Here is a wildly exciting guarantee: no matter how extensively you have traveled, no matter how many strange sites or lands you have traipsed, no matter how many unusual museums or out of the ordinary constructions you have observed, the House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin, surpasses them all in terms of nuttiness and whimsicality. This outlandish marvel – a mix of odd collections, from paperweights to maritime and nautical pieces, to a never-ending collection of mechanically operated orchestra and Mikado music, stands in tribute to the explosive power of one man’s exuberant creativity: Alex Jordan.
Alex Jordan was an elusive eccentric who believed that his job was “to stimulate the sights and sounds of the senses.” In the early 1940s, Jordan, a rascally young man from Madison, Wisconsin, found occasional respite from city life by clambering up remote sixty-foot chimney of rock called Deer Shelter Rock. The rock was located south of the town of Spring Green.Jordan picnicked here on summer nights and eventually tried to camp at the center of this lofty panoramic stone. As the story told at the House on the Rock goes, “a sudden storm blew his tent away, and a subsequent tarpaper shack blew away in the wind.”
Undeterred, and purportedly without consent of the landowners, Jordan hauled 5,000 tons of limestone, self-quarried from an adjacent pit, as well as 5,000 tons of mortar, to build his original House on the Rock. Stone slab art, massive fireplaces, and rare Oriental art soon followed.Inevitably, Jordan’s grand project attracted attention from friends and outsider, whom he often welcomed. As the number of sightseers increased, Jordan constructed a 375-foot staircase ramp through the treetops to accommodate them.
In 1960, Jordan opened the House on the Rock to the public, charging fifty cents for a full tour. Donations were reinvested to obtain other colorful assortments. House furnishings came to include stained glass collections salvaged from demolished churches, exotic lamps, lavish bookcases, and the completion of the Infinity Room, a dizzying optical illusion, which contains 3,264 windows, and perches 218 feet over the Wyoming Valley.
Jordan was a collector of collections, and the House on the Rock displays his purchases of everything from antique dolls, butterflies, ivory carvings, dollhouse mazes, 6,000 Old St. Nick figurines, enormous sea creatures, and automated chamber orchestras, to antique firearms and mechanical banks, nostalgic road signs and suits of armor.
A red-bricked 19th century street includes a sheriff’s office, a carriage house and hundreds of antiques. There is also a 200-foot tall sea monster, which is as long as the Statue of Liberty is tall, yet perhaps the frenetic culmination of Jordan’s ingenuity is the world’s largest carousel. Comprised of 20,000 lights and 182 chandeliers and 269 handcrafted carousel animals (not one of them a horse), it is an impressive example of both gravitas of thought and emotion.
Alex Jordan passed on in 1989, since then the House on the Rock – sold to a friend shortly before his death – has seen significant renovation and improvement.
It is the colossal magnitude of Jordan’s imagination, as well as his ability to turn his dreams into reality which makes the House on the Rock a remarkable destination. His capacity for fancifulness and make believe, his unleashed spectacular architecture, panoply of unique curiosities, and visionary oddball collections, are indeed singular.