The House on the Rock

The entrance to the House on the Rock with its sign and metal cauldrons.

A screenshot of the entrance to the drive that you take to the House on the Rock.

The House on the Rock is a Wisconsin attraction designed and built by Alex Jordan (Jr.) on a column of stone, starting in 1945. Those who know Taliesin are acquainted with it (in part) because it’s located just under 7 miles away from Wright’s home. You can see that in the screenshot below:

The “House” that’s on the “Rock” was apparently started as a sort of hunting cabin. The story I heard was that Jordan began building the house, which attracted attention (on that rock). So he put out a place where people could put in 50 cents to see the building. He took the original structure (which I don’t think was ever lived in), and added passageways to more rooms, which were really inside warehouses. Then in 1959/60, he opened the House on the Rock as an attraction. 

Since “HotR” is close to Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, even local newspapers can confuse the two. In fact, here’s a page from a local newspaper in 1996:

A photograph of architect Frank Lloyd Wright is on the left. The building on the right (a house, on a rock) is NOT his home, Taliesin.
Thanks to former a former Taliesin Preservation Executive Director for photocopying this newspaper image.

The reason for this post:

I’m posting this now because Alex Jordan died on November 6 and, when I looked at the calendar, I knew this would be the easiest way for me to bring it up. I would have done his birthday instead of his death day if I’d thought of this back in February (he was born March 3).

Aside from what I wrote above about the building’s proximity to Taliesin, some of you may have heard of it because of the book, American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, or the television series based on his book. Or maybe you know it while researching Wisconsin, or reading aboutweird tourist areas“, or heard about it in connection to the name Frank Lloyd Wright.

Personally, I didn’t know anything about it until I started giving tours in the 1990s. But I had to learn about it as a guide. That’s because, when not “on tour” (or break), all guides were at the reception counter. We greeted visitors and answered questions. And, since it’s a popular site and so close, there could be a lot of questions about the HotR.

Here is some of what people might ask:

Where is the House on the Rock?

See my map, above.

Is this the House on the Rock?

People (hopefully) asked this before they boarded a tour bus for Taliesin.

Is it [the House on the Rock] open?

Generally they were open at the same time tours to Taliesin went on. We directed visitors to the brochure display case.

How much does it cost?

We gave rough estimates and told people to check the brochures.

Why are you guys so close to the House on the Rock?

Is that an existential question? No, they just owned land near each other. They didn’t plan it what way.

Did Frank Lloyd Wright design the House on the Rock?

No.

Didn’t someone die at the House on the Rock?

No. [they were thinking of Taliesin’s 1914 fire.]

And, lastly, Did the guy who built the House on the Rock study under Frank Lloyd Wright?

No.

Visiting the HotR:

With all that warehouse space I mentioned, it takes a while to go through. Luckily, I was warned by co-workers that if I wasn’t careful, this could be a daylong visit. So when I went, I walked almost without stopping. This still took me two-and-a-half hours.

There are objects in every room. And, maybe it’s different now, but you walked through and saw many things without labels or explanations. It created this space where people can bridge the line between Jordan’s artificial creations and reality.

Here’s one example of that:

At one point, you walk by a case that has a rhinestone tiara and other items. Going on memory, I think I saw a sign at the base of this tiara that identified it, and the other pieces of jewelry, as “the British crown jewels”.

Now, while Wisconsin does actually have one of the Mir Space station space capsules (honestly!!), there is no way that the crown jewels of the United Kingdom are sitting in the House on the Rock.

The fact that some might actually believe that, and believe that the “jewels” are real, says something about human beings, or about Alex Jordan. It’s fascinating.

In addition, there’s the whale & the carousel:

About halfway through the walk in the attraction from one end to the other, there’s a statue. The statue is of a large whale (“as long as the Statue of Liberty is tall!”). The whale is battling a giant squid. Here’s the “sea creature”:

Photograph of the whale at the House on the Rock
Photograph taken by Ronincmc.
Licensed under the Creative Commons 4.0 license and located at this site:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:House_on_the_rock_2215.jpg

It’s a “sea creature” because it’s not actually a whale. Whales don’t have teeth like that.

Regardless, then, there’s the carousel (which has no horses). This was used by Neil Gaiman in his book, American Gods. The carousel, in the novel, is a gateway to the land of the gods. But, also, the room with the carousel has the “angels” “floating” at the ceiling. I use quotation marks there because the angels are actually female mannequins. Someone told me one time that when he worked there, someone handed him something that had fallen on them from the ceiling. It was a painted nipple that had fallen off of one of the angel/mannequins.

And one last thing:

I direct you to a page about the House on the Rock, by Jay Gabler. His piece is entitled, “The Trashiest Enigma: Alex Jordan and the House on the Rock“.

Jay Gabler’s page really hits the building so fundamentally, that I’ve even included a “Wayback Machine” link so it wouldn’t be lost.

(remember that I wrote about the Wayback Machine a couple of posts ago)

In fact, I would have stolen Gabler’s writing en masse if I didn’t know you could come across the writing easily.

However, here is some of Gabler’s writing:

… [T]he close proximity of Jordan’s complex to Wright’s home and studio makes for a delicious contrast. Both Wright and Jordan were determined iconoclasts, both built famed attractions, and both were basically self-important assholes. In the end, though, Wright’s buildings inspire contemplation of a higher consciousness, while Jordan’s inspire thoughts of a teeming subconsciousness….

And!

When you read “The Trashiest Enigma”, you’ll find out that Alex Jordan worked with Tom Every, a.k.a., Dr. Evermore, a.k.a., the creator of another Wisconsin attraction: the Forevertron!

Originally posted October 29, 2021.
The origin of all of the images are in the captions.