely known even in the Midwest (it’s a very Midwestern trait to keep our crazy under wraps).  The whole place is sort of like Tim Burton, a dodgy carnival, every episode of Hoarders, a questionable flea market, your grandma’s house and a Chinese restaurant came together came together to scare the crap out of you.

I think this is a story best told in pictures, but let me give you a quick history so you know what we are dealing with. House on the Rock is located about 3 hours northwest of Chicago in southern Wisconsin’s Wyoming Valley, close to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin. Like Taliesen, the house is in the prairie style with a heavy Asian influence. But that is where the similarities begin and end. Apparently, architect, Alex Jordan liked to collect everything under the sun. He had so much stuff that he kept building buildings to hold everything. I’m going to fast forward through the early part of the tour, so we can get to the good stuff.

Things you should know before you start planning your road trip. 1- wear comfy shoes. It’s A LOT of walking. This place is ginormous. 2- It’s dark. Like when you walk into daylight, your corneas will ignite kind of dark. For photographers, bring a f/2.8 or faster lens, tripods and monopods are not allowed. 3- Wear layers. The temperature varies wildly from exhibit to exhibit, from cool in the main house to slightly cooler then the sun in the carousel room. 4- If you see a bathroom, go in! The bathrooms are just as wild as the rest of the house.

Alcove in the main house. Did I mention it’s dark?

To start your journey into terror on the right foot, we arrive at The Infinity Room. It is a cantilevered…..“room” that juts out over the Wyoming Valley. Yes, you can walk out there, although now I think you can only go about halfway. It’s sole purpose is to scare people afraid of heights.

Infinity Room, from The House on the Rock website. Try not to imagine plummeting to your death.

Sprinkled throughout the house and property are automatic music machines. A handful of tokens is something like $35,000 (I think that gets your 13) and hear them play. Tip for the cheap: find a group who has spent their child’s college fund on tokens and stick by them. The machines are so freaking loud, that this will not be hard to do. If they get suspicious, pretend to not know English.

Music machine outside of The Infinity Room

Next, we arrive at something called The Mill House. The collections here include firearms, old-timey mechanical banks like our scary friend Pineapple Bank Man who opened the post, and bottles. Lots and lots of bottles. The angel photos, that I have reworked and reworked and reworked originally came from:

Angel statue

Then it’s on to The Streets of Yesteryear- a cobblestone street from what looks like the late 19th/early 20th centuries. I’m a huge Twilight Zone fan and this area reminds me of the episode, “A Stop at Willoughby” (google it). There are little store fronts all leading to a huge calliope at the end of the street.

Calliope

You might be thinking, “Beth, this place does not seem scary at all. What is your problem?” First, if you haven’t notice yet, I’m scared of everything. Second, I may have left out one key detail so completely terrifying that my mind will not even let me process it. Dolls. Dolls that you just know are just waiting to come alive and eat your face off.

“Hi! You don’t mind if I chew on your soul, do you? Kthanxbai!”

Along with music machines, creepy, creepy dolls are seemingly randomly thrown into exhibits. You’ll be thinking, “Hey, this looks fun! Give me one of those $13,000 tokens so I can make it play!” Ooops! There’s a doll waiting to kill you!

Speaking of terrifying things waiting to kill you, let’s skip ahead to the Carousel Room. Sounds charming and non-nightmareish, right? WRONG! Oh, it seems fine at first. It’s about 6000 degrees and brighter then a solar eclipse, but seems harmless.

Don’t be fooled! It’s a brightly lit nightmare!

But let’s take a closer look at those carousel animals….

“What do you mean you don’t want to ride the lion/dog/bear/rabbit? It doesn’t seem to bother the Wizard of Oz back there!”

Dear God what IS that?????  It’s like a plague doctor or a crow or death or that mean lady who works at the bank.

It’s like this the Island of Doctor Moreau in a handy carnival ride. Oh, if you weren’t creeped out enough yet, there are mannequins hanging from the ceiling, draped in fabric and wearing angel wings. For real.

Yet the creators of HotR didn’t think that was going to traumatize visitors enough. So they came up with the fantastic idea of making….

A DOLL CAROUSEL!

“See you in your nightmares!”

You might be thinking, “But, Beth, I am not scared of the Death Crow Plague Doctor or soul-stealing dolls.” Well, maybe you would like to say hello to my big friend…the clown of ultimate doom.

“I’m smiling because I know where you sleep.”

Just to give you an idea of how big this thing is, see that light bulb in the upper left corner? That is a regular sized light bulb used in a table lamp. This minion of Hell has a life-sized body attached to it and completely looks like it will get up and start stabbing you at any second.

They filter you back put past the carousel again and walls full of actual, generally non-scary carousel horses. However, I did stumble on this one that looks exactly like Bobby Hill.

Times are tight for Bobby Hill since they canceled King of the Hill. He’s taken a job as an old-timey ringmaster.

As you exit the building, the good people of House on the Rock want to leave you with one final image to scar your drive back home.

What road trip is complete without a topless goat girl playing the violin? Answer: All of them.

There’s actually a ton more to see there and I could write about this place for a month straight. In case you are interested in more info or visiting, check out their website: House on the Rock  and my Flickr set with some non-scary House on the Rock photos.

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4 thoughts on “House on the Rock or Congratulations! Your Nightmares are Real!

  1. I was there a few years ago and had the same experience, very creepy, especially those music machines. I’m glad I’m not the only person that felt like my soul was being sucked from my body when I was there. Daylight never seemed so welcoming when we finally reached the exit. Good post.

  2. Thanks! It’s like you want the place to be charming and whimsical, but it just misses the mark. There are some actual cool things, like the house itself is really interesting and the gardens are gorgeous. I really liked the one music room that plays The Mikado, but the things that are creepy are so completely creepy! I totally forgot to mention the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse display near the doll carousel. It’s a place that must be experienced.

  3. I’ve been to the House on the Rock too. It is scary but unique and interesting at the same time. It’s worth the trip. Someone should really hire you as there writer/photographer/graphic designer. Your post is hilarious and photography is awesome. Good job!!!

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