Fond memories, albeit slightly creepish

28 January, 2014
Rat Fink

Although I never would have admitted it back then, I was a little ooked out as a kid by a popular tourist attraction that I think we visited twice (Mavis? Any recollection of going there more than the one time with Grandma and Grandpa J?).

The House on the Rock occupies a rather strange place in my memory. I was quite young (8 or 9, I think) when we went, but certain images stick out to me to this day.

Built in 1945 by eccentric dreamer Alex Jordan, and opened to the tourist public in 1960, the House is more like a rambling museum of strange and wonderful artifacts, like turn-of-the-century gadgets and toys. I remember being particularly mystified and impressed as a young violinist by the mechanical instruments. The fact that they played totally by themselves was part of the creepy fascination — at least for a 9-year-old in 1968. Now here’s where my memory gets a little fuzzy, and I can’t find out for sure if I’m remembering what was actually there, or just what I think was there.

I know there was a mechanical violin-playing contraption, and I’m almost positive that it was of the “double” variety, like the one pictured (a 1912 “Violano”). However, in all my searches of the present iteration of the attraction, I can’t find this particular instrument, other than a reference to a “single” version of the instrument, where only one violin played.

Now is it my faulty, 9-year-old’s memory that’s wishing it featured two violins? Or were there actually two violins in the display? I’m not 100% certain, but I really want to believe there were two, and that they played an old, early 20th-century parlor song in perfect-thirds harmony. But…maybe not. All I’m totally sure of is that I wanted to stand there and listen for much longer than my parents were willing to wait.

Many cool features have been added since we visited. The Infinity Room is definitely a place I’d like to see. Alternately, I would not be interested at all in the hotel, resort, and golf course they’ve put there — the result of capitalist greed coming to roost in the secluded beauty of the Wyoming Valley, which is why we can’t have nice things. Jordan charged 50 cents to see the place in 1960; now it’s $28.50 to get the whole enchilada. Psh.

Still, if you’re ever in the Madison, Wisconsin area and have a few hours to kill, it would be a shame to miss it. In the interim, here is an excellent collection of photographs from someone’s recent tour.

Happy snow day #7 for me — I’m off to take more DayQuil and try to get some work done. TTFN!

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28 January, 2014 10:07 am

What an interesting place; how neat that you’ve been there! I first learned about the House on the Rock recently, after reading Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods.’ (A good read, by the way, that will be the new HBO series du jour.) I can’t imagine how it must have seemed as a child. So sorry you’re still sick. Rest up and feel better soon!


28 January, 2014 11:12 am

One of my High School pals family went to The House on the Rock and came back with all sorts of fascinating stories of just how cool that place was. Armed with that info I did everything in my power to talk my folks into taking us kids to see it…never happened. Many, many years later I went as an adult and found it a very enjoyable presentation of history. As you were describing the additions of the resort, hotel and golf it reminded me of how we add so much to places like this to attract more visitors…the “more… Read more »

28 January, 2014 11:48 am

Wow. Haven’t thought of that place for years! The only thing I remember was how much I liked all the trees growing right up the middle of the place. I always thought, “I could live here.” You would have been the one to remember all the mechanical stuff. I just enjoyed the nature and stone of the place.

I do remember us going to Wisconsin Dells! That first “Duck” ride we took was so awesome! It was a great place back then. Not sure what it is now, though.

You get better, kiddo!