(The world's largest carousel and 3-story sea monster)
In Neil Gaiman’s epic novel American Gods he sets an important scene in Spring Green, Wisconsin (Chapter 5 page 117- 141.) That tiny town is home to one of the strangest roadside attractions in America.
When I read the novel back in 2007 I assumed the House on the Rock was completely fictional. It wasn’t until 4 years later when I started making an annual trip to Spring Green to see a Shakespeare company perform that I made the connection. Just like in the book, you drive through a little town called Black Earth and you begin to see signs advertising the attraction.
(The Infinity Room- a view from the outside and inside
and one of the interior rooms of the original house)
So during this year’s Spring Green pilgrimage my friend and I finally went to the House of the Rock and toured its wild exhibits. I re-read the scene from American Gods right before going and I couldn’t believe how accurate his descriptions were! Not only were the big things correct, but every detail was the same. There was a fortune telling machine right at the end of the road in the Streets of Yesterday section. The Infinity Room, the sea monster, the carousel, it was all there in vivid detail.
(The Streets of Yesterday and the Mikado Room)
The whole place has an incredibly creepy vibe. There are walls of antique marionettes and porcelain dolls. We couldn’t help but be surprised that a horror movie has never been filmed there. The labyrinthine home has low ceilings, carpet everywhere and the eerie cast of red light shines on everything. It feels surreal, like you’ve walked into a strange dream (or nightmare).
(The Japanese Garden and the Carousel)
The man who created the original house must have been an obsessive collector. You can almost see where his interests switched from object to object. There’s a collection of model ships that spans three floors! Another collection of antique guns, then airplanes, then model toys, then Japanese items; it just doesn’t end. I kept wondering what would possess someone to create something this elaborate in the middle of nowhere.
(The coin operated "Drunkard Dream" in action and the fortune teller)
It’s a complete sensory overload and when you finally make your way back outside you feel like you’re reeling from the noise and color of each new room. The excessiveness of the place is almost obscene. There’s not just one room with a huge collection of instruments that play themselves, there are about four! There is a peaceful Japanese Garden outside of the main warehouses and it’s a much-needed respite for people after they finish their tours.
If you’re a fan of American Gods or of roadside attractions I would highly recommend visiting the House of the Rock. It’s a weird experience to be sure, but not one you’re likely to forget!
Photos by moi.