Amazing Places

The House on the Rock Is the Tourist Trap to End All Tourist Traps

Anyone who's gone on a long-range road trip has seen the signs. "Visit our corn maze!" "See the world's largest frying pan!" "Entrance to Mystery Spot!" Honestly, most roadside attractions probably aren't worth the time and money. Just imagine a normal frying pan, but bigger, and that should do it. But then there's House on the Rock. There's really no other place like in the country — maybe not even in the world. This is a roadside attraction that's worth planning a trip around.

Related: The Worst Tourist Traps by State

A Strange Story, Stranger Sights

As befits a place as bizarre as the House on the Rock, the origins of Alex Jordan, Jr.'s strange idea are shrouded in mystery. In some versions of the story, Jordan had an unpleasant encounter with the legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright and started his project as a kind of spite house. In other versions, Jordan had a vaguer explanation for his creation: "One thing just sort of led to another." It's hard to say what exactly inspired Jordan to build this one-of-a-kind monument between Dodgeville and Spring Green, Wisconsin — but we will point out that Frank Lloyd Wright's iconic home Taliesin was just a 10-minute drive away. Even if it wasn't specifically built to spite Wright, Jordan almost certainly had him in mind.

Either way, for some 50 years, Jordan lived in a wonderland of absurdities and record-breaking sights. The titular rock on which the house sits is Deer Shelter Rock, a massive column of stone perched above a bucolic woodland area. But the real attractions are inside. The mansion contains 14 rooms, each stranger than the last. As you begin your journey, you'll notice impressive but relatively mundane sights. Large, comfortable rooms filled with massive fireplaces and chandeliers hanging over dimly-lit chambers are the first thing you'll see on your self-guided tour. How quaint and vintage, you'll think. Then things start to get weird.

The Infinity Room is next, and it sets the tone for the rest of the experience. At 218 feet (66.4 meters) long, the room tapers to a point 156 feet (47.5 meters) above the forest floor, creating the uncanny illusion that its walls extend into eternity. Go deeper into the house, and you'll find a massive indoor carousel aglow with 20,000 lights and 182 chandeliers. Then there's the antique gun collection, the "Music of Yesterday" room filled with old-fashioned instruments and automated musical devices, and the dollhouse room, boasting tons of miniature figurines.

True Lies

Here's the thing about the House on the Rock — it's certainly a sight to behold, but it's no museum. Yes, that indoor carousel is very impressive. But is it the "Largest Carousel in the World," as the House bills it? That's unclear, at best. That collection of antique guns is pretty amazing too, but it's not especially antique. Alex Jordan had all of them made to order in an old-fashioned style. And the music room is creepily alive with the sound of player pianos and music boxes — but that sound is piped in from hidden speakers, not played by the actual instruments in the room. Also impressive but fake? The 200-foot-long sea monster you'll eventually encounter (but you probably didn't need us to tell you that).

As Jamie Lee Curtis Taete at Vice points out, however, not everything in the house is fake. "It's impossible to know what you're looking at as you explore the house, and whether it's new or old or real or fake. Some stuff is obviously custom made just to appear fantastical, like the cannonball-powered clock, or the two-story Rube Goldberg machine. Other stuff, like a prosthetic leg with a hidden gun compartment, less so." In short, don't visit the House on the Rock to expand your knowledge about the world — visit it to grasp the full scope of one man's unhinged ambitions.

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The House on the Rock might be one of the most impressive tourist attractions in the country, but it's not the only one. Check out "Road Trip USA" by Jamie Jensen for more. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Reuben Westmaas September 28, 2018

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